Because of my charm, wit, and incredible good looks, I’m often mistaken for a much younger man. (Usually some guy named Bob, I dunno why.) One of the natural consequences of this is that people are often surprised to find out how long SOBUMD and I have been married. A recent question on the topic was posted under the ManFAQ:
Question: I have a question for you! You and your wifey have been together for EVERRRR. How do you guys have such a successful marriage and life together?
Since this isn’t really a ManFAQ question, I have no compunctions about fielding it on a Sunday. Just to put your terminology in perspective, when you refer to “forever,” we need to mention that there are branches of mathematics that deal with numbers so small that the number “one” is semantically equal to “infinity.” This is exactly what being married for 20 years feels like. The first 10 years went by pretty quickly; the past 10 went by so fast it makes my head spin – and at the same time, I have no recollection of any life before SOBUMD. I’m sure that somewhere there is A Thinker who could explain this in terms of a quantum theory of married life, or more likely a Unified Theory of Matrimonial Relativity, and I think that he should get to work on that.
In the mean time, having put our timeframe in some perspective (forever = 20+ years), your question was “how does it work?” How do we maintain our sanity living in such close quarters with one another, day after day, and with these impossible children, always wanting something, something, and something more, and with these cats, demanding food, particularly the chicken you just cooked? Well, I’ll tell you.
That guy Socrates once said the unexamined life is not worth living, but he made no such comments about marriage. Of his wife, he is to have said “I wish to deal with human beings, to associate with man in general; hence my choice of wife. I know full well, if I can tolerate her spirit, I can with ease attach myself to every human being else.”
I think it’s safe to assume, then, that one of the secrets to a long and happy marriage, not unlike the first rule of fight club, is don’t spend too much time asking each other if you’re happy. One of the least fun things I can imagine is sitting around trying to measure exactly how much fun you’re having.
That’s not to say don’t talk to each other – open communication is critical. One of the secrets to our marriage is that SOBUMD and I talk openly and honestly all the time. For example, she tells me what she wants me to do and I say “Yes, Dear.” These two simple words have saved our marriage more than once.
Another very useful mechanism for ensuring domestic tranquility lies in keeping separate reading areas. We have a lamp over the bed that has two lights on two flexible arms, each with a dimmer and each with an on/off switch. I can sleep on my side, in relative darkness, while SOBUMD enjoys the last few pages of her book in a soft puddle of halogen. Sometimes, even the advertising has a hint of truth in it.
This may go without saying, but since I’m the kind of guy who tends to say everything all the time anyway, I’ll go ahead: If you don’t have anything else that has to get done right now, consider all the advantages of a little Hey Hey. I don’t care if it’s 3:30 in the afternoon and your folks will be there in half an hour for dinner, that’s still time for a quickie. It’s 1:30 in the morning and you can’t get to sleep? Hey Hey! The dishes can wait.
The logical follow up to that, of course, is kids – and here I’ll tell you that one of the great secrets of our marriage was waiting a good long time before we had any. We were together around 8 years before finding out that we were unprepared to have kids but were having one anyway. (No one is ever really prepared for the first one. Trust me.) Life with a kid adds a new dimension to marriage, since before you were just married because it was fun. Now you have a job, and you need to make sure that you bring the fun with you to this new job.
The number of kids is reputed to make a difference as well. With one, you have the advantage of always knowing who did it. With two or more, you’ll never be quite sure. Also, once you go past two kids, you have to switch from man-to-man defense to zone – they outnumber you, and they’re FAST. They also absorb all your available time, energy, and money, so you need to make time for the two of you – babysitters are necessary once in a while and should be deductible on your taxes as a mental health expense. SOBUMD and I have occasional “date nights,” where we go out with just us, or with other friends escaping from their kids, and we have a great time
pretending we’re young again just enjoying each other’s adult company. Mind you, all we talk about are the kids, but still.
Life is short, and very few things are actually important in the long run. Being nice to each other is one of those few. Talk enough to make sure you know how to make each other happy. Don’t let familiarity breed contempt. Remember your empathy, your common history, and your manners. Say please. Say thank you. Don’t talk so much that you make each other unhappy. The unexamined life is still life, and the mostly unexamined marriage can be a very happy one. Don’t try too hard.
It’s an adventure. Enjoy it!