July 24, 2002

miles to go: 998.49

David and I were pretty sure we had this marriage stuff figured out already.

We weren't exactly kids when we got married last year. Between the two of us, we brought a collective thirty-two years of previous marital experience to the union. That's a lot of acquired knowledge about life in general, and about marriage in particular. Plus we were friends for three years before we became romantically involved, we lived together for two full years before we got engaged, and then we waited another seven months on top of that, after the diamond was on my finger, before we actually tied the knot. That's a lot of acquired knowledge about each other. Plus we're smart people who know all about looking both ways before you leap over burning buildings in a single bound until your chickens hatch.

Plus we're a couple of great big annoying Know-It-Alls. Don't ever play Jeopardy with us.

So how surprised are *we* -- especially as we celebrated our first wedding anniversary, this past weekend -- to discover that not only do we NOT have this marriage stuff all figured out, the way we thought we did ... but that we're constantly learning NEW stuff, every single day?

I can't speak for David. (Well ... yes I can. And I do, pretty much at every available opportunity.) But here are a handful of the things that I personally have learned about marriage, this past year. I believe that they prove that it's never too late to learn.

And that it's never too late to teach an old Know-It-All new tricks.

Ten *New* Things I've Learned About Marriage
(The Second Time Around)

~ By Secra ~

  • It's OK to compare your current marriage to your previous marriage.

    Not only is it "OK" to make the occasional comparison between your first marriage and your second marriage, it's probably a pretty good idea  ... especially if you're interested in avoiding the mistakes you made the first time around.

    (Although mainly what I try to look at are the ways that *I* have changed from one marriage to the next, and not to focus on the specific differences between Husband #1 and Husband #2. That would be like comparing boxer shorts and briefs.)

    First-Time-Around Secra, for instance, wasn't always comfortable speaking up when things were bothering her. Communication was not a strong suit in her first marriage. For example, if her young first husband neglected to pay the electricity bill -- say, for the third or fourth or eleventh month in a row -- First-Time-Around Secra would be understandably upset. She would scream and cry and throw stuff around their tiny rental house. She would try to wangle another one-month reprieve from the electric company. (
    "My baby's iron lung depends on it!") She would call her grandmother and her sister-in-law and her next-door neighbor and tell them what a lousy irresponsible bastard her husband was ... and while she's got you on the phone, can she borrow forty bucks? She would do everything, basically, except for sitting down with her husband and saying 'You know, it really bothers me when they come and turn off our electricity every month. Isn't there something we can do to stop this from happening?'

    It might not have done any good. In retrospect, she realizes that in fact it probably wouldn't have changed things much at all, mainly because there were other factors at play: immaturity, codependency, poor money management skills, a mutual lack of desire to have actual 'conversations' with each other.

    But speaking up might have at least cleared the air a little.

    Nowadays, of course, Second-Time-Around Secra has no problem speaking her mind. The difference between this marriage and the previous marriage is communication. (As in: there actually is some, this time around.)  Communication isn't just a cornerstone of her marriage, or the foundation of her marriage, or the glue that holds her marriage together. Communication is what her marriage is ALL ABOUT. And the only way she would have known how important and wonderful and PRECIOUS this is, really, is if she hadn't been forced to live without it previously.

    (And if the unthinkable happens, and her new husband accidentally neglects to pay the electricity bill? Why, Second-Time-Around Secra would simply whip out her checkbook and pay the damn thing herself.)

  • Planning for The Future is not the same thing as planning for The End.

    If you were to go back in time, twenty years, and ask First-Time-Around Secra why there was no savings account ... why there were no investments ... why there was no retirement plan or life insurance or college fund for The Tots ... she would look at you and say "Because we're having enough trouble simply putting beer in the fridge Spaghetti-O's on the table every night."

    But that would only be partially true.

    The real reason why there was no provision made for the future was because First-Time-Around Secra didn't want to think about the future. As much as possible, in fact, she tried to avoid thinking about the long years stretching ahead of her, drearily, like the endless desert plains of the Serengeti. As far as she was concerned, the future boiled down to three things:

    1. Getting old.
    2. Getting old with her FIRST HUSBAND.
    3. Death.

    None of which appealed to her very much.

    Second-Time-Around Secra, on the other hand, sees the future very differently. There isn't quite as much of it as there used to be, for one thing, and what there IS left of it has become incredibly precious to her. She wants to see her children finish growing into happy, healthy, emotionally-successful adults. She wants to enjoy grandchildren someday. She wants to do work that she loves. She wants to help people. She wants to retire at an absurdly young age and spend her golden years writing time-travel novels and toodling around Port Townsend on a tandem.

    Plus she wants to do all of this stuff with her husband, who she loves more than life itself.

