The really cool people never say anything about themselves, of course. I dutifully sent in the requested info: my address, job title, and the names of my husband and son. Since I enjoy reading this stuff, it seemed unfair to say nothing about myself.
Of the people who chose to write something, almost all wrote about only those three things: job, spouse, and children. Now, the form requested that information up front, so it makes sense that most people would assume that's what they're supposed to write about. But it seems terribly incomplete, especially after reading blogs. Of course there's a space issue, but I think that most of my favorite bloggers would be able to come up with a couple of paragraphs that could provide some insight into their souls. (I couldn't, but then who said I was one of my favorite bloggers?)
The descriptions of the children made them seem interchangeable. Most three-year olds mispronounce words in cute ways. Most six-year-old boys have an obsession with some category of toy. Most twelve-year-olds play soccer. All children "keep you young but make you old!" I was sobered, however, by the number of people who had sad stories to tell. One classmate has three children who all have autism. Another lost her second pregnancy to a fatal neurological disorder and her third to uterine rupture (followed by a diagnosis of metastatic cancer in her husband). Another had a two-year-old who died of a brain tumor. These latter stories made the breezy descriptions of the boringly normal children seem callous, though I know they weren't meant to be.
A surprising (to me) number of people married young and stayed married to their original spouses. Many had sweet things to say, but some of their comments distressed me. For example:
I'm still married. That's saying something, isn't it? After so many years, I observe that one must work hard at a marriage relationship, and one must be committed. I have found that love is a decision, not a feeling. Effort does seem to pay off.I mean, what the fuck? I read this entry to TrophyHusband and said, "I'd kill you if you wrote this way about me." "You shouldn't care if I said that," he said. "You should be upset if I felt that way."
This reminded me of how several people pulled either my husband or me aside at our wedding to tell us, very soberly, something along the lines of "You should know that marriage isn't a party. Marriage is hard work."
The spectacularly poor timing of these pronouncements aside, we both found this to be a bizarre way to look at things. We have always "worked" at not taking each other for granted, saying please and thank you, and considering each other's feelings. But the reason we knew we wanted to be married was that none of this felt like work. So it became an inside joke for us—"I feel like having Indian food tonight." "I was thinking Chinese." "Work of marriage!"
Things were harder once we had a baby, but the work has been more to try and figure out how to spend time with each other while working full time (and that's a work in progress). I've had to work at remaining pleasant despite fatigue and stress (not always successfully), but that's in general. There have certainly been ... challenges, but they've always seemed to be about one thing at a time, not about the marriage as a whole.
Our suspicions about the reliability of the "work of marriage" advice have been borne out in that everyone who gave it is now divorced. This past weekend we celebrated our fifth anniversary, and we asked each other, "Does this feel like work?" And we both said no.
Are the folks who talk about the Work of Marriage just in bad marriages? Or am I misunderstanding the concept?
And if you had to, would you be able to sum up your life so far in a couple of paragraphs?