Tales From A Middle-Aged Marriage

I have a weak spot for sap and sloppy sentimentality, especially when it comes to music. I mean, truly. I get misty just thinking about Total Eclipse of the Heart.

So you can imagine how fraught with emotion my middle-aged self was last week when John Legend’s All of Me came up on my son’s Spotify playlist. It’s one of those songs you hear and think, Jesus, I want someone to write a song like that about me. One of those songs full of vocal yearning, embodying those feelings of early love when the sun rose and set with the person you were falling for. When you laid yourself bare and took a risk, said love me for who I am and the other person said, I do.

All your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections. 

You know what you never hear songs about? People who have been married for seventeen years.

There are lots of songs and movies and stories about falling in love, about that first flush of passion. And then?

And then we sort of skip ahead to the sweet, almost platonic, romance of old age. We look on in wonder at elderly couples who have settled into some sort of understated love where you’ve almost fused together into one being, two turtles sharing a shell.

What you almost never hear about is the bridge between those two things. How you got from one to the other.

You never hear songs about the quiet ferocity of middle-aged love.

You never see movies about couples who have been together for a few decades, unless it’s about the problems they face or hurdles they’ve overcome.

I guess songs about sitting next to your spouse on the couch night after night on your respective laptops and separate vacations just aren’t catchy. Maybe it’s hard to find words to rhyme with mid-life crisis, menopausal, and middle-aged spread?

But there should be more songs and stories a movies about it, because the truth is, falling in love is easy.

Staying in love is hard.

We tend to completely gloss over couples who have been quietly and fiercely keeping the flames of love under their relationship burning. It’s not really sexy, is it, to think of the regular maintenance that goes into keeping a marriage going. Far easier to focus on the rush of fire you get when the kindling and newspaper goes whoosh-all smoke and bright flame. Or to feel the pang of emotion when the fire is slowly dying, nothing but embers in the grill.

No one wants to read about forty yeas of buying logs and wadding up newspapers and for Christ’s sake, I did it last time it’s your turn and oh, shit, it’s nearly gone out we need to do something fast.

But of course it’s more than that. I can’t tell you how  many times I look across the room and see my husband and catch my breath. Or when I listen to him tell a joke, or recount a story, and want to reach out and touch him. How safe I feel in my life, in my love, and even in my rage. I know that when I lose my way, he’s there. And I know that sometimes, when I need to find the way myself, he’s waiting at the end. Recently I’ve taken to calling him my thunder shirt, because  after 17 years of marriage I finally realized I sleep better when he is next to me. It’s like he keeps me weighted and tethered, even in my dreams.

Take that, young love.

After seventeen years of marriage, we still have things to talk about. Granted, sometimes we talk about how we can’t remember it was what we were just talking about, but still. And maybe I don’t dress up in lingerie, but hell, I shave my legs and sometimes, that’s enough.

The hard work of staying in love isn’t sexy. Not the stuff of songs. But I promise you, we are out here, us middle-aged couples, quietly and yet fiercely keeping the fires burning, more in love than ever.

I am full of curves and edges, and plenty of imperfections too. My husband is not writing love songs to me–not on paper. But he has written rock operas and librettos worth in his actions over the last seventeen years. I laid myself bare and took a risk, said love me for who I am. And he did. And seventeen years ago today we said, “I do.”

Dear Reader, I stayed married to him.

Happy anniversary, my darling.

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If It Takes 10,000 Hours to Become an Expert…

You know there’s that famous Malcolm Gladwell “it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something” thing?

Well, here’s a partial list of things, which, by that criteria, I feel like I’m an expert in.

And I would peel 10,000 carrots… And I’ll probably peel 10,000 more.

Carrot peeling
Closing doors
Right-side outing socks
Flushing un-flushed toilets
Packing lunches
Embarrassing myself
Finding ways to say “no”
Avoiding making phone calls
Trying to figure out who benefits if the whole earth being a sphere thing was, indeed, a hoax.
Sleeping
Drinking wine
Putting fitted sheets on the wrong way first
Turning everything into a ‘lesson’
Reading
Making small talk
Typing
Refereeing arguments about socks
Dieting
Wasting time on FaceBook/Twitter
Drinking coffee
Extracting dirty underwear from dirty pants
Listening to stories about video games
Shouting “close your (fill in screen name here)!”
Studying

I close all these doors daily

Making sure the toilet seat is down before I pee
Crying
Growing a human being
Finding ways to read my book instead of having sex (KIDDING, HONEY!!)
Saying “I just sat down!”
Filling water glasses
Worrying
Wondering where the time went
Saying “I wonder where the time went.”
Cooking breakfast
and lunch
and dinner.
Obsessively checking a bank account
Fretting over credit card bills
Resenting the two above
Trying to find logic in places where logic does not exist

I do, I did, I will

Saying “I love you” (maybe not 10,000 hours, but surely 10,000 times)
Kissing
Being a mother
Being married
Writing
Hating what I write
Wearing my heart on my sleeve
Loving
Forgetting why I’m standing in a room
Forgetting what else should probably go on this list.

My Life as a Sponge

We’ve all had shit days.

We’ve all had days when it feels good to unload on someone else: a secret we’ve been carrying, a ball of anxiety knotting its way through our digestive tract, a fear, an embarrassment, a hazy memory of dancing on a table after that shot of tequila…

If we’re lucky, we have a friend or a spouse or a parent who listens. They take on a bit of our worry, making our own burden a little bit lighter. They absorb it.

Like a sponge.

