This weekend I watched one of my best friends, my cousin Beth, get married. We have grown up together, and over the years we have remained as close as sisters. She is beautiful, brainy, and benevolent. In my mind, God had yet to create a guy worthy of her awesomeness.
Then, she met Keith.
When she first mentioned that she was bringing a certain someone to Christmas dinner, I allowed myself to remain skeptical. Beth always looks for the best in people. I, on the other hand, am a bit more cynical. I have been somewhat protective of Beth ever since a neighborhood kid sold her rocks from her own driveway about 30 years ago. The fact that she is now an Ivy League educated hotshot lawyer living on her own in Manhattan may indicate that she is capable of choosing a suitable life partner WITHOUT my rigorous screening process and subsequent acceptance or rejection.
But we are family. It is our job to overestimate the importance of our opinion regarding each other’s life choices.
As it turns out, my Little House on the Prairie Trivia Q & A screening process was not necessary. Keith pretty much had me at “Pass the ham.” The way they stared into each other’s eyes over the crispy cornflake potato casserole, the way his hand kept sneaking under the card table to find her knee…I knew this was it. He was The One.
This past summer, Phil, the girls and I got the chance to spend a weekend with Beth and Keith in Long Beach Island. The strength of their Love Connection was clear even to a 5 year old, as evidenced by a bedtime conversation with Emma:
“Well…because they love each other, and that’s how people show their love.”
“But you love Daddy and you don’t kiss his shoulder.”
She had me there.
“Yeah, well….different people show their love in different ways.
This answer seemed to satisfy her…or, she just lost interest. But the conversation must have lodged itself somewhere in my cranium, because it popped back into my consciousness at the rehearsal dinner this past weekend. I caught a glimpse of Beth planting a quick one on Keith’s shoulder, which he acknowledged with an arm squeeze and loving look. Witnessing such a tender moment brought tears to my eyes, and while I was filled with happiness for Beth, it was accompanied by –I hate to admit it – a slight twinge of envy. Granted, Beth and Keith are in the heart of the Honeymoon Period; Phil and I are seven years, two kids, one apartment, two houses, one dog, and -1 colon deep. But the question loomed in my head:
If it’s true that people show their love for their significant other in different ways….what’s my way?
When does shoulder kissing give way to shoulder shrugging? (“I don’t know how that fraternity t-shirt ended up in the rag bag!?”) How does eye gazing deteriorate into eye rolling? (“You forgot the milk? I called you 5 minutes ago!!”)
At what point in marriage do you go from being over the moon to wanting to send your spouse TO the moon?
At the post-wedding brunch, I turned to the resident experts on this topic (aka. family members who have been married longer than me) and asked them to sum up, in one word, the key to a happy marriage. Their answers were all different, as unique as the individuals within the marriages themselves: Laughter, forgiveness, fun, compromise – just to name a few.
My answer is “equality.” When I hear myself nagging and criticizing full of suggestions directed at Phil, I know it is time to shine the spotlight inward rather than out….to ask myself:
“How about you stop bitching about (fill in the blank) and just do it YOURSELF?”
I read recently that any criticism aimed at your spouse is actually an unconscious criticism of yourself. Intrigued, I even went so far as to complete the book’s accompanying worksheet. Basically the gist of the assignment is to bash your spouse, then insert your own name in lieu of his, therefore bashing yourself.
I am not sure why this is supposed to make you feel better. Maybe the “feel better” part is covered in a later chapter.
But back to my worksheet, which read something like this:
(which then translates to…)
“I am annoyed with myself because I haven’t moved the toaster oven out of the closet even though I know it is a fire hazard.”
Hmmm. Now the reason I have failed to safeguard my family from burning in their beds address this situation is because I need to kill the switch on the power box, and I don’t typically deal with the power box. Because that is Phil’s territory…because he is a man….and men deal with the power box… in 1965.
One marital pothole I seem to keep falling into is the “Role Trap.” He goes to an office everyday, I stay home. He makes money, I make babies don’t. Somewhere along the way I stopped acting like a strong, educated, equal partner and more like…June Cleaver. And no one wants to kiss June Cleaver’s shoulder. At least I don’t think they do.
Phil’s answer to the marriage question was “intrigue.”
What’s your word?