As we close in on the end of the year, I find myself in a somewhat reflective mood. Maybe it’s the approach of the Longest Night, or maybe it’s the New Year and the looming cries of “what resolutions have you made?” Either way, I’ve been thinking about the year gone by, and I realized I have been remiss in saying some things that really should have been said, things that I think most married men do not say but probably should.
No, “I love you” is not going to appear on this list. My assumption is that by now any married man has gotten to understanding he damn well better say it (and mean it) fairly often or he won’t be married very long. This is a list of the things we think but don’t say, either because we’re too busy, too tired, or because we just don’t want a fight.
In no particular order:
Yes, I was wrong. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Please don’t rub it in.
You are that sexy, that smart, that beautiful, that talented, and that amazing. I just wish you could see as clearly as I can.
Actually I do mind doing that activity or going to that place instead of staying home and doing the thing I was going to do instead. Please stop asking me if I’m sure I don’t mind. It’s only making things worse.
I admit it; I was looking at that woman. But so were you. The way she was dressed, I’m surprised the Pope wasn’t looking at her. It’s not like I hit on her, so please cut me some slack.
Thank you. I could list all the times and reasons I should have said it, but honestly I just don’t remember them all, even though I’m fairly sure you do.
Truth is I do know where everything in the house is. I’m just too lazy to get up and get it myself.
It’s your turn to take out the dog.
It’s my turn to do the dishes, clean the house, do the laundry, pick up the groceries, and take out the dog.
I’m proud of you. I’m proud of everything you do, every day. I’m proud I get to say I’m your husband.
Ladies and gentlemen, despite my vigorous protests to the contrary, My Not So Humble Wife insists on informing you about our most time-honored tradition.
On our first date, I quite matter-of-factly told My Not So Humble Husband that he would fall in love with me and that we would end up getting married. This was really meant more as a warning than an aspiration. I just knew. However, I made this lofty proclamation BEFORE we actually moved in together.
Anyone who has moved in with a boyfriend or girlfriend will know that the honeymoon period soon comes to an end in the face of annoying habits, money problems, chore quarrels, and the long disputed toilet seat position. For a while, I wasn’t sure we going to make it. I thought I might end up suffocating him in his sleep with the dirty socks he habitually left on the carpet; or perhaps that I would die an agonizing death of a thousand dull cuts after shaving my legs with his razor… again.
What helped us finally reach a livable equilibrium was the Dance of Shame. After one particularly bad argument, over something I don’t remember, we had both reached that point where neither one of use wanted to apologize but we didn’t really want to be angry at each other anymore either. Sullenly, My Not So Humble Husband approached me in the kitchen and started rocking back on forth from foot to foot with his hands going up and down in the air in time with his steps. I was so surprised I had to break the after argument silence to ask what in the world he was doing. He replied that he was doing the Dance of Shame. I laughed so hard I cried and nearly peed myself. Thus a new marriage coping mechanism was born.
The thing is, it’s really hard to be angry with someone when they are doing the Dance of Shame. It’s just so ridiculous that you pretty much have to laugh. Also, having been the Dancer of Shame on more than one occasion, I can tell you that it is sometimes easier to submit yourself to the Dance than it might actually be to say the words “I’m sorry”.
Once in my classroom of 8th grade students we were talking about conflict resolution and I made the horrible mistake of telling the students about our Dance of Shame. “Do the Dance of Shame! Do the Dance of Shame!” the adolescent monsters chanted. After making the logical argument that I hadn’t done anything shameful enough to deserve the Dance of Shame, they finally quieted down. Two full weeks later, I made a math error on the board. These same students, who can’t even remember to bring a PENCIL to class on a regular basis, somehow remembered about the Dance of Shame. Eventually I had to perform it for them before we could return to polynomials in peace.
So keep the Dance of Shame in mind the next time you need to break the awkward silence of an argument gone on to long, but also BEWARE ITS POWER.
Today I’m going to talk about a subject I have spent the better part of the last decade proving I know absolutely nothing about: marriage.
When I first started dating the woman who was to become my Not So Humble Wife, she told me I was going to marry her one day. I tried to laugh it off, but I have to admit I felt something when she said it. A certain hush, like all the people who had known me my whole life had taken a collective breath and were holding it in fear… Two years later (and after driving through a hurricane to get the engagement ring – I am not making this up), I finally proposed. It was one of the few times in my life I have managed to both surprise and delight her at the same time (she doesn’t usually like surprises).
