Tuesday, March 18, 2014

For better, for worse or the laundry


Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, 
that dweam wifin a dweam... 
And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva... 
So tweasure your wuv. 


Who doesn't know this quote?  Who hasn't repeated these lines at a wedding reception?  Or anytime you hear the word "marriage", or automatically upon seeing Robin Wright or Cary Elwes?

Do you have the wing?

My wedding ceremony did not have a priest with a speech impediment, nor was I waiting desperately for Wesley or anyone else to save me from marrying the man at the end of that aisle.  I was all in.  I was 25 and ready for the "wing" and a life with Sean.  It's just that nobody prepared me for the first year of marriage.  I thought that the first year was all sex and candy, with some work thrown in to pay the bills.  

Which is not exactly true.

Immediately following our honeymoon, Sean and I loaded up a U-Haul, moved to Colorado, got a cat and a grill, and began married life.  

We had never lived together, but I figured, how hard could it be?  I had roommates all through college.  I knew how to share toothpaste, milk and beer.  Now I got to live with my best friend...all the time?  How could this not be awesome? 
  
I was a bit idealistic then, I think.

My first hint that things might not go exactly as planned came from something so mundane - the dishes.   One night, I jumped up to do the dishes for my new husband.  I'll be real honest here. I don't ever want to do the dishes.  The act of loading and then unloading the dishwasher is repetitive and depressing.  It never ends.  But, in this, my first month of marriage, I was filled with the desire to let my love shine brilliantly through even the small things.  Like the dishes.

On that night, I probably hummed while I worked, placing each cup, utensil and plate in the dishwasher with a smile, blowing a kiss to the machine as I pressed the start button, skipping lightly as I left the kitchen and entered the bedroom where pleased with my own sacrifice and giving spirit, gave Sean a deep, sensual and loving smooch.    

A few nights later, Sean joined in to help.  There we were, side by side, rubbing elbows, playing tag with a kitchen towel, dancing to music while we happily shared the task -  literal love birds.  Then the cracks began to form.

"Melissa, did you wash the dishes off before putting them in the dishwasher?"

"What? Um, no.  That's what the dishwasher does, silly."

"But you have to get these chunks off before you put it in.  This is like an entire pork chop.  Jeez."

"Oh, okay, well, if the dishwasher can't actually clean the dishes off, then what's the point?"  

Sean rolled his eyes, looked back at the dishwasher and sighed.  "Melissa, if you put the plates in the racks instead of stacked on top of one another, they will get more clean.  Is this how you load the dishwasher every time?  No wonder I had to scrape off that last load of plates."

This conversation was followed a few days later by:

"You clean the counters off with a sponge?  Sponges are gross and dirty.  Here is a rag, it is much better."

And then:

"Babe, thanks for doing my laundry, that is really nice of you.  But, um, could you please give my shirts a quick snap before you fold them?  Then, here, watch me, fold them in thirds.  I like them folded in thirds - you might too."

I was thrown for a loop.  And irritated.  I strongly disliked being told what to do.  Even if what I was doing was a seriously crappy job of folding.  Granted, I was the one who had, in a moment of newly-wedded bliss, offered to do the laundry.  So, one could point out that I should have been more open to suggestions on how I might improve my technique.  After all, isn't that how we get better at something....by listening to suggestions and honest critiques and then applying them where needed?

Here's the problem with that line of thinking.  I was 25.  Which in parts of our culture is just a teenager with a college degree.  I could still be stubborn in that pig-tailed, stomping feet, little girl way.   

But still.  I thought of myself as a modern woman.  I had a graduate degree.  Household chores did not fulfill some inner longing for order and cleanliness.  They were just a part of life - meant to be gotten done, quickly, so I could move on to something meaningful and fun.  Needless to say, I took pride in the fact that I did the chores at all, not that I did them well.

Sean's suggestions for how to do stupid things better were bringing out my inner child.  And it started to put a slight strain on us.  Inevitably, my annoyance with his comments and his annoyance with my unwillingness to listen, would come out when we got together with our friends.  They quickly became unpaid marriage counselors as we took over dinner conversations to complain about the other's annoying, absurd habits.  

It didn't help that in this first year, I was job hunting and Sean was working night shifts.  Our schedules were completely different which made our tolerance for each other's ridiculous habits very thin indeed.  And ridiculous we both were.  He, with his cleanliness regime and need to give advice, me with my stubbornness and "Don't criticize me!" mentality.  

