“She gets the house and the garden, he gets the boys in the band.
Some of them his friends, some of them her friends, some of them understand.
I am good friends with a beautiful couple who is really struggling in their marriage right now. It’s interesting, these phases of life that we go through. There are these familiar themes that follow you around, depending on which life decade you reside in at the moment. First college, then career. Then you start spending your weekends at bachelorette parties and weddings. Baby showers soon follow. It doesn’t happen that way for everyone, of course. But the rhythm is there, in the background.
I don’t go to baby showers or wedding showers anymore. Most of my friends have children in elementary school or older, and we are in the phase of pouring ourselves out for the sake of our families, and trying to reclaim what little of our own selves is left in our “free time”. The other theme, the one that not many talk about, is that this is where marriage sometimes gets hard. The shine has worn off, and we are tired. We’re not newlyweds anymore, enamored with the task of discovering each other and the thrill of beginning. And we are no longer adjusting to going from a family of 2, to 3 or 4, or more. Most of us are done with that, with the vasectomy or tubal ligation to seal the deal.
In the midst of this very un-shiny, tiring, hard work, we find that our marriages, and/or our friend’s marriages, sometimes start to struggle. We see some of our couple friends break up, or “consciously uncouple”, if you hang with celebrities. And even if your marriage is not in dire straights, it hurts to watch, and it feels so vulnerable. Because if this beautiful couple–my friends–whom I love and respect so much, can unravel right before my eyes, all the while fighting for their relationship, going to counseling, getting the help and support they need to no avail, who is to say that I’m not next? When you go to a wedding the bride throws the bouquet, and all the single ladies line up to catch it with the wild hope that they will be “next”. No one lines up to see who gets to be next to see the demise of their marriage, but we all know that there will be more, the same way we know that we will start going to baby showers after the wedding showers taper off. It’s that rhythm, always there in the background.
My friends, as I mentioned, have been doing all they can to save their marriage. It’s a long messy process, and I feel helpless on the sidelines. There is nothing to say and nothing to do to make it better, or even OK. It’s not OK. You just do your best to try not to say something stupid or insensitive, and be a listening ear when needed. You just try to keep showing up for your friends, even when it hurts to watch. Because as much as it hurts to watch, you know that where they are hurts more.
This friend recently had her engagement ring stolen. Great timing, right? You’re on the brink, not sure if you’re going to stay together, and the ultimate symbol of your love gets taken from you. The ring was insured, so they submitted a claim to their insurance company, and in order to receive the insurance payout they are required to buy a new one. Well, that’s awkward. Hey honey, I know we might be breaking up and living in 2 separate houses and dividing all our assets, but let’s go engagement ring shopping. Do you have time on Saturday? Her previous engagement ring had borne the inscription “True Love” on the inside, which the police told her might one day be helpful in recovering the ring. They started joking around about what exactly they would inscribe on a brand-new-divorce-is-possibly-imminent-engagement ring. “True Love” just doesn’t seem quite right at such a time as this. They came up with “STFO”–as in, “start the f– over”. Which I have to tell you, I really love. Because it’s real.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
― Margery Williams,
Maybe being allowed to STFO in the middle of your ugly mess is the very definition of “True Love”, a definition we didn’t completely appreciate when we were all shiny newlyweds. My friend’s marriage is Real now, and being Real hurts, and it isn’t always pretty.
Rings photo credit-Image by Boykung at FreeDigitalPhotos.net