When my dear husband and I were married thirteen years ago, I was a big sissy.
I didn't know I was a sissy -- after all, I was 39 and had been around the block more times than I could count -- but once we tied the knot, I could see that this whole new enterprise was going to require muscles I had never used or that had gone slack.
D. is 11 years older than I am, and he, too, had no idea what he was getting into, even though much of what we would later have to deal with was evident from the day we met. But we might as well have been teenagers for all we knew about turning a relationship into a marriage.
We had both lived as single parents of a single child since being divorced from our first spouse 20 years earlier, and both of those marriages had been brief. This was a plus -- we knew how lonely that life could be -- and a minus, because we were now in middle age without having been honed and chiseled by the daily routine that goes with a lifelong commitment.
Living with one's flesh and blood was a breeze compared to sharing the day-to-day tussle with a stranger who has suddenly become family.
We don't realize how set in our ways and blind to our ways we've become until we marry someone, especially someone from another planet, which most spouses are.
This is one of the first shocks in a new marriage, and its reverberations can be felt for years as after-shocks continue to rumble from morn till night.
How, what, when and where we eat, sleep, work, wear,rest, vacation, read, think, desire, say -- you name it, on some level, one or more of these basic aspects of human existence are going to clash with those of the other grown-up human in the house.
I'm an edgy Yankee; my husband a laid-back Southerner. I like to get out and see the world; he prefers to stay home and read. I speak my mind; he weighs his words carefully. He's a dreamer; I've got my feet on the ground. I'm antsy; he's the poster boy for patience. He spouts philosophy; I spout political and financial updates. He likes things to stay the same; I thrive on change.
Opposites can attract and also repel. Unless we marry a clone, most marriages mimic a dance in the style of Jules Feiffer -- racing toward and away from each other on a regular basis.
Some days we can find ourselves so far apart we wonder who this other is and why we thought it was a good idea to hitch our wagon to their mule. Or we become so close we breathe in unison and can't bear to be apart for a minute. And we keep on dancing just that way.
Part of the dance involves compromise, a word that was in neither of our lexicons for at least the first years. The battle to change the other from the very beginning -- or at least to get them to adapt to our ways -- was on!
Compromise calls for a strength that as sissies we didn't always have. We had to and still have to train and retrain for it every day. The ability to negotiate also calls for courage -- not usually a trait of sissies, either. As sissies, we want everything our own way.
Being forgiven and forgiving the other also requires a strong backbone, and it can build up an equity to be drawn on for a lifetime.
As single adults for those two decades, my husband and I were used to getting most everything our own way. During that time, we focused on ourselves and our child -- an extension of ourselves -- and that made us take our own particular wants, needs and desires very, very seriously.
Taking oneself very seriously when living alone affects no one but us. But it can seriously gum up the works when one is in a for-better-or worse and death-do-we-part situation.
In this era of such extreme solipsism, it's a miracle anyone stays hitched.
The good and bad news is that the marriage is often the third entity in the household. It seems to have a survival instinct of its own, thwarting the wishes of the other two occupants. The marriage seems to know that if the husband and wife split up, it dies. Kaput. Finito. Cold-stone dead.
So it will fight hard for its own survival, even when those in it are vying hard to pull the plug.
Even when we're behaving like sissies -- too weak and whiny to do the hard work -- this marriage, with its easily uttered but hard-kept vows, grabs us by the back of the neck and takes us off our self-designated opposing teams and makes one bonded team out of us again.
* Weightlifting photo from brainfitforlife.com
* Wrestling photo from mmamadness.com
* Silhouette dance photo by Derrick Bruce
* "Marriage of Mars and Venus" from Pompeii
* "Marriage" by Marc Chagall
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