First Comes Love …THEN Comes Marriage

E.J. Gordon 

I’m watching Love Actually.  It’s a movie I haven’t seen in years, and I’m transfixed. The last time I’d seen this movie, I was only a year or two into my marriage.  Now, all of these years later, I’m surprised at the emotion overtaking me. It’s sorrow. I’m being engulfed by sorrow watching this uplifting, feel-good movie from 2003.  And when Mark comes to Juliet on Christmas Eve and holds up the sign that says: “And my wasted heart will love you ’til you look like this” (then he holds up a picture of a corpse) — I completely lose it.

I go to put the kids to bed; I’m completely cranky with them and snippy with my husband. I lay in bed wondering what it was that caused me to have such a disastrous reaction to such a positive movie.  A conversation pops into my head; it’s one I had a few months back when I was circling the question:  What do you feel is the worst part about being married? 

I had asked this question at a bunch of different dinners because it prompted some hilarious answers, like the woman who mouthed behind her husband’s back: “HE’S SO USELESS at home!”  Or her husband, who simply put his arm around her, and said, “There’s nothing bad about being married; I love it! She’s perfect!” in a desperate hope that he would get laid later that night.  But the one answer I thought was the best, most thought-provoking was when another friend said:

Let me see if I can put this into words … I MISS the first kiss, the rolling around together in bed for hours because we both just can’t get enough of each other, the feeling of butterflies when he walked in the door… I mean I’m still completely in love with my husband … but that part is long gone.

And I know this woman’s marriage … They’re happy.  They have sex. They do love each other.  Yet even in the best marriages, even in the ones that I like to call “lifers” — that “firstness” is gone.  And what is left in its place?

I tell my husband I don’t like when he watches porn right before bed because it makes me feel unattractive.  There are other men, I tell him, who wouldn’t need porn if I were standing naked in front of them.  And then I finish flossing my teeth and brushing my night guard …  but it’s not just about the sex, the putting on the sexy outfits, the staying in shape to look good for them, the entire seduction scene … it’s not just about needing to do that to still have good sex.  It’s the romance.  It’s the drama of “the firstness” — the ups and downs of whether or not he’ll call you, and then when the phone rings it makes your day. It’s about when you kiss and kiss and kiss and never want to stop.  It’s about thinking about him all the time, and wondering if he’s thinking about you.  It’s about the romantic things he says to you, like “I’m so crazy about you!” or “Whenever I smell jasmine I think of you.”

After years of marriage, even happy marriage, it’s gone. Half the time when my husband walks in the door I’m thinking, “CRAP!  Dinner is nowhere near ready!” or I yell out, “Thank God you’re home — you can deal with your psychotic children now.”  But I don’t feel butterflies.

I remember reading an article in the paper last year about how the demise of a marriage is very often not about money or irreconcilable differences, but rather it’s about monotony. We humans thrive on drama, our adrenaline runs our bodies and minds, but in a happy home there is little drama.

This lack of drama can cause a regular marriage to become stale, possibly enticing us into the excitement of an affair and with it all the “firstness” we miss, maybe making us think that we aren’t as happy as we think we are.

What can we do to prevent ourselves from falling down this rabbit hole?  A prudent mind knows that an affair will end in nothing but pain. A happy ending really lies in figuring out how to keep our current lives happy, and how to remind ourselves to appreciate the good lives we already have created for ourselves.

So how do we do this?

Since my Love Actually moment, I’ve been trying to adjust the lens through which I see my marriage in order to refocus it, to try and see the romance that comes out of years of marriage.

A friend of mine has been fighting cancer these last few months; she and her husband have been married for 15 years.  Just before her diagnosis, she would talk about her husband like most of us do, fighting the same staleness we all do, but since her diagnosis, she suddenly sees him in a different light.  She’s saying things like, “He has been so amazing” and “I’m so lucky I married such a strong, supportive man.”

Now I don’t want a cancer diagnosis to appreciate my marriage.  I want to find ways to appreciate the good relationship I already have without waiting for the dramas that life brings.  I don’t want to say, ‘We’ve had rough patches, but now we’re stronger.’  Who the hell wants a rough patch?

I think about the days when I was first dating my husband, about how I used to hide my night-guard beneath the pillow so I could sneak it on without him seeing, sparing me a day of jaw-aching without the embarrassment of the oral appliance.  I think about how I used to wonder how far into the relationship we had to be in order to get to that point when we could curl up on the couch and watch a movie instead of trying to think of something fun and exciting to do, worried that he might think of me as boring. I think about how I used to wonder when he did anything sweet if he was truly falling for me, or if he just was hoping to get me in bed.

Now I think of how my husband remembers to put the bed pillows against the shades before he turns on the bedroom fans so that the noise of the shades banging against the windows doesn’t interrupt my ridiculously light sleeping.  I think about how after a night out for dinner with his buddies, he’ll bring me home dessert from the restaurant because he knows I’d prefer that way over flowers, which will die and then I’ll have to spend 15 minutes washing out the grime from the vase, and he knows I hate that.

I think about how he knows to bring me a soy-latte from Starbucks when he meets me at the ice rink or how he knows I don’t like ice in my water.  I think about how he’ll spend the entire afternoon with my sister’s kid playing golf because she’s out of town, and he knows our nephew loves to golf, or how he’ll spend an hour talking to my dad about travel baseball over martinis, even though our own son doesn’t even play it.  I think I’d much rather find the romance in this, in these everyday actions, than wait in vain for some romantic gesture. 

That’s the problem with ‘Romance’ — traditional romance is just a gesture, and then it’s gone.  What are we left with? Partnership. Companionship. Commitment. KNOWING we are loved, instead of wondering.

Years ago my husband and I were watching a romantic movie, and after it ended, he turned to me and said, “Aw, this makes me want to love you more.”  I always tease him that English is his second language because he’s so inarticulate and never means exactly what he says, so I turned to him, laughed and said, “What I just heard is that you don’t love me that much.”

He then tried to explain what he really meant, and it became a running joke between us. All of these years later, whenever there is a romantic moment on TV, we turn to each other and say, “This makes me want to love you more!”  I LOVE that we have running jokes.  I LOVE that I know his “wasted heart” will love me even though on some days I actually do look like a corpse.  This is way better than the romantic gestures in the movies which, come to think of, never really happened to me when I was dating anyway.

That’s the thing about marriage … Love Actually is really about how our LAST dating experience was so successful that we forget about all the frogs we had to kiss to get to exactly where we are …

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