August 9, 2007
taking stock
I found myself in an odd position this week. It had to do with love and the future and the past and one big cheese ball of happiness, a mixture of joy that might once have been but was no longer there, and hadn’t been there for some time. I would guess years, and although not a betting woman I would offer Cricket’s right hind leg that I’m probably guessing correctly. Tied to an unpleasant, recurring date I wound my way through the glitter of children’s birthday greetings and those God awful morose and inexplicably floral sympathy cards and finally settled, as intended, in the anniversary section.

I hate it there. It’s a plastic wasteland of lies and discomfort and wishing there wasn’t so much gold trim. The neighboring wedding and engagement cards are acceptable and borderline whimsical, so full of promise and hope and all the stuff that made little Annie not our red-headed stepchild but our orphan hero. I have a strict anniversary card rule I’ve carted around since first seeing Kramer vs. Kramer, one I’m quite sure increases my Hallmark aisle discomfort exponentially. I never buy anything that doesn’t reflect the absolute fervor with which the couple lives their lives and loves one another. To me, doing anything less is like giving an engagement gift when the bride-to-be has already flushed her platinum ring. Thus the quandary in a northern Virginia Target: what to buy for a twosome no longer in love?

These sorts of situations make my heart ache, even more than the elderly who have part-time jobs at McDonald’s. I simply cannot fathom at this point in my life (and don’t you dare go digging in my archives) that someone would withstand a relationship that was any less than what they truly deserved, an abundance of love and a scattered, smothered, covered and chunked order of morning kisses and late-night talks. Money and dependence and situation be damned. You deserve a life of not giving in to watching yet another horrible episode of American Idol, but doing it because you just can’t believe the odd gleeful laugh she lets out at every one of Simon’s dreadful comments. Of smiling each and every time you think of him, even if he did give the phone to you when you violently shook your head to the negative, even when she’s had one too many flutes of champagne at the corporate event and offers the big boys much too much about your long-gone fraternity years. Of getting through the arguments and rough patches hand in hand.

Yet we all do it – we’ve all done it – to different degrees. Some of us for months, others for years, some of us for decades. Through a curbside coffee table scored on a big trash day to hermit crabs won at the shore boardwalk to the shared experience of newborn puppies and babies. We all do it. Like robots who convince ourselves that things will fix, that things will change. For most of us, they don’t. For many of us, the out is easier, a series of unreturned phone calls or a Dear John letter left on the kitchen table. An uncomfortable Easter Sunday conversation that has one or the other moving out before vows were exchanged. The others who enter the wrong union eventually succumb to the inevitable. They end up trapped.

Perhaps what left me most lost in the world of cardstock was not the fact that I had to find the most innocuous offender, the one least covered in interlocked white hands, bearing multi-sided talk of forever in poorly-written, saccharine verse. It was the fact that I know so few couples, if more than one even, for whom I’d buy one of those $4.99 cards. Everyone else I know is going through the motions, exchanging once-knowing, perhaps frisky shared looks at a dinner party for silence on a car ride home. For unexpected Tuesday mornings spent laughing over burned toast and predictable Wednesday nights spent on distant sides of a king bed.

I never, ever want to be in that situation. The reality that surrounds me goes against all that I’ve hoped for those in my inner circle and, most selfishly, for me. I can’t do it. It may mean I have to use a walker when I finally hobble down the aisle in a black sequined garment meant to camouflage all of my loose parts, but it won’t be like that. I just won’t do it.

I settled on a card with beautiful stitching that bore a simple interior message of good wishes, thankfully only two lines in length. It was sadly perfect, and I should have bought three of them in anticipation of the next two couple “celebrations.” And now I sit thinking of this passionless marriage that once might have been something great, of how these two people probably dread their anniversary more than I do solo wedding attendance, and I’m left without words. Just what exactly is there to say?

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40 Comments:

Blogger Joni said...

Wow- what a beautiful yet haunting post. I recently got married and I sometimes wake up in sweats at night scared of one day morphing into that couple you described, the "going through the motions, could it be any beige-r and is this all there is" people. I wake my husband up and make him promise that we won't turn into them. But- I think having an aversion as strong as you do, and hopefully as I do, is the best prevention against it. Great post.

Blogger Nick said...

What a tragedy.

My heart bleeds.

Blogger Beth said...

Money and dependence and situation be damned"

So. Effing. True. I recently heard a story about a couple that have a loveless, sexless marriage but "they get along just fine" and "do you know how hard/scary it is to split up your finances?" Um, ya, I happen to know exactly how hard it is to untangle a decade of a life lived interwoven. But staying in a union that is anything less than what you (and I) are looking for (and deserve!) is worth the "hassle" of splitting up the bank account, selling the house. Staying together "for the children" only shows those kids that people don't deserve happiness, that loveless marriages are normal. Is that really what you want for your kids, people?

