Every happily married couple on earth has a totally different experience of marriage from every other happily married couple on earth. This is because people are all different from each other! All human relationships are inherently unique to the participants involved. Despite this, a staggering number of married couples are inexplicably but irretrievably convinced that every experience of marriage but theirs is wrong. This is called “hubris.”
Sometimes there’s this thing that will happen when you are happily married, which is that somebody who is unhappily married will try to get like, buddy-buddy with you about how much you both hate your spouses? And then you have to have this very awkward conversation where you’re like, “Actually I uh... love...the person I married. Sorry? I mean I’m not sorry, but like... sorry....” and then they’re like “Oh! Uh... I mean I guess I’m sorry... but like good for you guys or whatever, obviously.” Then both parties sidle uncomfortably away. Nobody ever leaves this conversation happier than they were when it began, but that does not seem to stop it from happening, though I wish very much that it would.
I will never again be fully absorbed in a narrative where somebody’s spouse is replaced with a clone or an alien or a Face/Off type situation and they simply don’t notice it. I would know an imposter of my husband in, at absolute most, a single day, and I don’t actually think it would take more than an hour. I wish I could say that this was solely due to the depth of my love for him, and certainly it’s partly that, but mostly it’s that we do so many weird, hyper-specific things within the privacy of our own marriage that an outsider would betray themselves in incredibly short order. Marriage, as it turns out, is where you get strange, and the intersection of our individual oddities is as distinctive as a fingerprint, and unmistakeable.
Once you get married people start saying “What about kids? Have you thought about kids?? When are you gonna have kids???” as though it is inevitable and unavoidable and something everyone always does. This, it turns out, is true even if your marriage consists of two trans men who have made it very clear, many times, that they do not under any circumstances want or intend to have children. For the first few months this confused me, but then I realized that this particular behavior is probably at least part of why I know so many adults who had deeply shitty parents who generally acted as though they didn’t want their kids. Probably don’t tell people who don’t want children to have them, is my theory at this point! Convincing someone to have kids they don’t want will never go well for anyone. Redirect that urge into doing an escape room, or keeping a sourdough starter, or just honestly anything else.
On the topic of weddings, as opposed to the unions they begin: so many people go into their wedding day like “Everything has to be perfect,” and I am here to tell you that this is a trap. Very rarely is any day perfect, let alone a day that typically involves: a high-stakes emotional commitment, various members of multiple families all gathering in one place, the public ranking of one’s close friends, at least one person who should really never be in a room with at least one other person, alcohol, and people who aren’t professional public speakers giving speeches. That’s a day with a LOT working against it, and that’s why when it comes to weddings, the best policy is simply to follow what in our house we call “fiasco rules.” Assume the worst will happen. Choose to find it entertaining. Embrace the chaos. When you are one of the people getting married, a wedding is a five to seven hour endurance event in which you express serious, personal emotions in front of everyone you know and then have a brief, semi-private conversation with absolutely all of them. Even for the most extroverted person that’s a lot; why add the pressure of making sure it all plays out beautifully? If you instead remember that everything that goes wrong is a story to tell later, it’s a lot easier to spare yourself the indignity of snapping at your Aunt Cynthia when she drunkenly puts an elbow into your cake or whatever. Release your expectations into the ether and just strive to have some fun.
Relatedly: the kindest thing you can do for a person at their wedding is bring them either a) an alcohol of some kind (if they drink; if not, any thirst-quenching beverage will do), or b) some of the food they so carefully selected and haven’t had time to eat. If it is your turn to go to speak to the happy couple, then for god’s sake, bring an appetizer.
Being married to someone you truly love is wonderful but it is also terrible, and this is because of something best expressed by Joanna Newsom: “Everyone’s getting older. When I crossed that line in my mind where I knew I was with the person that I wanted to marry, it was a very heavy thing, because you’re inviting death into your life. You know that that’s hopefully after many, many, many, many years, but the idea of death stops being abstract, because there is someone you can’t bear to lose. When it registers as true, it’s like a little shade of grief that comes in when love is its most real version. Then it contains death inside of it, and then that death contains love inside of it.” The intensity of this quote is cut somewhat by the fact that she is talking about Andy Samberg (good for you, Andy! Good for you both!) but honestly only a little.