So why wait so long? Because we wanted to make sure we were making the right choice. We danced around it, talked about it, noodled on it, even joked about it for a long time, both before and after we moved in together. We both knew we were the “forever and ever” types (none of this “til death do us part” crap – watch our wedding video, it’s in our vows), so we had to make sure this was the right thing. I mean hey, we already had everything we wanted “living in sin”, so did we really need to tie the knot?
We talked about all the things everybody says you should talk about and so many couples don’t because they’re so sure that love is enough. We learned one thing very fast when we moved in together: love is not enough. No amount of love in the world is enough. If nothing else you also need patience. But we also talked about the rest of it. We talked about finances (we agree broadly on how to handle them), we talked about religion (different but compatible), we even talked about kids (she likes them with a wine sauce; I prefer a side of fries).
At the end of I all though we realized that those things, while important to having a successful marriage, are not the reasons why you get married.
Why get married? Because ideally you found someone who makes you just a little bit happier. Most of life is lived in the spectrum of mediocre. When you find the right person, you live most of life at mediocre +1. The good times are just a bit better; the bad times are not so bad. They don’t “complete you”, they don’t “make life perfect”, and they don’t “give you a reason to live”. If you need that, you need therapy. That’s no kind of weight to put on someone else’s shoulders. A good spouse is a partner, someone who will support you when you need it but will also challenge you when you need calling out. They give you a desire and an incentive to be a better person, in whatever way that means to you.
At least, that’s what I’ve found so far.
“Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
Ah, the juiciest Commandment. If everybody followed this one, where would Jerry Springer’s career be? Where would most of daytime TV be? Come to think of it, most of our entertainment seems to revolve around breaking this one, so obviously it hits a sore spot for a lot of us, even the folks who aren’t married. But should it be enshrined in law?
The first and most important question is, what exactly is adultery? Don’t be too quick to answer that one. Throughout history and in different jurisdictions, even in the U.S. today, the definition can vary. In North Carolina as recently as 2010 it was as simple as premarital sex. The penalties for adultery have historically ranged from the well-known shunning (think of a certain scarlet letter) to the much more serious and permanent stoning deaths that have occurred in some countries even into the 21st century.
Now, before anyone accuses me of being a libertine (I am not; I am a libertarian, big difference), I would like to point out that I am simply arguing against making adultery as such a criminal offense. So far as I see it the government has no presiding interest in the goings on in private bedrooms. But there is a role to be had for the government relating to this Commandment, one that is both simple and just.
I asked before, “what is adultery?” My answer would be, “a violation of the marital contract.” Now that may sound to some to be somewhat akin to the famous definition of pornography (“I know it when I see it”), but in fact it is much more direct and simple than that. Each couple, when they marry, takes certain vows, and in so doing they enter into what is commonly accepted (one might even refer to it as being common law) as a binding contract. Those vows may differ from couple to couple, but that does not make them any less binding than if my lease is different than the lease you have with your landlord. In the same way that if I have a dispute with my landlord, we can choose to resolve it privately, or either one of us can choose to take it to court.
Viewed through this lens, the role of the government becomes not one of deciding what does or does not constitute proper behavior, or even what does or does not constitute a proper marriage, but simply one of performing two tasks the court system is eminently and explicitly designed for: determining the validity of a contract, and adjudicating the proper performance of contractual obligations. If “forsaking all others” was a part of the marital vows (as it commonly is, in some form or other) then adultery would be a violation of that contract, and would be grounds for a termination of that contract, presumably with favorable terms to the aggrieved party.
In this world I envision, so-called immoral behavior would not, shockingly, go up. I say “so-called immoral behavior” because I’m a big believer in expressed preference. I’ve known too many people who talk a good game about their morality but don’t live it, and often those are the same people who want to pass laws to force others to live by that same moral code. What I believe is that if you think something is wrong, don’t do it. It really is that simple. Note that I didn’t say it was easy, but then the right thing rarely is. Still, as I was reminded in a talk recently with the Anglican Anarchist, we were given free will for a reason. If you aren’t free to choose to do the wrong thing, there is no value in doing the right thing.
If the government is not dictating morality, it is up to us, as individuals and as a society, to determine what morality is. We can preach it in our churches, teach it in our homes, argue it in our coffee shops and town squares, and when and if we decide to marry, we can draw up the contracts that suit us as individuals and couples best, without someone else deciding for us what our marriage will mean.