Re: the card conundrum, I suggest buying blank cards with innocuous pictures of like a sunset or a flower or something and then writing something of your own inside. Like, "Best wishes." Perhaps those wishes are that those people will split up, but you don't need to write that part!

OMG. That left me speechless. You're writing is amazing.

I complain about my singledom all the time. But this post really hit home.

SJ

Blogger JoJo said...

Once again, you nailed it on the head. You should be with somebody because they are the right person, not because it's the "right" thing to do.

Blogger FreckledK said...

How sweet of you to send me an anniversary card.

You're helping me to end what should have ended a looooong time ago. That's a good thing, by the way. Thank you.

Blogger EJ Takes Life said...

Holy wow, Kris. As always, gorgeously said.

I want to show this post to anyone whose ever clucked and thought "how naive" when I proclaimed that settling for passionless companionship is too much compromising for my lifetime.

Blogger Megan said...

This is exactly why I don't get totally depressed that I'm not married yet. I think of the possible alternative of making the wrong decision at the wrong time and ending up like so many others.

Blogger Jürgen Nation said...

Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we choose the path of least resistance over true happiness.

Choosing to be and remain unhappy is absurd. Who doesn't want to be happy? I come from a long line of folks who choose misery because it's easier or they think it's what they deserve. Please. You do whatever you have to do, but if you don't go after your own happiness why even bother. Why get up in the morning? You're just going to spread misery around if you just marinate in it. GROW A PAIR!!!

*cough*

So close to home, so much to say.

Blogger kris said...

to be totally honest, stace, i didn't even think of that "situation" when writing this, but i guess if the cole haan fits . . .


*crickets*


and all you other wonderful cats, i'm glad to hear that i'm not the only one to feel this way. i anticipated that some people might have the feeling that i'm being unrealistic, and that in some way you have to settle (and that "maybe, kris, this is why you're alone!") but I JUST DON'T BUY IT. when you know it's wrong, you know it's wrong. period. why would you keep that for yourself? there must be something better, something right out there for all of us, no?



*yep, still single*

Blogger snoopy said...

I am in complete agreement with your post - and how life is too short to spend the rest of your days in a loveless, lifeless union.

However, at the same time, I feel like in today's society, people expect that honeymoon feeling to last forever - and when it doesn't, they immediately think everything is wrong with the relationship and run for the hills.

Relationships take work to survive - however they shouldn't suck the life out of anyone.

Blogger Mamma said...

Shit. You buy people anniversary cards?

Haunting is a perfect description.

Blogger canape said...

After a loveless marriage, a crappy divorce, and a myriad of other craziness, I can now tell you that it is worth it to wait.

But also worth it to try. To try and find the person worth sharing "an abundance of love and a scattered, smothered, covered and chunked order of morning kisses and late-night talks."

Blogger B.D said...

as someone who got married despite something not feeling quite right, thought i'd be married until my deathbed, and realized at 29 after 10 years of (mostly) good times and 1 year of marriage, that: "love alone isn't good enough and "good enough" isn't a substitute for love. as someone who has rolled around on the floor in despair (drinking wine and listening to suicidal R&B music) those of you who are still single, i can't tell you how much happier i am being single and happy/content than married/partnered and exhausted/bewildered. rock on kris. lovely post!

Blogger *kb* said...

I can so relate, I am currently surrounded by a few friends dealing with unhappy marriages and splitting up. For the most part, I've been thanking my lucky stars that I'm living in a converted garage enjoying the simple life.

Blogger JordanBaker said...

I had a similar problem recently trying to choose a wedding card. I couldn't bring myself to buy any of the "you're so perfect for each other!" cards since I haven't met the groom, and the "your love will last forever!" ones seemed wrong, since I'm sure they both got plenty of those for their first marriages . . .

Blogger Michele said...

Kris, I love your writing and this is one of your finest. However, once I finished and the aura of your fabulous prose lifted, a tiny part of me snorted and said "Good f-in luck, Sweetie!" Because everything you said, I used to say too, albeit not as artfully, before I got married. I waited and didnt settle, and found my true soul mate when I was 29. Our first few months together I truly thought he had to be interrogating my best friends on the side, because he always knew JUST what to say and do to make me swoon. And now, after 10 years together and 7 years of marriage and 2 kids, he can still make me swoon, when he isnt driving me crazy leaving his shoes in the kitchen or forgetting to get the oil changed before we leave on vacation.