    So she engages in active discussions with him about ways to improve their health/prolong their lives/provide for their retirement income. She listens to him when he yammers on and on about mutual funds and stock options. She makes plans. She makes lists. She takes her vitamins, and she contributes to her 401K, and she gets on her bicycle and rides insane sweaty distances in unflattering Spandex shorts.

    And she does all of this because she wants to ... and because she actually enjoys thinking about the future, these days.

  • Saying mean things to each other isn't funny.

    We actually don't love Raymond in our household.

    As a matter of fact, not only do we NOT love Raymond, we're not all that crazy about anybody else in his family, either. These people are terrible to each other. They call each other names. They lie to each other. They manipulate each other and insult each other and devise fresh new ways to hurt and humiliate each other for thirty minutes, each and every week. The handful of times David and I have watched the show, we've looked at this abominable behavior -- at these pretend-married people who not only don't seem to enjoy being married to each other at all, but who clearly wish the other would get hit by a bus, first thing tomorrow morning -- and to us it doesn't seem at all smart or entertaining or cutting-edge witty.

    It just seems mean.

    Raymond and his family aren't the only sitcom characters who treat each other this way, of course. Television has a long history of portraying dysfunctional marriages as 'funny.' Even television commercials have been getting into the act lately. (George and Weezie bickering in an IHOP, anyone?)

    We look at each other and we think Why would you behave that way towards someone you love?

    So we avoid the Raymonds and the Jeffersons and all of the other pretend married couples on TV who hurl terrible, hurtful, Emmy-Award-winning insults at each other, just for laughs. And we've resolved never to speak to each other that way, not even in jest.

    And not even for ratings.

  • It doesn't always have to be *my* idea.

    Turning the lights on and off.  Opening doors and windows. Adjusting curtains/shades/blinds. Tweaking the thermostat. Changing the channel. Choosing the background music. Lowering or raising the volume. Picking the air freshener/the shower curtain/the Windows desktop wallpaper.

    Historically,  all of this stuff has to be *my* idea, or else I tend to get ever-so-slightly pissy. It's a controlling-my-environment issue, and it's gotten me into a lot of trouble in previous relationships/previous marriages/previous lifetimes.

    Husband #1: "Jesus, it's like an OVEN in here! Open up a WINDOW, forcryingoutloud!"

    The Oregon Boyfiend: "Jesus, it's like a MEAT LOCKER in here! Close the WINDOW, forcryingoutloud!"

    Gronk The Antelope-Slayer: "Unnngh! Gung unngh gung UGGG GUG gung unnngh gronk GRUNG UNGHH, forcryingoutloud!"

    With David, though, I think I'm finally learning to surrender some of that pointless, obsessive need for control. Not everything has to be *my* idea ... especially the picayune stuff regarding light and temperature and 'ambience.'


    For instance ... who cares if he suddenly decides to throw the bedroom curtains wide open in the middle of a sunny Sunday afternoon? Without checking with me first?

    I mean, seriously? What's the big deal?

    (Just because *I* would probably prefer that the curtains stay closed  --  it gets really warm in the bedroom if you open the curtains during the middle of the day, and then it takes a long time for things to cool down enough to fall asleep  --  that doesn't mean that David isn't entitled to open them up once in a while, is it? He certainly doesn't have to ask my permission!  Even if it does make everything look sort of dusty and gross in here, with the light shining directly through the dirty window that way ... and even if it does make it sort of hard to relax when things look dusty and gross in here: all I can think about is how we really ought to move everything off the headboard and give it a good thorough Pledge-and-Dustbusting ... )

    But honestly. I mean it. I'm more than happy to just lay here on the bed next to David, on this lovely sunny afternoon, and quietly read my People Magazine.

    With the curtains open.

    With the curtains WIDE open.

    With the curtains open ALL THE WAY.

    With the curtains open WIDE ENOUGH for total strangers walking past our window, on the street outside, to peer through the dirty glass and look at us laying here on the bed in our underwear, reading People Magazine ...

    David: "Oh forcryingoutloud! Go ahead and shut the curtains!"
    Secra: [gasping] "Oh thank god."

  • It's OK to be wrong once in a while.

    As long as being wrong is *my* idea, I mean.

  • You should be glad to see each other, even unexpectedly.

    I used to hate it when my first husband showed up unannounced.

    Dropping by my office without calling first. Arriving forty minutes early to pick me up from the obstetrician/the family birthday party/the emergency room. Coming home from work, in the middle of my precious day-off, and announcing that he 'didn't feel well.'

    (Walking past the computer at the precise moment my online beau-du-jour was describing his pubic hair.)

