The Tie That Binds

Marriage is, without a doubt, the single hardest thing I've ever done in my life. The thing is, when you're young, no one ever sits you down and tells you this. I mean, maybe you've gleaned this knowledge over the years, especially if you are the child of divorce; you probably have a lot of firsthand knowledge that prepares you for life in the trenches with another person. But, if you're like me and had two parents that stayed together for 45 years until one of them died, you don't give it much thought when you're coming up, unless your parents mostly screamed at each other for those 45 years. (Mine did not.)

And I'm married to someone that is probably the most agreeable person since Mother Teresa. If my wife were a dog, she'd be a golden retriever. If she were a poker hand, she'd be aces. If she were a natural wonder, she'd be the Grand Canyon. She's the goddamned Tigger of the known world, with endless enthusiasm and energy for life, a ball of positivity. And it's still the fucking hardest thing I've done. Can you imagine if I'd married someone as contentious as I?

Listen, I'm not here to step on the institution of marriage. It was a hard-won privilege for my wife and I to be considered a legal couple, and sometimes---as any married person can attest---the only thing holding you together is that little piece of paper. And as hard as it's been, it's also been the most rewarding. I'm married to someone who still never tires of trying to get to know what makes me tick, works with me to make me a better communicator and a more intimate partner, intuits my moods by the slightest twitch of my face. She frequently shows me what selfless is, and she makes me want to be a better version of myself. She's put in almost a decade of picking, scratching, and rubbing beneath the surface to get to my soft, chewy center. She has, unequivocally, always had my back.

She has nursed me back to health when I've been sick. She has held me in her arms while I've had crying jag after hot, messy crying jag over my pain. She has comforted me when the depression was threatening to swallow me whole. She has covered our house in flowers to cheer me up. She has gone to doctor's appointment after doctor's appointment with me, wanting as desperately as I to find out what was causing my pain. She has pulled an Aurora in Terms of Endearment and screamed at a pharmacist who screwed up my pain prescription FIVE TIMES, and I simply couldn't deal with the imbecile behind the counter one more time. She has dropped everything and raced with me to Sacramento or Chico when my dad was ailing so I didn't have to endure those late-night drives to the ER by myself. In short, she has been reliable and loyal when I've needed her the most.

For all of the biggies, she has been by my side, showing nothing but full support for me. And I can honestly say that we have weathered some pretty severe shit together. On the big things, we agree---on politics (liberal), religion (gross, no thank you), worldview (live fast, die young, leave a pretty corpse), sense of humor (constant)---we laugh like motherfuckers every day. What a rare gift this is for people who have had intertwined lives for the past 10 years.

And I do look at these things as a gift---the things we've weathered together have made us stronger, I hope. But it's not the biggies I struggle with, y'all. It's the daily minutiae that is the hardest part. I think what can make marriage so exhausting is that you, literally---24 hours a day, 7 days a week---must take into account your actions and words and how they will affect another person. There's NO respite from it. So it's not just that you're trying to figure out your own shit, but you've also got to figure out how everything you say and do will impact the person you're sharing a bed and bathroom with. And how their shit will impact your shit.

It's a lot of shit, people.

It's negotiating things like wanting to take a vacation by yourself but knowing that telling her will hurt her feelings. So you keep it to yourself; meanwhile, your needs aren't getting met, you become a cranky bitch, and you end up fighting about a bunch of stupid shit as a result. It's waking up at 2:00 in the morning, not finding her in bed next to you, and wondering if she got beat up leaving the bar late at night, or drove into a ditch, or got pulled over after she'd been drinking. But then lying in bed fuming for another hour before finally texting her because you're 90 percent sure she's just out drinking and forgot to text. And it's hating yourself for being the ugly, nagging wife...again…because she's put you in this position…again. It's being pissed at her because it's the third night this week it's happened and, at 45, you don't feel like worrying about this kind of crap anymore. And it's also beating yourself up because, while you know that it's good for your own well-being that you're no longer staying out til 3:00 every morning getting shitfaced, part of you feels like you're letting her down because you're no longer the party girl she married. It's then feeling angry right after that and saying "No, fuck that. I have a right to be pissed about this. This is some grade-A bullshit right here."

