Monday, April 7, 2014

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The Marriages That Survived

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We were driving to see Mel’s grandmother. We’d been on the road for two days, and were about one hour away from Phoenix, our destination. I was driving. It was dark, and the kids were asleep in the backseat. Mel was in the passenger seat, right hand resting on her 8-month pregnant stomach, a textbook in her lap.

The person we were staying with was recently divorced, and I suppose talking about him is what got us talking about the marriages that lasted and the ones that didn’t. Mel and I were both 22 when we got married, and around that time, a slew of our friends got married, too. The person we were staying with was one of them.

Ten years later, on the last leg of our drive to Phoenix, Mel and I started looking back. Some of the marriages lasted a year or two, some less, some more, some are still going strong. Some are already on their second marriages. Some are starting a third.

This is not the first time Mel and I have discussed other people’s marriages. It’s something we talk about a lot. We look at the ones that failed, try to figure out what went wrong, and decide if we are making those same mistakes.

But what was different about this conversation was the way it turned. Instead of looking at the ones that didn’t work and why, we starting discussing the ones were still working.

“Look at Brian and Lucy.” I said. “I’m really surprised their marriage has lasted with how much he travels for work. Would you stay with me if I travled that much?”

“I don’t know,” Mel said. “It would be rough. I mean. I love you, but it would be rough.”

We chatted about marriages that have survived the husband being a jerk or a tightwad, the wife insisting that they have 7 or 8 children, and so on. And we kept coming to the same few conclusions. “I don’t know how their marriage has lasted.” Or “I don’t know how she puts up with his crap.” Or “I don’t know why he stayed with her after that.”

It was quiet for a while. We were in the city now, about 20 minutes left in our drive.

“Perhaps we shouldn’t be so critical,” I said. “I mean… I have to assume people have had this same conversation about us. They probably say things like, ‘I don’t know how she put up with him dragging her to Minnesota for a Fine Arts degree?’”

Mel thought for a moment. Then she said, “I’m sure they do say stuff like that. They probably also wonder why you stayed with me after I went all granola.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But I don’t see it that way. I think it’s just the way you changed. People change. I still love you even though you don’t eat meat.”

“People probably see me as some kind of dream chaser,” I said. “I want to be a writer so badly that I’ve dragged you and the kids all over the U.S.”

Mel said that she liked the way I chased my dreams. “That is. As long as you keep to your obligations. It’d be different if you refused to get a job because you wanted to write all day.”

And then she admitted that, for a long time, it felt like we were spending a long time chasing my dreams, but not hers. “It’s only been recently that we’ve started going after what I wanted,” she said. She reminded me of her simple dream of owning a yard, with planter boxes, and a small green house. How she wanted to learn more about plants, and now she is finally finishing her degree in horticulture.

“I suppose the reason I stayed with you through all that was because I understood that once you finished school, we could start working on my dreams.”

“The sad thing is,” I said, “that I don’t think either of us have achieved our dreams yet. I mean... I’m not much of a writer. I write every day, but I haven’t accomplished a whole lot yet. And our yard isn’t big enough for a green house, and you have a long ways to go before you finish your degree.”

“Yea…” Mel said, “But we are closer to our dreams than we were yesterday. And the fact that we are supporting each other in our dreams is a really good thing.”

I agreed with her, and that was it.

But then, like I often do, I stayed awake that night thinking about our conversation. I felt like an asshole, honestly, for judging someone else’s marriage. Marriage is a complicated machine full of gears, pulleys, compromise, understanding, sacrifice, passion, love, anger, and resolve that only works properly when both people give it their all, and to look at someone’s marriage and wonder why something so complicated stays together is like me, an English major, trying to explain why our car didn’t burst into flames as we rolled into Phoenix.

I just can’t.

I thought about those relationships that have worked, and I wondered what dreams they had, and how those things I’ve seen as a reason for divorce may have been something I didn’t understand. Some compromise or step in achieving a dream. Perhaps the reason one husband seemed so tight with money was because his dream was to be secure, and his wife, well, she understood and supported that. And maybe, the reason a marriage may seem dysfunctional from the outside, is because I don’t know the reasons behind their decisions.
I don’t understand their dreams.

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley


Christopher Jordan said...

Great post, really enjoyed this. All the Way from Guyana!

Clint said...

That is awesome!