Lately, I've been thinking a lot about marriage, maybe because we're going to a wedding this weekend, maybe because I read all that match-heavy Jane Austen, maybe because my anniversary is coming up. At the end of this month, David and I will have been married 14 years. I haven't yet gotten him a gift, which a few years ago would have made me extremely anxious because as gifts go, I like grand gestures and surprises. David on the other hand likes getting something from the list of things he is hoping for. I fought this for years, but recently, I've been won over. Now the gift-giving process is amazing. I send him a "what do you want" email, he replies with a list, and I say "why don't you go ahead and order #3," and then he says, "actually, I've already ordered #1." So that's easy.
What I've been thinking about mostly though is how much a marriage changes over time, and when I say "thinking" I mean, "obsessing" which is generally an indication of an emerging project, and can I just say, thank god. I need a distraction from the last one because, at this stage, it's fairly clear that that project is just trying to kill me.
Anyway, by the time we hit 14 years, though it's all with the same person, we've been in so many different relationships, some good, some bad. A lot bad, actually. I think we can all agree that the first, say, 7 years of marriage are a living hell, yes? Or maybe it's just that David and I had so many small children during those years and having small children is a living hell. I mean, I don't want to speak for everyone here (this is a lie, I almost always want to speak for everyone which is why I'm a writer), but yeah, years 1-7 are awful.
Maybe part of this is that in the beginning we're more focused on the relationship that we think we should have rather than the one we're in. How can I make you more like the spouse I have always imagined? Where is that "perfect amity" Ms. Austen told me to expect? Why don't we like all the same things?
This was a particularly difficult aspect for me, and I think for many women because we're really taught from a young age that your mate is the person who meets basically all of your needs. Like, why would you even need friends anymore?
Things I like to talk about: books, poetry, writing. Things David likes to talk about: water heaters, motorcycles, cars (and not like, "these are great seat-warmers!" but like "blah, blah, blah, engine, blah, blah, blah, torque"). Can you imagine? Perfect amity indeed.
Given time though, we figure out what works, what we need from one another, what is better left to our friends. And then of course, there are the children, and there's the additional affection born of being on the same side against them.
So, yes, the second decade of marriage is pretty good, probably even worth the trouble of getting through the first. Please don't tell my husband that I said this though, as our marriage is heavily dependent on a near constant state of belligerent flirtation and my saying something nice about him would upset that balance tremendously. (He is, of course, allowed to say nice things about me, and in fact there may even be a daily quota involved. I'm not saying that I'm easy to live with; I'm just saying that I've learned to give very clear direction.)