If asked what it’s like being married to me, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Good Wife borrowed from Janice Min who recently said of Netflix, “Everything was completely amazing up until it wasn’t.”
Dig the last two paragraphs:
“If I had known that this drinking-glass situation and similar arguments would actually end my marriage—that the existence of love, trust, respect, and safety in our marriage was dependent on these moments I was writing off as petty disagreements—I would have made different choices.
I could have communicated my love and respect for her by not leaving tiny reminders for her each day that she wasn’t considered. That she wasn’t remembered. That she wasn’t respected. I could have carefully avoided leaving evidence that I would always choose my feelings and my preferences over hers.”
In one portion of my first year writing seminar, my students and I explore the concept of romantic love and the notion of “soulmates” more specifically. Next fall, in that context, we will read this essay. Eighteen and nineteen year olds don’t even remotely think about romantic relationships in Fray’s suggested terms because no one ever asks them to. In my teaching experience, when they are challenged to, they routinely rise to the occasion and reveal genuine maturity and depth.
More broadly, if you want to invite me to a dinner party, I would enjoy using this excerpt as a case study of sorts to engage other couples about the relative health of their relationships. It would be thrilling because it could go spectacularly wrong, but even then it would be revealing to hear people’s different perspectives on Fray’s telling of his divorce story.
Or I suppose, we can just keep talking about Elon Musk, the price of gas, and the weather.
The Good Wife and I are in marriage counseling, not because our relationship is bad, but because we want it to be better.
I deserve no credit for this, the GalPal has taken all the initiative. And therein lies one of the challenges. I think we should be able to improve things on our own if we carefully consider the different dynamics of the alternating peaks and valleys of our partnership. And then accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. You know, easy-peasy, just use more of our brain power.
Now I know that assumption is terribly flawed. We can’t think our way to a better relationship, it’s much more about heart, and dare I say, feelings. If it has anything to do with intelligence, it’s solely emotional intelligence.
Our counselor diagnosed our main problem quickly in a way that resonated with both of us. Most of the time, when we try to resolve conflicts, one or both of us are too angry, or emotionally “flooded” or “unregulated” to show genuine care for one another and have a constructive conversation. We ignore the flooding at our own peril, proceeding to get more and more angry, and ultimately, saying hurtful things we inevitably regret.
One epiphany came when our counselor asked each of us to describe the physiological changes we experience during the initial stages of a challenging conversation. The GoodWife aced that quiz describing in some detail several physiological changes. The weekend warrior athlete who constantly assesses how his body is or isn’t functioning while swimming, running, and cycling, couldn’t describe a single physiological change; earning a donut hole on the quiz.
The point of physiological self-awareness is to make sure we only enter into challenging conversations when each of us is regulated, meaning sufficiently calm to engage in a kind and caring manner.
I wasn’t as embarrassed by my total lack of physiological self-awareness as one might think, more intrigued. How can that be? Why the hell is that? That realization has me now trying to get into some kind of touch with my physiological married self. To quote Bill Murray, “Baby steps.”
I think the answer to “how can that be” and “why is that” is two-fold. I had two great parents, three older siblings who I tried to watch and learn from, and an overall positive childhood, but there was no intentional or deliberate conflict resolution or social-emotional teaching or learning more generally going on in our house. Ever.
Nor was there any intentional or deliberate conflict resolution or social-emotional teaching or learning going at any of the K-12 schools I attended. Extra-curricular activities included. Sunday School and church youth groups included.
So it’s not entirely surprising that I failed the quiz.
By this point, my older sissy has stopped reading, thinking to herself, “Ron, it’s not all about you.”
It’s too bad she checked out because I know my experience is that of damn near every male growing up in these (dis)United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. We talk about “food deserts” in poor communities, but what about “emotional deserts” in every community, irrespective of economics?
What would emotionally intelligent parenting for both boys and girls look like? What do emotionally intelligent parents know and what are they doing that’s different?
How can educators, coaches, art and music leaders, youth pastors, anyone in youth leadership positions begin fostering emotional intelligence?
How can parents better partner with other adults in their children’s lives to help their sons and daughters develop some semblance of emotional and physiological self-awareness?
We need more attention and better reporting on these things. Meaning engaging and accessible stories that will educate and inspire ordinary people who only know what they’ve experienced. Stories that spark imagination, challenge the status quo, and foster new and better ways of relating to one another.
Because I’m busy watching golf, the Good Wife agreed to pick up a library book that’s on hold for me.
Well, she tried. They had to call me to ask if she had permission to pick up books on hold for me. Or if I wanted, I could convey all of the privileges of my card to her.
Because I’m crazy in love with her and a big risk taker, I told the nice library person to go full throttle with la ultima card privileges.