Marriage is a wonderful, awful arrangement. You get to have all of your partners best 24/7, but you also have to be man or woman enough to live and deal with the worst 24/7 too, and not scamper back to your sweet little apartment and cats and "space" when things get not so swoony delicious for a while. When you get married you lose alot of your ability to step back and figure things out because you are knee deep in it. I dont have my own "corner" anymore, because I have to share it with him and the kids too. It is hard work every day to make it as wonderful as it is for my husband and I, so when it is not so wonderful, I dont wonder if I am "settling" or giving in to what is comfortable and easier, I wonder what I need to do to make it better. It's not just as easy as waiting until you think you found the perfect one who will not fail you, its also being willing to not fail them too, and to realize that ultimately you make your own happy life, even if you have to figure it out while you are knee deep in shoes and diapers.

Blogger Jorge said...

Who ever said being alone was "wrong"?

As a society, we come up with all sorts of "rules" to make ourselves feel better.

At least, that's what most people say. A lot of rules in society are meant to level the playing field so that shmoes and jackasses actually have a shot.

The problem with this is that for every shmoe or jackass that gains a victory (deserved or not), someone who should probably win will end up losing.

Fuggers.

Blogger Melina said...

Tragic. I just found out yesterday that one of my childhood friends is completely miserable in her marriage and is cheating on her husband with her high school boyfriend. It all seems like just a mess.

Your standards sound perfect to me and they should be everyone's I think.

Blogger kris said...

Michele, I don't think you could have said it better. The part about my beautiful prose, I mean. I'M KIDDING, PEOPLE. Loved your comment.

Hard work acknowledged. I'm game - bring it. Settling, not so much. Glad you didn't, lady.

Blogger Skyzi said...

This entry stung.... being married is such hard work....I hope you are always able to maintain that resolve. Don't accept anything less than you truly deserve and please don't trick yourself into thinking "he" is what you want when you know the truth.

Someone pass me the wine!

Blogger Mymsie said...

My single friends and I have been feeling bummed lately but it's good to remember this. Have you seen the Sex & the City episode Bay of Married Pigs? Love it!

Blogger brookelina said...

Whenever I feel down about being single, I call one of my married friends. Then all is right with my world again.

Blogger Genevieve said...

I just went through a bizarrely difficult situation where this guy & I liked each other but because of his religion he felt guilty about it. His dad and my aunt (whom his dad just married) have been trying desperately for weeks to convince him not to date me.
Relationships shouldn't be so hard but for some reason they are.
We're "officially together" (my first relationship in 2 years) but I have a feeling my aunt and his dad are going to continue to try to guilt him into breaking up with me.

I guess that's life, though? <3

ps: looking @ your pictures & i think i would throughly enjoy seeing you drunk. you're absolutely adorable! :D

Blogger wearingthepants said...

Wow, this is a terrific post and you're writing puts mine to shame. As someone who grew up with parents in a loveless marriage and found herself trapped in a four-year relationship similar to what you describe, I couldn't agree more. Thanks so much for this.

Blogger BOSSY said...

Perhaps the Sympathy Card section would be more appropriate?

Blogger kitkat said...

I agree with Beth's earlier comment about buying blank cards. If a couple is truly struggling (they haven't given up), then some fakey card about eternal happines probably won't help, but a "thinking of you" card is still nice. Or, don't send a card at all. No one gives me anniversary cards except my husband.

Also, don't be fooled by couples who have the appearance of having settled when really, they've just settled down. Not having spontaneous sex on the kitchen floor does not mean that the couple doesn't find ways to make life great for them. My husband and I probably look terribly boring, and therefore perhaps unhappy at times, but I like routine, and there's no one I'd rather be boring with than him.

Blogger kris said...

agreed, k. who doesn't want to settle down with the person they didn't have to settle for? this is why we all envy the couples like you. love that you have that. ;)

Blogger The Middle Child said...

Been there, done that, and I know it... what I want to know is when will I learn? When will I stop repeating past mistakes?

I was married for 11.5 years (to the day). Our marriage was good for a while, but then went bad, good again, and bad again, and so on until we went through four separations and finally a divorce. We get along better now than we ever did.... only there is no sex...

I guess what I'm saying is, you're right. And no one should ever settle... they should have what makes them divinely happy in this world.

Blogger candace said...

You're absolutely right. Don't settle. I grew up with parents in a loveless marriage (and they're still together; go figure) and I knew I didn't want that. I had terrible boyfriends, I had pretty good ones, but I knew when I met Pete that being with him would never amount to settling. And it never has. Nearly 16 years later (13 of those married, and for heaven's sake I'm NOT that old; I was merely 20 when I met him), I'm blissfully married. Ridiculously happily married. Hell, even kitchen appliance shopping is fun when I'm with him.

Happiness happens when you have the right person to work with. I'd rather be alone than settled.

Blogger gorillabuns said...

i feel this way every time i have to purchase a father's day card.

Blogger Della said...

