I think romantic comedies are based entirely on people’s fantasies of how love and marriage are supposed to look. Boy and girl meet, fall in love, have some drama, resolve said drama, and live happily ever after. While I enjoy a good fairy tale, the repetitiveness of this exact story is incredibly dangerous to modern marriage. It doesn’t show Cindy and Charming then learn to live together, figure out how much time they want to dedicate to each other, maneuver life with certain expectations, and recognize unique undertones of each others’ words. Cinderella might have babies one day. She’s going to instantly form an entirely uncharted and incredibly important relationship with a new little person and she might have some confusion as to her new dual role as princess wife and mother. Or what if Cindy doesn’t want kids? And Charming does? Did they discuss this before they decided to get married? Probably not. They’ve barely even met. Cinderella doesn’t even have anyone to confide in but a mouse and a jolly old witch. The sequel might be a rough one.
I was listening to my girl (Esther Perel) on Armchair Expert the other day and she gave some advice that I didn’t even realize I had been following. To paraphrase, she said that not so long ago, we married for financial stability, family, and status and that slowly over time we have turned marriage into everything. We expect our spouse to be every. single. thing. we could possibly want or need when a VILLAGE used to fulfill different needs. The person we marry is supposed to be our best friend, our confidant, our lover. They are supposed to give us identity but remain mysterious. We are supposed to feel safe and predictable but also be surprised. They should know how to solve every problem we’ve ever had and how to listen enthusiastically to the most mundane of our stories. They should know every single detail about us but still find us amusing and long to discover more. BLA BLA BLA. We try to make our partner our everything and so many times couples find themselves thinking something is wrong with them when they or their spouse can’t be every person the other one needs. Y’all. I cannot imagine if I was expected to be my husband’s everything. But it really seems like so many couples assume that is the way it is supposed to be. Or at least that is the way it appears to me in all my “super scientific social media research”. My Twitter friend James Leferink swiped this quote from a Reader’s Digest in his in-law’s bathroom and I just LOVE it: “It doesn’t take two halves to make a whole but rather two wholes to make a happy and lasting marriage.”
When Rick was gone, there were definitely voids. I missed him so much and wanted to tell him so many things. I had funny stories from work and the kids all built up and ready to share. I would think of a perfect one-liner that I knew he’d appreciate and it would sting a little. It wasn’t easy being without him, but I felt so prepared because I have never depended on him for every need in my life. He didn’t make me whole. I was already whole, but he certainly made things better.
I have always made time for myself. I have never forgotten my friendships. I have friends who I call regularly and whose disappearance would be equally as difficult for me as Rick’s. They supported me when they thought my husband left me and my two kids to hike the Appalachian Trail. They made plans with me for my (would have been) lonely weekends. Amyre and I (who were already co-parents) leveled up our single mom life. My in-laws and I spoke daily about what we thought Rick was doing and what day it may have been in the game. My sisters-in-law called me to check in and even drove five hours to visit me and the kiddos. My mom and I call each other every time one of us has a thought. Literally. Any thought. It’s kind of ridiculous. The day after our anniversary last year (June 2nd), I was shocked at how depressed I had suddenly become. It was one of those mind-numbing nothing depressions and I couldn’t get out of it. My dad, without being asked, drove an hour to me because he knew I NEEDED him. He took care of the kids and cooked me dinner and I remember telling him he felt like home. I was okay without Rick. I really was. But it didn’t feel completely like home without him.
The village I have built is what brought me to Fiji to see my husband for only 15 minutes with a grateful state of mind. It carried me through 6 weeks of Jack asking me where his daddy was and not being able to tell him the truth. It distracted me from loneliness and reminded me that there are certainly worse things for a couple to experience than separation via reality television. It is still where I turn when I am tired or sad or happy or angry. My village defines me and I am so proud of it. So, girls and boys, find your Charming or your Cindy, sure!-but first-start working on that village.