Those of you who know the GalPal are right to wonder about my decision. She could easily run up a shitload of late fees, forcing me to return to work full time. Or she could purposely check out supe-embarrassing books in my name and then blackmail me for some ungodly sum.
It’s just the most recent example of me living on the edge.
Bazelon, 51 years old, in an essay adapted from a book, writes:
“The feminism of my mother’s generation was rightly focused on equal pay at work; eradicating the abuses that drove women out of the workforce or caused them to switch to lower-paying, part-time work; and, eventually, equal division of labor at home. That project is far from complete. But feminism today must be about more than these structural changes. We have to redefine what it means to be a good mother.”
She then adds:
“No real change is possible until working mothers stop trying to be all things to all people—perfect at work, perfect as partners, and perfect as mothers, with each role kept entirely separate. Rather than hermetically sealing motherhood off from workplace struggles and triumphs, women should embrace the seepage between their worlds. For themselves, but also for their sons and daughters.”
Then she describes a few working mothers who do seem to be all things to all people, which left me somewhat confused.
She makes a strong argument for ambitious mothers, but I couldn’t help but notice the two marriages she describes in most depth both ended in divorce. Which makes me think, acknowledging the limits of my hetero assumption, another book is in order. One on how men can partner more effectively with ambitious, successful women.
You can suffer from marriage burnout and parent burnout and pandemic burnout partly because, although burnout is supposed to be mainly about working too much, people now talk about all sorts of things that aren’t work as if they were: you have to work on your marriage, work in your garden, work out, work harder raising your kids, work on your relationship with God (‘Are You at Risk for Christian Burnout?’ One Web site asks. You’ll know you are if you’re driving yourself too hard to become an ‘an excellent Christian.’) Even getting a massage is ‘bodywork’.Jill Lepore, It’s Just Too Much, The New Yorker, 5/24/21
I’ve been married a long time. It’s weird to think my parents and many of their peers made one of the most consequential decisions of their lives when they were still teenagers. And that many in my generation did the same in our early 20’s. Young adults today have the good sense to wait a little longer.
In hindsight, I made a good decision, but I’m not so sure the Good Wife would say the same because I have so many faults. The most obvious being the girlfriends on the side.
Don’t judge, a lot of men do it in different corners of the world. Monogamy is hard.
Recently, I ditched a girlfriend of seven years for a new, younger vixen named Blanca.
Blanca has an endless number of endearing attributes, most importantly, electronic shifting and amazing gearing range (48/35, 10-28). Also, she’s incredibly balanced and willing to go wherever, whenever.
If the first few months are any indication, it’s going to be a long, beautiful relationship.
By Roz Chast and Patricia Marx in The New Yorker.
This one hits awfully close to home:
“Marriage is one of you secretly turning the thermostat up and the other secretly turning it down, and so on, and so on, until one of you dies.”
Even better than your fave romantic comedy.
The coolest things about being a famous blogger are annoying your friends with tongue-in-check hyperbole, having readers from lots of other countries, and having people tell you they enjoyed a particular post.
But the coolest may be what happened after I posted “Looking for Love—Introducing The Romantic Love Score” four years ago.
I ended that post this way.
“My friend’s RL score? Currently hovering in the high teens, but she’s committed to changing that. Hope I get invited to the wedding.”
The friend, actually a former student, the one who inspired the post, really took it to heart.* She made lots of changes to her life, some I assisted her with, like what used car to buy, and she committed to updating me on the results every six months. I awaited each update with great anticipation.
Then she went silent. For a year. Last I had heard she was dating someone she liked a lot, but I did not know what to make of the delay. Turns out, she was busy falling deeply in love. And planning her wedding.
Here’s part of what she just wrote:
“The wedding was held in my hometown Lutheran church. We kept the wedding invite list very short. To be honest, we felt uncomfortable asking people to travel to PA knowing that it was a significant cost (in more ways than one) with limited time with the person(s) you are celebrating. We had about 50 people in attendance and it was perfect for us.”
Typically considerate of her, but I sure would’ve loved being there, but maybe it was best I wasn’t since the two pics she included in her recent message nearly brought me to tears.
Her crediting my post and subsequent encouragement with helping her make more friends and meeting her husband moved me.
If you know someone like my friend pictured below, full of life, but wanting to share it with someone special, consider forwarding the aforementioned link to them. The more weddings, the better my daughter’s photog business.
*Ironically, I never had my “former student” in a single class. We met while making S’mores one night at a First Year student retreat. We hit it off and she ditched her small group for mine. Following the retreat, we talked off and on during her remaining three and half undergraduate years. She gets the credit for staying in sporadic touch since then via email.