After 23 years of marriage, I know relationships are tested.
Power struggles surface during unexpected moments, when complex facets of our subconscious bait us into subtle conflicts with our mates. Every couple has their triggers, and ours include discussions over which way the toilet paper roll should hang, who touched the thermostat last, and what constitutes junk mail.
For my husband and I, there is one seemingly harmless event that launches us into a passive aggressive battle of wills like no other. It happens only once or twice a year, but when it does, it causes palpable tension that leaves us both leafing through the yellow pages for a good attorney, just in case.
That event is skiing.
A wonderful recreational sport intended to provide overworked human beings with a break from the daily grind, unforgettable memories, and adrenaline-fueled euphoria; skiing actually sends us to the brink of divorce.
Our perceptions of skiing started in our respective childhoods. Francis will never forget being forced to take ski lessons with his brothers, after having been bribed with hot cocoa. Whereas, my high school best friend and I loved going to local Pennsylvania ski resorts, lying to boys we met on the lifts, telling them we went to exclusive private schools and our names were “Claire Taylor” and “Brooke Townsend.”
With our particular histories, Francis and I see family ski trips through different lenses – mine rose colored, and his sharply focused in harsh lighting.
Last weekend, some friends invited us to their ski place up in New Hampshire. As soon as we accepted the invitation, the power struggle ensued.
Subconsciously, Francis was prepared to hate every minute of it – the cold, the inconvenience, the expense – and to hold me personally responsible for his annoyance. And without realizing it, I launched my own propaganda campaign to convince him that skiing is fun.
While Francis remained stubbornly skeptical, I ran around like the proverbial headless chicken to shield him from the inconvenient truth. I needed a PhD in economics to get the best deal on lift tickets. I needed eight arms at the base recreation center to rent two snowboard sets, two alpine ski sets, and four cross country ski sets. I needed the patience of Job packing enough gloves and hats and snacks and drinks to keep everyone happy. I needed a second mortgage on our house to pay for it. And acting lessons in how to grin and bear it.
It all came to a head our first day on the slopes. After huffing and puffing our way into long underwear, ski pants, sweaters, and coats, we still had to pack our equipment into the car, find a parking spot at the resort, and awkwardly lug our clacking skis, poles, helmets and boots to the ticket area.
The tension emanating from Francis was palpable. With clenched teeth, he silently screamed, “This is all your fault!” And the worst was yet to come.
Sweaty and winded, we went to the locker room for the most notorious of ski-related tasks. You’d think that by now, someone would have invented an easier way to put on ski boots, or at the very least, a boot that doesn’t make you walk like you are doing a bad version of The Hustle.
Francis grunted audibly from his side of the bench. It took two of us bracing against the lockers to snap his buckles shut, then we had to do it all over again when he announced that a wrinkle in his sock was causing excruciating pain.
Cussing under his breath, Francis did the awkward-rocking-boot-walk outside to find his skis, and by some miracle of God, we made it onto the chair lift.
In that rare moment of calm silence, I realized that Francis had been right all along – skiing really is the most inconvenient sport. I decided to concede defeat and leave him alone, fully expecting him to give up after a run or two and head for the lodge.
Hours later, I ran into Francis on the slopes. Not only had he not given up, he’d been skiing all day long, without hot cocoa. “You up for another run?” he asked from behind his balaclava.
“Heck yeah,” I smiled, slotting into the lift line with him.
On the chairlift, I asked, “Isn’t this fun?”
“It’s okay, I guess,” he responded, noncommittally.
I leaned in for a frosty kiss, realizing that our power struggle had peaked, and it was all downhill from there.