There’s that line from When Harry Met Sally: “You look like a normal person, but actually, you are the angel of death.”
We should rewrite that about Meg: “You look like the epitome of marital felicity, but actually, you are the destroyer of marriages.”
Oh come on. I know Meg Ryan doesn’t write the scripts for those romantic comedies. Duh. I realize there’s a good chance she thinks that stuff is inane drivel, but you have to admit, Ms. Ryan and her perky blonde curls, the unbelievably heartfelt love stories she tells, the “true love,” the best friendship, the soul mate stuff…she’s like the quintessential depiction of “all that a marriage should be.”
Or, as I like to call it “The Shit that Ruins Marriages.”
Let me explain: We watch movies like that from the time we’re young and it gives us ideas. Expectations. Beliefs.
And then we meet that special someone and we’re all “OMG I’ve found my soul mate, just like in the movies!”
And we’re just SURE he’s the one and the love story is coming true and OMG it’s all so good.
But then we get married, and one or two or three years later we’re like “Who is this douchebag and why is he in my house?”
And every day feels like work and work and MORE WORK. You hate your husband and he pretty much hates you.
There’s no romance. There’s only confusion and miscommunication and yelling and silence. There are tears and reflection of the “old days” when you were new to the relationship and actually liked each other. And you’re sure you’ve made a tragic mistake. Something’s happened to your marriage; the love has died. The friendship has flickered. Something is terribly wrong.
And all you can do when nobody’s around is think: But it’s not supposed to be like this! Marriage is supposed to be fulfilling! It’s supposed to be fun and interesting and enlightening! We’re supposed to laugh and flirt and have sex on the kitchen floor. Witty banter, coy smiles, dancing!
No, that’s not it. And since nobody else seems to be saying it, I guess I’ll take the plunge and just throw this out: “Marriage is the hardest fucking work in the world and the only thing that makes it last is bulldog-like tenacity and full acceptance of the fact that your partner is not supposed to give your life meaning.”
I can’t believe I just said that out loud.
But it’s true.
I’m no authority on marriage. OBVIOUSLY.
But sometimes, my friends get married. Then, about a year later, I get a phone call or fifty, generally announcing something along the lines of “I made a mistake. I hate being married. Screw this shit.”
And I’m like, “Yes, well. Welcome to the club.”
Them: “This is nothing like what I expected.”
Me: “Yeah. I know.”
Them: “I’m not fulfilled. This is totally not fulfilling. In fact, I hate the motherfucker.”
Me: “Yeah. I know.”
Them: “How did you and Mac make it so long?”
Me: “We didn’t divorce.”
And then there’s a weird silence while they try to think of a friend to call who’s actually helpful.
Having gotten married too young on a cold December day with a baby in a sling across my body, under a tree in front of a courthouse of a hideous town, dressed in all black, I started my marriage in a highly unromantic way.
We were insanely in love when we first met. You can read about it here. But after that, for a variety of reasons (mostly involving immaturity and Captain Morgan), we spent years and years doing everything in our power to obliterate our little love story. We often loathed one another.
Like seriously hated each other. We separated a couple times, but always came back together. I just never left for good. Why?
You want the truth?
Because I couldn’t stomach the thought of another woman being around my children.
Yeah, I know. It’s profound. Super romantic. Real Sleepless in Seattle shit.
But it’s the truth. I’m telling you this so you understand that THAT is how little “love” I felt. I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t feel it. All I knew is that I didn’t want a broken family. So I held on and held on and so did he and I’ll be damned if eleven years later, we’re still here, and we’re doing alright.
Most of the time. The rest of the time it’s yelling and screaming and wishing I could whack him with blunt objects. But that’s rare these days. Much to my astonishment, it’s pretty rare. And I’ll even say, we’re happy.
But nobody talks about the price you have to pay to get that “happy.” The longed-for “happy marriage.” Nobody talks about the screaming and the agony and the silent nights – after night, after night, of the same. The cruel insults and utter dismissal. The depression. The counseling. The soul-crushing inability to connect with a person you used to feel inextricably connected to.
The moment you realize “Whatever. Fuck it. I guess this is as good as it gets.”
And you surrender.
Because there’s nowhere else to go and the thought of starting over with a NEW MAN is about as appealing as stabbing yourself in the eye with a razor blade, so you just give up. You “resign” yourself, even though you swore you’d never do such a thing…I mean how SAD! How pathetic!
You’ve sold out. It’s over. You’ve never been so down.
And in that moment of total desperation, in the deepest sorrow you’ve ever felt, the insane thought enters your mind… “Maybe marriage isn’t supposed to ‘fulfill’ me.”
Maybe I’m meant to live my life fully and completely and let him live his, and independently we build this thing together, but separately, and I let him be and he lets me be, because the “change each other” plan isn’t working, and I can’t live with him and I can’t live without him.
Maybe those movies were wrong, you think to yourself. Maybe Meg fucking Ryan lied.
Maybe I had it all wrong.
And with your heart in your gut and the surety your life is over, you stop fighting and accept the douchebag for who he is, and you make peace with the fact that he’ll never fully meet your expectations, he’ll never be your perfect “soul mate,” the one who makes your life whole and full and meaningful like the italicized poetry in those Hallmark cards.
[Alright maybe some people have Hallmark marriages from day one. Yeah, well, some people also experience “orgasms” during childbirth. The only thing to do with those people is assume they’re fucking lying and move on.]
For the rest of us, staying married often feels like stepping into an abyss and falling, forever, into the unknown.
Until two or three or four years go by, and one day you’re sitting on the couch with that same man and you break into laughter about something only you two understand, or you tell a friend about 10 years ago, when you first met, or you see him sleeping with your son curled against his chest, and in a flash you realize you’re desperately, terribly in love. That something has happened when you weren’t looking, that some new man stands before you and you hold him in respect with all your heart and there’s admiration and true, lasting friendship. He’s there, still, through history and hell and somehow, a life built itself while you were busy arguing, tearing each other apart, sure this couldn’t possibly be life.
And like war survivors you think back and know you’ve got each other only, a dark crazy history, and a family so gorgeous it makes your head spin.
My god, you think, I’ve got a goddamned love story.
And with everything you’ve got you want to thank your younger self and the universe for not giving up, for staying there, for this, even though you never knew it possible, to have this, with the man you were sure you “didn’t love anymore.”
You sit back, watching your friends get married, still a little amazed they look at you and him as a picture of a “happy marriage.” But mostly you can’t believe you really are happy, usually, and in love, mostly, and okay with all of it, the way it’s turned out, in the big picture, the only picture that really matters.
A Meg Ryan love story.
Fused perfectly with Apocalypse Now.
In the greatest love story ever told.
Or this, which is good enough for me.