Sunday, July 20, 2008

Marriage Pie

If I were to compare marriage to a pie, the pieces would be divided into the following sections:

85% - Excellent
10% - Pretty good
3% - “Meh”
1% - Irritation
1% - “I’d like to hit you in the back of the head with this frying pan.”

The excellence of this pie my husband and I are baking together really is delicious. I am happy to report that 85% of our relationship is truly a joy. I married a man who is my best friend, who loves me and accepts me exactly as I am (even when I don’t offer myself that same courtesy), who is tremendously supportive of my hopes and dreams and who is - I’m sorry in case his Mother is reading this but it must be said publicly - a real rocket in the sack!

Then there are times that are pretty good. Enjoyable, relaxed, domestic. He takes out the garbage, I clean the kitchen. At the end of a long and delightful day of parenting (sometimes together, sometimes individually) we fall down into the sofa with a cup of Bengal Spice tea and invite the cushions to hammock us into a much deserved vegetative retreat in front of the TV. It’s nice.

Other times, meh… Boredom sets in. I look at my mate and wonder how many times a day I will have to pick up the clothes he has discarded on our bedroom floor, creating a veritable obstacle course which threatens to topple me, ass end over tea kettle, if I venture to travel within ten feet of his side of the bed. “The laundry hamper is right there! Can you not see it? This is boring. Why do I have to pick these clothes up every day?”

Which brings us to Irritation. Meh and irritation are not too distantly related. They may not have gone to school together as kids but they sure met up at summer camp and set a few gophers on fire. Throw an impatient wife into the mix and irritation becomes a Molotov cocktail, having graduated from human-fuse status to a lethal weapon waiting to wreak havoc on all (and when I say all, I mean husband) who may enter.

This brings us to the 1% of my relationship which makes me want to hit my husband over the back of the head with a frying pan. Yes the same one he used earlier in the day to cook scrambled eggs, a dish he “Brycified” to culinary perfection. A pan in which the remnants of his concoction slowly transformed from an award winning brunch to the skeletal remains of an egg dish that become impossible to scrub away from a pan after you let it sit on a stove to rot for 6 or 7 hours. This part of the marriage pie does not taste very good. The crust is burnt as if it were pushed too far to the back of the oven where the heat took hold of it during baking. When I take a bite of this piece of the pie, the blackened crust disintegrates in my mouth like dust.

Now to be fair, this 1% of our relationship where I want to go all Bruce Lee on his ass, swinging that frying pan through the air like a ninja wielding a pair of nunchucks, is not the fault of my husband alone, nor does it just happen overnight. This part of the pie is not so closely related to Irritation and Meh, who are only passing acquaintances of Pretty Good and have never even met the 85% Excellence which we usually enjoy. No, this part of the pie takes just as much work to bake as the good stuff. It requires me to jump into old habits of poor communication, judgments and finger pointing. It compels me to leave all common sense at the door. It forces me to remove my usual attire of rational thought and don in its place the mask of Hector Projector - that grotesque hooligan that takes every insecurity and fear I ever had and magnifies them through every ounce of the future I can see for myself until it shows me a terrifying reality doomed to failure, which does not actually exist, but is only being created in my head right now.

This past week was the frying pan week - the 1% that sucked. For every couple, that sucky part manifests for different reasons. Different triggers cause it to pop up. For Bryce and me, the trigger is usually always money. My hubby, along with his entire department, was laid off from his company five months ago and since then he has been looking for work. Unemployment is a stressful thing for any couple and we are no different. Money is a necessity and the insecurity of not knowing where it’s going to come from, particularly when you have a child, is no fun at all. But money is never really totally about money, is it? Sure it may have a dollar figure attached but it always brings with it the baggage of associations that many of us lug around through life. For me, having grown up mostly hovering around the poverty line, it means the following simply put: If I have enough to pay my bills on time and to do fun things, I am ok. But if I don’t, I am not good enough. I am poor. I am unworthy. And this particularly useless mantra snowballs from there.

I think I am always striving to connect to my worth. So when I combine the obvious fact that people need money to survive in this capitalist society, with my life long struggle with self-esteem, then money takes on a whole new meaning. It becomes more powerful than it should be - a downright assailant. “You don’t have a job. We don’t have enough to pay our bills at the end of the month” is stressful enough but when one also attaches a human value to having or not having money then forget about it. It’s World War III. Two people in a marriage either avoiding their issues or magnifying them as a result of money cannot, I have learned, have a rational conversation about plausible solutions. It’s a fight to the death and hopefully that death mourns only the passing of the Ego, that little voice in your head that prances around with sharpened kitchen knives stabbing you with various thoughts of worthlessness. When the ego takes over from a whisper to an all out shouting match then that’s when marriage becomes a battlefield. You know how they say that in a relationship you have to pick your battles? For us, it’s at this point in the match when we have to go to our separate corners. Nothing is being received as intended. All spoken words are construed as attacks. The bell rings and we step back to our trainers, our corner man of choice, as we eye each other cautiously. It’s the only thing, for us anyway, which gives us the space we need to calm down and re-focus.

Thankfully, this is exactly what happens. Bryce goes to the movies and dinner - a treat from his friend Dennis, his best man at our wedding, who in these times of conflict has become my best man too. Zach and I hang out in the sunshine of our backyard with family and enjoy a fabulous dinner with my dear friend, Valerie. We each take the space we need, receive wise counsel from people who have been there before us and, a bit renewed, come back to each other in a slow wet kiss, interrupted by the collision of our teeth as we laugh at an ice-breaker, some goofy thing I say in the moment. (Now this is the kind of collision I enjoy, one that is brought on by our common laughter and extra large front teeth.) Then I sink in to my sweetheart’s lips and linger there for a while. He has lightened after a tough week and I have too. And as I hold him close, I can feel us sliding out of the piece of pie that feels so awful, through what was previously irritating, and slowly back into the good stuff.

The road back to this 85% of the pie inevitably brings with it some growing. This part of the path asks you to question how you got out of there in the first place. As I consider this, I wonder if money will always be an issue for us. And though we gotta have it ‘cause it’s what pays the bills, I am reminded to put its role in our lives into perspective as I read the wise words of an exceptional writer, Judy Wark. In this passage, she describes her great wish for her dying husband, Andrew, in his last days before succumbing to cancer: “…It is paramount that he and those around him know… truly know that the worth of a person lies not in his ability to accumulate wealth or do great deeds. The measure of a man remains locked into this reality alone: that he has loved well and been loved.”

This is my great wish for us also.

We finish up our slow wet kiss and I take a good look at him. Nothing has changed financially for us but the focus has shifted. We are now dancing on the shores of possibility. Problem solving, as an option, has washed up on the beach and I like the way its water cleanses the sand. It feels good against my feet. Which are firmly planted right next to those of my husband as we stand here, our sacred little family, our happy threesome, lapping it all up.

We're ready to dig into a good piece of pie….

1 comment:

S├ębastian Hell said...

Reading these, today, is weird.

I'm like a year behind you in my Life Experiences, I guess.

Except in my case, I've/we've been alternating between either 1% and 3% for a month and a half now, longer than ever before in our 9-year relationship.

I can't wait to read how you got through it, maybe I could use it as inspiration!