Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Our Better Selves

It's been hard to ignore the character who's been getting all the press lately, who's been dominating the tabloids, who's been taken to court, whose reputation is at stake, over whom Americans are fighting for custody: You know, Marriage.

That poor institution. As gay couples fight valiantly for the right to adopt it, well-known heterosexual pairs are abusing and abandoning it (and claiming, in effect, that homosexuals wouldn't be fit guardians). Sheesh.

But I've said my piece about gay marriage. It's Generic Lifelong Commitment that I want to riff on today.

You would have to live in the Unabomber Shack to miss all the gibber about South Carolina's governor Mark Sanford, as well as Jon and Kate, and I have been thinking about them...mostly about the governor, since I haven't watched our generation's reality version of Eight is Enough (enough already?), and Mr. Sanford appears to be unable to muzzle himself on the issue of his "glorious" mistress.

And to bring Love and Marriage even more to the fore, I've been faithfully watching (I'll confess: faithfully! With nary a dalliance!) The Bachelorette this season; last night I went out with my sister to see the film Away We Go; my husband and I had a wee row one week ago. Someone's telling me something, and I think it is: It ain't easy, sister. Persevere.

Perhaps we could all use the reminder. Away We Go's main characters, expecting a baby and anchorless, head out in search of a new hometown and a family to model their own burgeoning one after. In one of the more poignant moments of the movie, the couple is sharing a meal with some old friends who have adopted four children. The father explains to his visitors that it takes more than shelter, parents, child, to create a home. In what has the potential to be a sickly sweet scene, he pours syrup over his makeshift pancake shanty to demonstrate how love binds it all together. But, he emphasizes, marriage--and parenting--takes "patience, consideration, and our better selves." His wife sighs, adding, "You have to be better than you ever thought you could be."

There are plenty of wedding vows which expound on the notion that one's partner makes one a "better version" of oneself, but the responsibility really lies within ourselves to figure out how best to be our own best version. On The Bachelorette last night, independent, self-possessed Jillian verbalizes her sense that amiable contender Kiptyn might just be a little too...nice for her. Citing her parents' marriage, in which her mother "wears the pants a little too much," she prods him, "I need to be sure that you wouldn't let me get away with whatever I wanted. That you would tell me when I am offside." Kiptyn seems to get it: "You need someone to call you out."

The question remains, would Kiptyn (you know, back in the Real World) tell Jillian to back off when she's overbearing, or would he shrug her off and shrink away, a la Jon Gosselin? And who's to blame when it all falls apart?

This is familiar territory for me, as I myself married a Nice Guy. And I will maintain 'til death do us part that he's the man I need, but I will also maintain that there are times I could use a swift kick in the rear and I don't get one from my good-natured husband. I can be a bossy sort, you see, albeit one who responds well to behavior modification. But I too was shocked and awed when my husband called me a "ballbuster" last week (I can't even capitalize it; that's how ouch it was). Okay, but as much as I wish he would nip my bossy in the bud, versus allowing it to build up to blurting that archetypal bitchy wife appellation, the point was not lost on me: Be nicer, Fer. Chill.

So I try.

Because I love my husband, and because I want to be a better version of myself. Because this is as good as it gets--I know, I know...some people divorce and remarry and are much happier, healthier, "righter"...okay. And if you're abused and you're a shadow of your former self because your partner does not let you grow, and you've tried...you know? I don't know. I don't know any marriage besides my own, but I think trying is what most of us have to do: Keep trying.

Because, frankly, I am fearful. And fear is what I fear too few of our fellow marrieds feel when they philander. I have a healthy fear of losing All This, and of Hurting All of Them. Why politicians don't feel that fear of losing All This That is Family, and then furthermore, don't fear losing All This That is Career, I just don't get.

I don't drink and drive because I fear killing people, but also because I fear (excuse the language, but it seems appropriate here) Fucking It Up. At what selfish, stupid point do people stop fearing Fucking It Up? At what cost? Yikes.

I think the Indigo Girls said it best: "All the shiny little trinkets of temptation/something new instead of something old/All you gotta do is scratch beneath the surface and it's fool's gold."

No one said it was easy; no one said it would be this hard. But I'm convinced it's worth it.


Jenn said...

Jenny, I just want to thank you for your wonderful thoughts. As another married to a Nice Guy I find inspiration and hope in this. Thank you my fellow Jennifer born in the same month and year.

Chris said...

HAHA... boy can I relate to this! I married the nice guy, too. I seem to slowly build up to my occasional "correction" and then I am so surprised when it happens!

Mama Deb said...

I was catching up on blogs while simultaneously watching last Monday's Bachelorette. When I saw 'Kiptyn' I thought for sure there was a spoiler in there so here I am, after 30 minutes of pause, to finally finish reading!
Yep. Marriage is freaking hard. And I am married to one of those who WILL, in fact, call me out as often as necessary :)