And yes, sometimes it's wishing you were single again.

It's starting a business during the same year you're having a complete and utter breakdown and being resentful that you got roped into this dream of hers because it's making you miserable, driving a wedge between you, and contributing to your Crazy. It's screaming, late-night fights where you're second-guessing her ability to do this, then beating yourself up over your lack of faith in her. It's being put second behind that business in small ways every single day, then kicking yourself because you know she's doing the best that she can, and really, you should be less of a scold and more of a help to her, and why can't you just get on board, for fuck's sake? In short, it's a lot of tearing yourself down because you want to be a better and more supportive partner, but just as often as not, you fail at it. It's also, in the same breath, being unable to overlook the small ways she disrespects you and lashing out about them. It's "showing your ass" to another human being---exposing your most awful thoughts and still praying to god she'll stay anyway. It's you at your worst.

But it's also you at your best. It's being proud to be on her arm. It's being thankful for all of the times you've laughed and belted out the words to some silly '80s song while you're in the kitchen together. It's working like a well-oiled machine when you're cooking breakfast together on a Saturday morning. It's knowing which shirt she will choose to wear to your office Christmas party before she chooses it. It's boasting about her many accomplishments to the world, to your friends, to your family. It's the Sunday mornings spent lying in bed together, listening to Billie Holliday, hanging with the cat, recapping the events from last night's party. It's having someone to always have adventures with, to throw amazing dinner parties with, to see the world with, to laugh at the world with. It's the way you prepare a sandwich just the way she likes it or make her favorite soup when she's sick. It's how you will rush to her defense if anyone threatens her. It's knowing that, no matter how shitty the world gets, and no matter how much she's pissed at you in the moment, she still has your back and still loves you with a ferocity that is overwhelming and sometimes undeserved.

It's going to couples' counseling when things are bad because you know that even though the last two years have been a nightmare---between opening a bar, your dad dying, buying a house, moving across the bay, and the dynamics of many of your friendships changing---it's also realizing that, even under all that said and unsaid muck, there is still something worth salvaging. It's sitting across from a therapist and picking open all of your scabs and wounds for your shrink to see. It's tears and so much screaming that the shrink has to pull his chair in between the two of you to get you both to stop calling each other fucking cunts. Then it's taking what you've learned in that tiny office and trying to transport it into your real-life situations because you both know it simply must be done; you mean that much to one another.

It's knowing that you will be the one to nurse her through her father's death or that she will be the one sitting next to you with a box of Kleenex when your cat finally has to be put down. It's knowing that, yes, it's possible that she will end up with dementia because it runs in her family, and you will be, quite possibly, wiping her ass one day even if she forgets who you are and refers to you as "Consuela." It's thinking about things like, god forbid, if the business were to fail, what actions you would take to ease her pain in the months and years following, and how you would bolster her back up and stand her on her feet again. But it's also having blind faith that it will never come to that because she knows what she's doing. It's trying to plan for the future when sometimes the present is more than you can bear and the future seems like a pipe dream.

It's knowing that you love her more than you thought it was possible to love another human being and understanding that, even in the face of that, it's still gonna be a chore at times. It's accepting her dream as yours. It's accepting her heart, whole-heartedly, stains and all. It's accepting the flaws and annoyances. But it's also reveling in her perfections and strengths. And, most importantly, it's stopping to savor all the sweet moments in life with her because true intimacy is possibly our greatest purpose while we're on this planet. And you know that, at last, you've found that with her.

So yeah, this shit is hard, y'all. It's not for the faint of heart. But like anything that is hard and worth doing, it's also unbelievably rewarding.

It's getting up and doing it all over again the next day, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, because that's what marriage is about.