It’s difficult to write about a good marriage without sounding like a complete jerk: If you only write about the highs it comes off as fake, or as if you’re trying to compensate for your private faults. It also leaves you open to those who might crow if, someday, your relationship ends up cratering. Think about those “Real Housewives” vow renewals that quickly wind up being followed by divorce.
If you write honestly about the lows, you might be accused of secretly hating your spouse or airing dirty laundry best kept private. But anyone who’s been married for any significant period of time knows that sometimes you just wish you could move to Mars instead of dealing with your partner’s minor-league annoyances, because you’re tired and grumpy and human.
This is all to say that I really enjoyed Heather Havrilesky’s new book, “Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage,” because it was one of the first honest, moving and funny portrayals of a solid marriage I have ever read. (You can read an excerpt here.) Havrilesky resists declaring her own marriage “good,” because “trying to have a good marriage often feels like trying to believe in something imaginary. You’re engaged in this absurd charade together. You’re trying to believe that forever is real.”
But what Havrilesky gets right about “forever” is that it is, in its way, exciting and dramatic. In popular culture we’re saturated with the marriage plot, which implies that just about all of the excitement happens before a couple settles down together. We’re also told that parenthood is really where romance goes to die, and that mothers in particular, in Havrilesky’s parlance, go from “being a woman to being some asexual blob that’s dragging her ghost children with her everywhere she goes.”
Like Havrilesky, I reject this “defeated narrative” about what parenthood does to you, to your relationship. You do not have to accept that you’re some broken down, spit-up-covered couch of a person, married to another soft recliner of a human. While marriage and parenting during the first years of a child’s life might feel this way sometimes, at least in my experience, they can be accompanied by tender new depths and discoveries about your spouse too.
In a Times Opinion guest essay about the best-selling book “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate,” Lisa Taddeo also explores the complicated but passionate reality of long-term marriage. If you’re not familiar with that book or its pop-cultural dominance, in it, Gary Chapman, the author, argues that most people enjoy receiving love in one of five ways: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and touch. Some marital conflicts might be resolved, the book posits, if we knew what “love language” our partners were speaking.
Taddeo’s love language, like mine, is acts of service. I, a known gift hater, think the most romantic thing my husband does is bring me coffee in bed every day. Charitably, you could say I am “not a morning person,” but a more accurate description would be “a complete gremlin without caffeine.” My husband knows this and has, for more than a decade, had to deal with my monstrous pre-coffee morning self.
My husband’s bringing me my giant mug in the morning is an act of deep love and knowledge, but it is also mildly self-interested, in that it makes me less terrible for him to talk to. Acknowledging that all of our actions within a marriage have multiple, complicated motivations — and that that’s a good thing, because it means we are allowed the full breadth of humanity — might be the most romantic thing of all. Happy Valentine’s Day, I guess!
My 1-year-old is already a tiny independent woman who wants zero help brushing her teeth. I tried brushing my teeth at the same time to see if she’d mimic or want help, but the breakthrough was letting her brush my teeth. She’ll keep her mouth open as long as I need to get each of her tiny chompers, as long as I let her keep “brushing” mine.
— Mallory McMorrow, Mich.
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