As a mother, I’m an expert sponge. Seriously. As a wife, I’m pretty good too. Actually, I think I’m an all-around decent sponge. There are times though when it feels like my sole job in life is to be a giant sponge. There to sop up excess emotion and tears, to take a little anxiety or unhappiness onto my own shoulders. I shift. I accommodate. I rearrange the already heavy pack on my back so I can add another load like that ass from Buckaroo.

Mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend. This is what we do for one another, right?

Right.

Most of the time I don’t think about it too much. I sop. I absorb. I soak up everyone else’s worries and anxieties like a boss. And usually there’s enough time in between major spills to dry out. But every now and again you’re sopping up one mess after another, absorbing one hurt after another, mopping upset and stress and baking cupcakes and trying to figure out where this new fear of the dark came from and making sure football socks are clean and calling your mom and double checking that your son’s sandwich doesn’t have cheese and because God forbid he have cheese it’s the end of the world and freaking out over the news and–

Basically you’re taking on water from so many directions you get saturated.

There are only so many leaks you can plug. After all, even sponges have their limits. Without time to dry out they disintegrate and fall apart in a big, crumbly mess.

Ideally, there should be a sponge-share agreement, whereby you take turns. Most of the time this works. My husband and I seem to have an unspoken understanding that only one of us is allowed to freak out at any given time. If I am in free fall, it means he needs to be up to bat. And vice-versa. Two parents in meltdown is never a good thing.

But life is life is life and things happen and unpredictability and everything else and sometimes there’s only one sponge left in the cupboard.

When this happens, I recommend a week by yourself in a sunny location to dry out.

Of course all you usually get, if you’re lucky, is five minutes in front of a 200° oven while you stir the casserole you made for dinner. The one you hope has enough in it to shut everyone up for a few minutes.

That is, just enough time to dry out enough to sop up the next mess.

 

 

 

 

 

Best of Men and Best of Husbands

Occasionally people ask me if I hate men.

Playing a feminist version of the old “Bloody Mary” game of slumber parties past, I’ve stood with eyes squeezed shut and asked a mirror the same question.

“Do I hate men?”
“Do I hate men?”
“Do I hate men?”

When I’ve opened my eyes, the answer is the same as it’s always been.

No.

Of course I don’t hate men.

Look, there’s a world of difference between being pro-woman and being anti-man. They are not two sides of the same coin, one does not necessitate the other. But those are thoughts for another post.

But this post? This one goes out to the ones I love.

I suppose in a way, following the logical conclusion of REM lyrics, it goes out to the ones I’ve left behind as well. After all, the long trail of tears from adolescence to late twenties led me directly to the kind of man I could spend my life with, raise children with, and move across continents with. It’s led me to forming friendships with the kind of men I’m comfortable with.

The point is, I know good men. My husband, friends, random people I’ve met on the internet….

What I’ve realized of late is that sometimes in this never-ending battle of the sexes, we don’t follow the Marine Corp. code. Often those few good men do get left behind.

So, if you are one of them, if you’re married to one or raised one, if your daughter married one, if you know one, make sure you give them a quick nod of thanks before we go up over the trench for the next skirmish.

Who are these men? They are men who understand their life as a male grants them the mother of all hall passes: the opportunity to walk through life unburdened by the albatross of constantly playing catch up. The ones who, all else being equal, can expend their energy chasing white whales and windmills. And before anyone gets indignant, defiant, or defensive, I don’t mean to imply men do not face their own set of challenges–because they absolutely do, but that’s for another post.

It would seem I have a lot of writing to do.

But these men, the best of men and best of husbands? They know that a fluke of sperm and chromosome has given them a platform. The height I–or any other woman–gets from a pair of stilettos, doesn’t begin to come close.

These are the men who are willing to listen and learn, to expand their views, and most importantly, to change the way they use the hall pass which is perpetually tucked into the back pocket of their man pants.

My husband? He understands that opening the world up for women means opening the world up for him as well. A wider world of opportunity for ME means a wider world of opportunity for him and for our sons as well.

Never going to be tall enough

It means my kids can belt out the soundtrack to Hamilton at full blast and not be concerned with whether or not it’s ok for men to sing Broadway musicals. It means my oldest son can draw rainbows and unicorns without worrying about being called feminine or an LGBTQ slur. It means my youngest can wear pink football boots without being called a pussy. It means allowing them the freedom to explore a richer emotional life without being told to man up. It means encouraging to do the things they love, not just the limited options on the male approved list. It means seeking out things that will bring them fulfillment, not just ticking the boxes of what success means.

As much as it means I find and demand value beyond being a mother, it means my husband gets to find value in being a father.

The men I am talking about? They aren’t afraid to put their money where their mouth is. I have witnessed these men change the language they use, I have listened to them not only talk about the importance of diversity quotas but actually put them into practice. I have watched the lightbulb moment of recognition in some where they have come to realize women are not simply making this shit up. I have watched them enter into online dialogues to call out sexism. I have watched them dig below the layer that is so often presented to them to find a female example, a female candidate, a female adviser–not just to score brownie points, but because they recognize that expanding their own circle of knowledge to include experiences beyond their own is going to enrich their own experience.

It’s like adding new cuisine to a meat and potatoes diet. Does meat and potatoes taste good? Sure. Will it sustain you? Sure. But how do you know your new favorite meal isn’t going to be something you’ve never tried before?

I don’t hate men. I want men to be better. Having said that, there are many I know who are already there.

The best of men and best of husbands, this is for you.