I have a brain which can be neatly summarized with the following phrase: [slaps brain] this baby can fit so many problems! So perhaps it will not shock you to hear that I love my husband and part of loving my husband includes my being regularly barraged with intrusive thoughts about terrible things happening to him. In the age of coronavirus this problem has only worsened, perhaps for obvious reasons if not in obvious ways; the other night, for example, a car backfired nearby, and I could not stop thinking that maybe it was a gun, and maybe the bullet had somehow gone through the exterior wall of our apartment building, entered our third floor bedroom, and struck him in the back of the head, killing him instantly. He was unfazed about this possibility when I mentioned it, having not in fact been killed instantly after being struck in the back of the head by a wayward bullet from a gun that was never fired in the first place, but I suspect he would be unfazed even in the middle of being eaten by a collection of carnivorous goats. It is my lot in life to be fazed by almost everything — spiders, mice, little bumps in the nighttime, perceived dislike, how many days something’s been in my fridge — so I wisely married a man who is largely unsurprised, and sometimes even delighted, by life’s little horrors.
Here is a true story: a few years ago I was in our apartment and I went into the bathroom and there was a bee in there. A bee! In my bathroom! I am aware that bees are good for the world and pollinators without whom we’d all die, and I wish them the best, but there was an incident in my youth with another child and a rock and a beehive and a swarm, and I never quite managed to recover. And yet there it was! In my bathroom! I tried to ignore it; I tried putting on many layers of clothes and tying a bandana over my face to go trap and remove it; no joy. The fear defeated me. In the end, I trapped it in the room with a towel shoved hastily under the door and texted my husband, who had been hearing about all of this with presumably some amount of entertainment, that I could not do it. I could not remove the bee. He, a good person, said I could come get him from work, so I drove there, picked him up, brought him home, and send him into the bathroom, from which he returned after several minutes with the intruder trapped under a glass, and informed me, quite amused, that it was in fact a striped fly. I think this illustrates two things: first, that I am an absurd and absurdly lucky man, and second, that Joanna Newsom is right. Of course there is a shade of grief in every story of real love, because someday — although of course you hope desperately that it is many years away!! — the catalog of little strangenesses and kindnesses and acceptances and devotions and coming home from work to trap the bee that’s really a fly, the small daily choices and actions and feelings which make up love between one person and another, will have to reach its final page. This harsh reality is the striped fly in the bathroom of my heart, a horrible sentence that is nevertheless true, and when it buzzes around I have no choice but to accept that it cannot be caught in a cup and released. Love is beautiful and horrifying and utterly worth it, and this is no more or less than what it costs.
Sometimes this weird thing will happen where you and your spouse are thinking about the same thing at around the same time for totally different reasons; I am publishing this newsletter today, for example, because it’s been written for a while, and it closes by discussing a topic that my husband opened his own newsletter by discussing today. Neither of us talked about this in advance, or knew the other was doing it, and, to borrow a phrase from Marge Simpson, I just think that’s neat. Here it is:
About twenty times a day I find a post on the internet that my husband will enjoy. This — fluency in the language of someone else’s preferred content — is its own kind of intimacy, especially for people as online as we are. Sometimes I send him these posts, but often I simply hand him my phone, or lean over to hold the screen a few inches from his face. To be completely honest with you, I suspect this little habit drives him up the wall — I’m not trying to interrupt him with my latest image of a snake in a tiny hat, or video of a small cat doing Big Crimes, or this, but inevitably I sometimes do. Still, I cannot stop this practice (unless he ever actually expresses that he wants me to, in which case I’ll figure it out), and that’s because when I get it right, when I find something online I think my husband will enjoy and then he does indeed enjoy it, he makes this one specific face that appears exclusively in the wake of an internet delight. I am completely addicted to this face. Seeing it actively improves my whole day. If someday the world wide web achieves full sentience and flees to a less horrifying plane of existence, i’ll have to take up finding snakes in real life and putting little hats on them, because I am not giving up that face for anything. This isn’t something I think is true about marriage in general; it’s just something true about mine. It does lead me to the thing I believe most about marriage at large, though, so here we go:
You should marry someone who you enjoy making happy, and they should enjoy making you happy, too. Maybe it’s the hubris talking, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got that one right.