Marriage is a shape shifter -- a caterpillar that becomes a butterfly, then a caterpillar again, then a gerbil, or a Corvette. The forces that propel it are as elusive as the origins of a sinewy summer breeze. But for all the studies and sheer years of practice, nobody can really conclusively say what makes them work. Some offer their shared faith in a higher power, others swear by communication.
For me, marriage is listening to my spouse ramble on a nightly on a subject for which I have no interest, because I love her and want her to get it out of her system. She talks about her unenviable job as an elementary school psychologist in South Central Los Angeles -- her incompetent principal, the often irresponsible parents, the general pointlessness of counseling otherwise smart kids who are punished for being uneducated by those who refuse to educate them. And I, unable to add much to the conversation besides, “Uh huh,” or “That’s okay, baby,” try valiantly not to fall asleep in her face.
Like no other subject since trigonometry do I find Mr. Sandman knocking at my door than when my wife begins railing about the countless mini-tragedies that occur when bureaucracy and poverty become bedfellows. I can understand her everyday hassles, but they don’t interest me. Then, she goes into technical terminology, and that hits me like Thera Flu.
Her: I can’t believe she stormed into the meeting demanding an SSS. First of all, CBA requires a PSS before we could even initiate a CDC into an ARB!
Me: (nodding) That’s okay, baby.
For my part, I regularly force her to watch basketball and football games and documentaries on the Beatles and other things that she has minimal interest in, at best. Despite a limited menu, I am a competent cook, yet often fake amnesia or narcolepsy when asked to make dinner. I attempt to engage her in debates about Miles Davis’s most groundbreaking album or whether the Houston Rockets would have won both of their titles if Michael Jordan hadn’t retired the first time, then explode in amazement when she fails to share my enthusiasm.
We are so different at times. For example, she does not trust people. Ever.
Once we rented a truck from U-Haul and both circled the truck to check for damage before leaving the lot. I ambled around it once and was content to find only a minor scratch. She circled it four times and found the same minor scratch. But it was important that she circled the truck four times.
I tend to deposit checks into my bank account via ATM. I may not even write my account number on the envelope. This approach, though admittedly lax, has never failed me in the past. Meanwhile, ATMs make my wife paranoid: she worries about getting robbed at them and is also untrusting of the logic behind placing her hard-earned money into a large metal box that doesn’t even have a voice.
When I suggest that she should just go into the bank if she feels that way, she rails on about the probability of the bank being held up while she’s there. Apparently, she feels that this is more than a certainty. Ideally, if she has to walk into a bank, she would prefer to walk inside the bank’s safe and change over the check herself. She has inherited a whole list of strange superstitions from my mother-in-law, some of which have been related to me as gospel:
1) Don’t put up a New Year’s Calendar before New Year’s Day. You will die first.
2) Talk to your plants. Otherwise they will die.
3) Don’t wash clothes on New Year’s Day. Someone in your family will die.
Still, we have weird things in common, and these are some of the things that brought us together. We were both plucked as preteens out of comfortable, predominantly black inner-city environments and dropped in the middle of a white suburbia that turned out to be more Blue Velvet than "Leave It to Beaver". We are in touch spiritually, which, I’ve learned, isn’t necessarily synonymous with the fact that we grew up practicing the same faith. We had similar childhoods in many ways, her mother and both of my parents were all born in Arkansas. (Consequently, we were raised Southern, even though we weren’t raised in the South.) We are so in sync in many ways that I’m rarely down when she’s down and her opinion mirrors mine so often that I occasionally regard it before I regard my own.
But still there is friction: Lately, we do this thing where we boo each other whenever one of us utters an unpopular statement (and by unpopular, I mean anything that refers to some undesirable, newfound task that the other person is being asked to complete.) The boo comes out flat and nasal, similar to a cow’s moo, but its unenthusiastic delivery does little to sedate the contempt behind the statement.
Me: Would it be possible for you to clean up your side of the bedroom today? I almost sprained my ankle trying to get to my dresser.
Her: This wouldn’t be a problem if you made more money.
Me: Boooooooooooo! (throws tomato at her)
Occasionally, adlibs are thrown in, like, “Your mother’s a (whatever insult was previously said)” or when really insulted, we retreat to the insanely popular, “Hey, Gilmore, you suck.”
Ours is a home where one can be booed for coming home late from work or forgetting to buy milk from the supermarket. And there are other strange habits: In the middle of serious conversations, we suddenly quote entire blocks of dialogue from movies like Coming to America and What’s Love Got to Do With It. Dave Chappelle jokes are referenced to the point where it can become difficult to carry on a conversation with us unless you are a fan of his. We hired an imaginary maid named Jennifer, and wonder aloud why we haven’t fired her, since she never comes to clean our house. Already, in four years of matrimony, we have given birth to a considerable assortment of weird personality traits that have ensured our future children will enter a very strange world.
I bought a second television shortly after we got married, so that we wouldn’t argue about the remote. But we still argue. Meanwhile, the new television sits in our bedroom, abandoned, engulfed by cobwebs and lonely, damning the day that we stripped it from its happy, popular life sitting on a Circuit City shelf. Our marriage is not really about having two televisions. It’s about wanting the company of your spouse, but wanting this company while watching basketball and hoping that soon, by sheer will power, your spouse will cease liking the things she likes more than she likes the things you like. It never works, and yet, part of the twisted fun of marriage is coming home each day to try it again.
Growth: When the Food Network competes with Monday Night Football, we have learned to alternate on commercial breaks. And on those nights where one of us realizes that we really don’t have to watch our favorite show, we gladly surrender the remote, in order to sit quietly together, as content as hummingbirds.
Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.
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1.23.08 @ 2:14a
Happy anniversary, Jason.
"by sheer will power, your spouse will cease liking the things she likes more than she likes the things you like." That is hilarious. And true.
1.23.08 @ 8:07a
Because of all the various aspects of yourself you've revealed to us in these columns, I have you pegged as a sweet, loving, generous husband. Even if you do get booed from time to time.
Oh, yeah, and happy anniversary.
1.23.08 @ 11:15a
re: superstitions. I have almost been killed for attempting to wash clothes on New Year's Day. Hmm.. My mother is from Arkansas too. That must be it!
I abso-luv the Gilmore's!
1.24.08 @ 9:18a
Loved it- so relatable. The whole "she goes into technical terminology and that hits me like Thera Flu- hysterical! I have not been able to make Joe want to move to Colorado, or watch Dancing with the Stars but he does wear the occasional Broncos t-shirt and he doesn't say John Denver makes his butt hurt anymore when forced to listen to it. Great read Jason- thanks!
1.24.08 @ 5:39p
"Then, she goes into technical terminology, and that hits me like Thera Flu."
Oh. My. That is SO funny! I used to do that to Matt, apparently, when I worked at the March of Dimes. I'd start freaking out and drop a whole bunch of acronyms and abbreviations and such and his eyes would lose focus.
So, so sweet, Jas. Many more happy years for the two of you.
I've written a couple of articles similar to this. When I get really p.o.'d at Matt, I reread them, and calm down.
Then, usually, cry.
Allison! Pick that boy UP and MOVE HIM to Colorado! Then you'll be within driving distance of ME!
1.24.08 @ 6:01p
Having lived with your wife during college, I totally agree with you. The good, bad and crazy. Tre was the BEST roommate, and the superstitions crack me up to this day. Make sure you pass them down to your kids.
Kudos on making it 4 years, keep up the good work.
p.s. Why don't you Rah-Rah (cheer) each other when you do something good to balance out the Boo's?