    It didn't even occur to me at the time that there might be something sad and sick and fundamentally wrong about feeling this way: that you should be HAPPY to see your spouse, even if you weren't expecting them at that particular moment,  not frantically looking around for an exit, hoping you can duck out before they spot you. So it's been a revelation to discover that it's not only possible to feel happy to see your spouse, whenever/wherever/however you may encounter them ... but that it's possible to feel downright giddy with joy when it happens.

    (Even if the last time you *saw* them was four and a half minutes ago, when they went into the bathroom with the newspaper and closed the door.)

  • Here's how you know it's true love.

    When he does some of the exact same stuff that made you want to run a white-hot shish kebob skewer through your first husband's left testicle ... only now you think it's 'cute.'  ("Oh look how his nose scrunches up when he's snoring!")


  • It's true what they say: women marry their fathers.

    The first time around, I married the *young* version of my dad: the surly, slouching young renegade who scoffed at authority and dodged responsibility whenever possible.

    It was a disaster.

    Twenty years and a whole bunch of life experience later, I've married the *other* version of my dad. The creative/artistic genius. The smart, funny communicator. The proud eccentric who thumbs his nose at convention.

    Here's what's interesting, though: I didn't just marry my father this time around. I also appear to have married my grandfather.

    I see Grandpa Vert every time David lays in bed and plays his guitar, singing joyously at the top of his lungs in his big, hammy voice. I see Grandpa when David gets up every morning, without fail, and uncomplainingly goes off to a job he isn't crazy about, because he knows that people he loves are depending on him. I see Grandpa when David tells the truth, even when the truth is uncomfortable ... when he pays his bills on time, even when he could really use a new amplifier ... when he stops to help strangers along the side of the road ... when he treats everybody he encounters, from former in-laws to snooty store clerks, with the same courtesy and consideration and good humor.

    But that's not all.

    I married my sixth grade teacher, apparently: the first true champion of my writing. I see Mr. Iverson every time David sits in front of the computer and laughs out loud over a *FootNotes* entry.

    I married Mr. Witte, my beatnik piano instructor. "How do you get better at something?" David/Mr. Witte exhorts me, every weekend as we're heading for The Iron Horse Trail. "Practice, practice, practice!"

    I married Kevin Lanning, my dear friend from high school, who taught me that it's cool for a guy to be sensitive. I married Tom, my summer camp counselor, who praised me for having the "hair" to belly-slide down the waterfall. I married my sweet shy first boyfriend, John, who liked to hold my hand when we were walking down the street. I married the nameless stranger who stopped and helped me change my flat tire in the middle of a Seattle thunderstorm in 1978.

    I married a lot of people, this time around.

    I suppose it should probably feel weird and crowded and vaguely incestuous, waking up in the morning with all of these people laying in bed next to me ... but it doesn't. Mostly it just feels like I'm married to all the men of my dreams, rolled into one perfect package.

    (One of these days, I should probably compare notes with David and see who *he* married. I'm probably his kindergarten teacher and I don't even know it.)

  • It's OK if his idea of Big Fun and your idea of Big Fun are different.

    I earned a ton of sympathy points at David's high school reunion on Sunday, mainly from wives/girlfriends/Significant Others who'd heard the rumor that it was our first wedding anniversary and couldn't believe we were spending it standing in the middle of Martinez Marina Park, eating cold roast beef and looking at thirty-year-old high school yearbooks.

    "He made you come to a REUNION on your ANNIVERSARY?" they clucked sympathetically, shooting David a look that said You are such a big stoopid MAN.

    What I didn't tell them, of course, is that I was glad to spend a big chunk of our special day there at the reunion. Maybe it wasn't *my* idea of Big Fun -- maybe I would have preferred to go hat-shopping, or to take a swing-dance lesson at the mall, or to tour The Dollhouse Museum -- but it was important to David that he attend ... and that *I* attend with him. (This wasn't actually HIS class reunion, by the way. It was for the class two grades ahead of him. But these were the people he spent most of his time with -- and did most of his important recreational drugs with -- so this was the reunion that really counted, as far as he was concerned.)  I was glad to help make this happen for him. I was glad to hang on his arm and dimple sweetly and shake hands with 43,897,621 of his former schoolmates. I was glad to take pictures. I was glad to watch him hug his ex-girlfriend, and chitchat with The Famous Guy, and swap business cards with a former rival. It was fun. It was interesting. Plus I got to see a side of him I rarely get to see: the Young David side of him. All of a sudden he was "Zap" Rafter again ... reliving his glory days and swapping tales of adolescent anarchy with other middle-aged men in tie-dyed T-shirts.

    It was a small sacrifice of time and *smile molecules* that I was glad to make because I love him so much. And next year, on our second wedding anniversary ... I'll remind him of that.

    Just before we go to The Dollhouse Museum.

Big Fun 2002

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