We had a pretty uneventful weekend, here. We watched football (go Patriots!). We grumbled about the weather. I swore I was going to do laundry and go grocery shopping and then I did lots of laundry but neglected to go grocery shopping, which meant that this morning I packed everyone a delicious lunch of various odds and ends, and have hereby sworn that TODAY, no really, today, I SWEAR, I’ll go get groceries.
The kids saw their dad. Chickadee’s quiz bowl team defeated their most loathed rival team at Regionals but ultimately didn’t go on to State. While they were doing that, I was at play rehearsal and Otto staked out the District Science Fair, where all the kids who were busy at the Bowl were winning at the Fair but couldn’t be there. (Chickadee’s project—which was a DRAHHHMAAAAHHH of epic proportions for several months—has now taken first place in category at both school and district levels, and she is now on to Regionals still vowing that nothing less than first place will do. So glad she’s not putting any pressure on herself. Ahem.)
Otto and I didn’t do anything special, really. We shuffled the kids around and worked in our respective offices and played with the dog and ate popcorn and tended to the minutiae of daily life, and never once did I stop to think OMG OUR MARRIAGE COULD IMPLODE AT ANY MOMENT.
Here’s the thing: There’s been a lot of “celebrity” or pseudo-celebrity news lately of marriages breaking up. And because I sometimes can’t look away, while I was catching up on blogs this weekend I was reading about some of these various people, and I noticed that—particularly when it’s a well-known blogger who’s experiencing marital difficulty—the sympathetic comments tend to run quite quickly towards, “If you two can’t make it work, maybe no one can. It makes me afraid for my own marriage.”
[Sidebar: Let me pause for a moment here to say that I have nothing but the utmost empathy for anyone going through a separation or a divorce, no matter who they are. And maybe I have an extra helping of sympathy for anyone who has to go through that particular hell in the "public eye." I don't have any patience for the whole "but they wanted to share their lives, this is what they get" line of criticism; breaking up sucks, period, full stop. It doesn't matter if you live a public life or a private one. I think a default position of compassion is never a wrong move. Pain is pain. Rejoicing in someone else's pain just makes you a dick.]
So, I think there’s a couple of things going on there, both of which kind of irk me. The first is the whole notion that if a blogger shares about their life online, the readers “know” that person completely. That’s sort of a global issue that I could talk/write about for days (weeks, months, years!) if I wanted to; I’ve yet to meet the blogger who shares EVERYTHING, no matter how “raw” their blog appears to be. Even those who swear they don’t hold back are still coloring their words with perception and bias, and that leads into the whole “is there One Truth?” argument, and blah blah blah, let’s just agree that’s one facet of this issue but not go any further down that philosophical path. That’s not what I want to address.
The second thing that I find alarming here is this whole notion of “if those people can’t hold their marriage together, everyone is in danger.” Now, I think it’s perfectly natural to feel dismay and maybe even alarm if you see a couple who you’d assumed to be happy breaking up. It may even be natural to have a brief moment of “I thought they had it all, and if they can’t make it work, wow, that might mean sometimes unforeseen things happen.” I get that. But the number of people and SHEER PANIC I see in some of these reactions just… bewilders me.
Marriage is hard work. Marriage takes two willing participants. Sometimes previously happy marriages get to a place where continuation is no longer tenable. It’s true that “anyone’s” marriage could spontaneously combust, but it’s also true that you could walk outside and be run over by the garbage truck. Things happen, it’s true. But you don’t walk around being afraid of being run over by a garbage truck when you read about that freak accident in the news, so why does reading about someone else’s failed marriage make you assume your marriage could be doomed, too?
I’m not a relationship expert. Someday in the future, Otto could come to me and tell me he wants a divorce, and then I’ll look back at this post (or surely a commenter will remind me of it, heh) and wail OH, ALANIS, ISN’T IT IRONIC! and I’ll weep bitter tears, I guess. But the difference here is that hearing about people breaking up doesn’t automatically make me think I should be worried about my own personal marriage. And that’s because… well, two things. First, because I already know what a crappy marriage looks like (experience! I has it!), and second, because instead of sitting around wringing my hands about what-ifs in this particular arena, I, y’know, try very hard to never, ever take my marriage to Otto for granted.
Otto is pretty darn close to perfect, but he’s human, and therefore not actually perfect. And I’m miles from perfect. Our marriage isn’t perfect. It doesn’t take perfect people to make a good marriage. (And understand here that I’m using “marriage” because that’s what I have, but really this applies to whatever sort of romantic relationship; I’m not inferring you have to be married for this to apply.) It takes people who are willing to work at it and love each other and apologize when necessary and bite their tongues sometimes and give in sometimes. It takes mindfulness. It takes compromise. It takes gratitude. Does it take luck? Maybe a little, but that’s wayyyyyy down on the list of things I think it takes. Marriage isn’t a thing you agree to on your wedding day and then you just cross your fingers and hope the rest of it works out. It’s not something you HAVE, it’s something you DO.
Sometimes, do marriages between two fantastic people who are really committed to working it out still not make it? Of course. And that’s sad and unfortunate and my heart goes out to anyone in that situation. But does it make me think “I’M NEXT, OH NOES!”? No. And I guess I’m confused as to why anyone who’s committed to the day-to-day down-in-the-trenches care and feeding of a marriage they enjoy would react that way. It makes me sad. It also kind of makes me want to holler “BE A PROBLEM SOLVER!” at everyone who reacts that way. Be proactive if you’re worried, you know?
Actually, scratch that. Just be proactive, period. And stop looking at other people’s relationships to define your own. Talk to your spouse. Say “I love you.” Say “I appreciate you.” Say “thank you.” Say “What can I do?” Say “How can I fix this?” if something needs fixing. Stop worrying, and get back to living. Take the sad stories as sad stories that make you redouble your efforts not to end up a statistic, rather than as an excuse to feel helpless.
Am I lucky? Hell yes. But a whole lot of that luck was made. And you can pry it out of my cold, dead hands. I can’t 100% guarantee it will last—there are no guarantees in life, after all—but I CAN guarantee I will be actively working to keep it going every single day. It turns out that that leaves precious little room for any thoughts of whether someone else’s marriage has any relevance to mine. Just sayin’.