Ten years ago, when my family was stationed in Virginia, a boring weeknight in the suburbs inspired me to write my first column. At that time, I wasn’t looking for a publishing opportunity. I simply needed a creative outlet to sort through the realities of marriage, parenting and military life. Now, as my husband, Francis, and I prepare to celebrate our 23rd anniversary, I’ll tell the story that inspired me to write….
One busy night after the kids had gone to bed, I settled into my spot on the sofa for some mind-numbing television.
“Isn’t this a repeat?” I asked Francis, seated in his recliner. When no answer was forthcoming, I glanced over to witness an all-too-familiar scene: Deeply imbedded in the recliner’s cushions, lay my husband of fourteen years, sound asleep.
Normally, I would turn out the lights and tip-toe to bed — my revenge for being “abandoned” for the umpteenth time. Francis would wake up alone in the dark and trudge upstairs to find me teehee-ing under the covers. But on this particular night, I gawked at Francis as if I were seeing him for the first time. Is this the man I married?
Panic gripped my soul. We’re tired, boring, predictable — We’re doomed.
I remembered one afternoon in 1992, when Francis and I were at an Italian café in Pittsburgh, sipping wine and falling in love.
“I really want to live abroad,” he said. “Me too,” I said. “I love the ocean,” I said. “Me too,” he said. “I don’t care about money, only happiness,” he said. “Me too!” I said.
It was a match made in heaven.
But, if we had understood the realities of marriage, our conversation would have been different: “I’ll develop stretch marks,” I should’ve said. “That’s okay, we’ll dim the lights,” he might’ve said. “I’ll end up bald, but hair will sprout out of my ears and nose,” he should’ve said. ”I’m good with tweezers,” I might’ve said. “I have no mechanical ability and won’t be embarrassed if you handle all the home repairs,” he should’ve said. “I won’t mind for the first few years, but then I’ll get fed up,” I really wish I’d said.
But back in 1992, we weren’t thinking about annoying habits and clogged drains. We were too busy planning our perfect life to be bothered with reality.
Our unrealistic expectations persisted after we were engaged. “Pardon me!” Francis yelped after accidentally belching. Although he insisted he would never expel any kind of gas in front of me, it didn’t take long for his steely resolve to erode. Today, expelling gas happens as soon as the urge beckons. Mid-sentence, under the covers, in the recliner. “Why do you have to burp while I’m talking to you?” I’ve said. “Did I burp?” he’s said, sincerely oblivious.
Before marriage, I preened and pampered Francis like a primate, manicuring nails and plucking stray hairs to maintain his rugged good looks. I had no idea that, one day, those stray hairs would multiply so profusely that our grooming sessions now take place in the garage and involve the leaf-blower. The pedicures have become completely intolerable, because Francis’ left piggy toe now resembles a tiny hoof. One of the kids recently asked if it was made out of wood.
I had to draw the line somewhere.
So what am I saying? Are we doomed because we haven’t met our premarital expectations?
As I watched Francis dozing in his recliner, I realized something important: We have not met our original expectations, we’ve exceeded them. Back when we were dreaming of a life of romance uninhibited by responsibility, stress and aging, we couldn’t fully comprehend the complexity and depth of marital relationships. We didn’t understand that marriage is more than candlelight dinners and adventurous travel. Long-term romance is actually built on a foundation of commitment, comfort, and companionship.
Realizing this, my aversion to the the sight of my sleeping husband turned to adoration. And as I turned out the lights and tip-toed upstairs to wait for Francis to wake up alone in the dark, I was happy that marriage is everything I ever dreamed of, and more.