First marriage lasted two weeks...I shoulda known...slammed my hand in the car door and broke my wedding ring finger...sat in the ER on my wedding day in full wedding veil regalia as they cut off my engagement ring...shoulda known...and I still went through with it! The bad feeling was there deep in my gut (or was it my morning sickness? I WAS pregnant!)Two years later married my hubby eleven days after our first date. Marriage is work but he knows that I am with him because I choose him to be my husband not because I need him to be my husband and vice versa as the wife. We have gone through alot, but have also learned and grown together. It ain't always easy, but honestly we only have each other when the shit hits the fan. That's when we really are tight. If the flame of love (passion is another thing----gotta take hormones, depression, menopause, etc into consideration for the passion rating!!!) cannot be rekindled, then it is time to move on. Sadly, so many couple just go through the motions and kid themselves...out of fear of the unknown or having to start all over again. My children's bio mom is in such a sad situation...I even offered her the spare bedroom to help her make the mad dash to freedom.

Blogger Genie said...

I read somewhere that you shouldn't marry someone you can live with but someone you can't live without.

My first marriage was someone I could live with and I thought/hoped things would get better. My most recent marriage is fantastic and the days just keep getting better and better.

Blogger Laurie said...

I was filling out Christmas cards once at work and a waitress in the restaurant asked if she could buy one from me, because they were probably okay (read: impersonal enoguh) to send to her mother.

It shocked me at the time but I've since learned that relationships don't always fit the Hallmark party line. I'm with Gorillabuns, but it's Grandma cards in my case.

And finally, had I really wanted to be married more than anything, I'd have stayed with the only boyfriend I've ever lived with, and would likely be a depressed, chain-smoking Ohio housewife with a worse wine habit than I currently have. But dammit I'd be married! And I'd probably have kids! Thankfully I saw the distant light and split. I'm with you on waiting until it feels right, until it feels worth it, and until it's with someone who inspires all of those feelings that give the motivation to work through the hardest times. I lost the one person since who inspired those feelings, so I'm hanging in there on my own until the next one comes along. I would always, always rather be content on my own (or die trying) than miserable with another human being. It doesn't serve anyone.

Blogger Spinakop said...

Marriage is so over rated it makes single people feel as if there's something wrong with them. I on the other hand am enjoying being single after being married for almost nine years and almost losing myself in this union. I like your post and I agree with you, why should anyone settle for anything less.

Blogger kerri said...

Sometimes you don't really have to say anything. (I am of course stating the obvious here, but) The sentiment is there. And I think that's most important.

Which reminds me: My babycarrot sister and her husband are celebrating their first anniversary at the end of this month. Everything is still new, still exciting. My sister and I have had talks about the both of us feeling fortunate we grew up with shining examples of marital love. Not perfect, surely not, but my mom and (step)dad love one another more today than they did when they first met. And it shows.

Blogger sue said...

I go through this when buying mother's day cards. How do you find one that says what you want, without all the lies... you know, "what a good mom you were", "how much I love you", blah blah blah. I refuse to buy one like that.

So far, my marriage is going strong (and happy) but I can very much relate to people you refer to... and no, there is nothing wrong with being alone. If you are happy that way.

Blogger Mia said...

Amen sister.. and I hope to never be in that bad, bad place again.

But it sure is lonesome in the meantime. Or maybe I just notice it more.

Blogger punky said...

People accept the love they think they deserve. It's not right or wrong, it just is what it is. When they are ready to let go and move on, they will. Not a moment sooner.

I know that I've held on for what may appear to an outsider to be far too long, that was simply how long it took for me to leave. I left when I was meant to and not a moment sooner (or later). There's just no universally accepted time frame for that kind of thing. You stay until you don't.

I am happy I am single now. And I'd be happy in a relationship as well. My happiness is no longer dependent on anyone other than myself. So single, married, divorced or widowed, I can be happy with any of these, as long as I am true to myself and live authentically. And that authenticity is based on my own truth, not anyone else's story or beliefs. It can only be found within.

Anyhoo ... great post. May you never settle for anything less than what you believe you deserve.

Blogger EDW said...

I'm so shocked you send anniversary cards to your friends that I am having a hard time moving beyond your politeness to the topic.

I didn't settle. But I do wonder what kind of anniversary card you'd buy me for mine in a week. I admit I don't smile every time I think of him, and for me right now that's an unrealistic goal or expectation.

There's a big difference between settling and trying to navigate the longest romantic relationship I've ever had. 11 years, 8 years of marriage, one child, two houses - multiple jobs, deaths, joys and heartbreaks. I do my best, and I hope it's good enough.

I don't judge other people's marriages, and I sure as hell don't judge those who don't enter into it. No one in their right mind said it was better to be married than single - Lord, please!

Listen, I don't know your friends, but maybe they're going through the motions to get through it. Passion and love might not be dead, just tired. Shit happens. It's where we end up that we should be judged for, not how we looked while doing it.

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