At brunch one morning on a recent cruise to Cozumel, one of our table mates announced that she’d been married to her husband for 52 years. Naturally, a round of wows and congratulations went up. She may as well have declared magical powers. Of course I wanted to know their secret — and so did the rest of the women at the table because someone else beat me to the punch. The veteran wife shrugged. “There is no secret,” she said matter-of-factly. “I like him MOST of the time.”
I appreciated her honesty. And I wondered how many times she’d offered that answer to couples (read: women) eager to perfect their relationships. I was taking mental notes as usual. Scraps of relational wisdom have been taking their place in my back pocket for as long as I can remember. I started keeping a journal at age 9, citing childlike observations about classmates in detail. When I was in high school, I used my public library card to check out a book on tape: “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.” (You may have heard of it.) If my memory serves me right, this audio “research” was an effort on the part of my resourceful 16-year-old self to master the elusive art of inter-gender communication. The fact-finding mission went on like this for over a decade. And I’d be lying if I said it ever really ended. Let’s just say I became real good friends with Trial & Error.
Fast forward 17 years to breakfast on a cruise ship with my sweetheart.
“Are you on your honeymoon?”
“How long have y’all been married?”
These were the kinds of questions we got from both our wait staff and dining companions alike at mealtime on the ship. And a funny thing happened. I realized that a few years ago, that line of presumptuous questioning would have annoyed me. People are quick to assume this is what every woman wants — that marriage and children are the pinnacle of achievement.
Hey man, I have a career to nurture! I have personal goals to meet!
Besides, my knack for relationships of the square-peg-round-hole variety had made me very well acquainted with the heavy weight of unrealistic expectations and disappointment. I just wasn’t on board for more uncertainty. However, as it turns out, a little lady I’ll call Timing was off enjoying a tropical vacation of her own, and I’m pretty sure she looked up from her daiquiri only to shake her head at me.
Wisdom or bust
When Mr. W walked into my life unexpectedly a year and a half ago, I wasn’t prepared for his even-tempered, reliable presence. Or the easy conversation. He’s a thoughtful listener who humors me when I go on about my social conscience, and challenges me when I take myself too seriously. He likes to celebrate the mundane with champagne. And chivalry is alive and well with him. Lord, have mercy! Everything fell into place so … bizarrely.
One day at lunch, I relayed these bewildered sentiments to one of my girlfriends. She looked at me hard across the table. “Reyna, that’s what it’s SUPPOSED to be like.”
I was thrown. Had I really grown so accustomed to the relationship roller coaster that uncertainty had become my expectation? (All signs point to yes.) Thing is, I took that whole “relationships take work” thing a little too literally in the past because no pain, no gain, right? And that’s bullshit, people. If it’s just not working, and it makes you nauseous, you have to stop doing that to yourself and leave. My “make it work at all costs” mentality meant that I’d come to expect some serious soul-sucking overtime would be a regular part of the gig. And guess what? That’s actually not the same thing as a sincere collaborative effort. Go figure.
It’s a good thing I’ve been stockpiling wisdom like a doomsday prepper. These days, Timing is on my side, and she brought along a sickeningly sweet satisfaction that I’m quick to recognize as rare. Besides, I can’t keep making chickenshit assumptions about marriage based on other people’s experiences. So this time, when the inevitable questions were posed by strangers around the breakfast table, they made me smile. Contentment is a powerful salve, you know.