But we loved each other.  Not in the way that we do today, 15 years later.  Early love is spring-like in its newness, but shallow in its innocence.  Early love is easy, fun, playful and intoxicating.  So in that first year, when our habits, good and bad, joined the team, things got complicated.  The cake had been cut, the dress worn, the flowers thrown.  This was it.  Big time adult commitment.   We had no "get out of marriage when things get hard" clause.  He wasn't a friend I could avoid until the awkwardness had passed.  

He was my husband and I was his wife, for better or for worse.  

Our first year taught us many things about each other.  Things we didn't see on dates, dorm rooms or vacations.  We learned how the other starts each day.  How we prioritize our time.  What matters the most.  What matters very little.   And we discovered that on some things, we are very, very different.  Fortunately, those were usually the small things.  Like the fact that I don't make coffee until 11AM, if at all.  And that while Sean was quite skilled at folding his own laundry, rarely, if ever, did said perfectly folded laundry make it to a drawer.  Or our dueling sense of time - my "on time is better than being early and having to wait" versus his "better to be 3 hours early, than 1 minute late" philosophies.        

Each year of our marriage has brought with it new challenges, triumphs, fears and joy.  But the first year remains the one that has made us both grateful.  Grateful we experienced it and survived it.  Because that is the year we learned how to fight.  And did we fight.  At first we just picked at each other and bickered.  For some reason, that felt more loving and kind than fighting.  But picking and bickering is unsatisfying and eventually becomes snide and completely unproductive.  It solves nothing.  Just makes one of you feel better for a moment.  Fighting with someone you love is like purging toxins from your body.  You know you love the person in front of you.  But whatever has angered, annoyed or frustrated you, distorts your vision.  It changes the air between you.  And so we fought.  The kind of fighting that might involve raised voices and tears.  Or just a willingness to get it all out on the table so the matter could be discussed, dissected, explained, understood, or even laughed at.   

We learned how to fight so that we could understand and hear each other, and once you can understand where someone is coming from, you can move towards forgiveness.  And forgiveness is huge.  It's powerful, critical and worthy. 

For all of that, we are grateful.  It was like marriage boot camp and we came out the other side trained and ready for all the years that lay ahead.  We still fight of course.  That first year didn't make us peaceful, co-habitators who agree on everything, never fart and always have lovely morning breath.  Oh no.  I make mistakes. Sean makes mistakes.  And sometimes it takes every tool we have in our arsenal to get to the other side of an argument where peace, love and sex reign.

We don't get those first-date jitters anymore.  How could we?  We have used the bathroom after each other for far too long.  But love after all these years is so different from that early love.  For good reason.  Love today encompasses every touching, maddening, heartbreaking, mundane, and exhilarating moment since.  Even the fights.    

There is no real ending to this story.  I hope to write its follow-up on our 50th year of marriage, which will undoubtedly have more fart and bathroom references.  But I'll give you an ending for now...one that humbles me. 

Recently, I was fired.  By Sean.  Over the years, Sean has taken numerous occasions to school me on how to effectively fold his t-shirts (in thirds!), pants (crotch together!), and socks (fold don't roll or it will ruin the elastic!).  I have attempted to do as he has asked. Perhaps not with as much love in my heart as I should have.  But, he does so much for me, the least I can do is fold in his patented way.  However, last month I shockingly discovered that I am so bad at folding the laundry, that my folding actually makes his clothes more wrinkled, so dismal at this household chore...that Sean had to ask me to stop.  Please.  To please stop washing and folding his clothes.  He said this very nicely.  As though I would jump up and down, clapping my hands in glee, like a Genie released from the lamp.

While doing the laundry is a certain kind of lamp, I was not elated to be released.  It's been my chore for years.  My thing.  And after all this time, to be unceremoniously fired?   Fired from doing Sean's laundry because I suck that bad?  Has that ever happened in the history of laundry?  Sure, I have moaned and complained about this task, but for Sean to request my immediate cease and desist so his clothes will look better without me?  It didn't feel so good.  And it kinda made me angry.  Angry in that pig-tailed, feet-stomping way of my youth.  But I put that girl in time-out and decided to avoid a needless fight over this chore.  

It is year 15, after all.  Maybe it's time I figured out how to fold the damn laundry.  
   
....