Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I Don't Get Marriage

Certainly by now you've heard about Ben Affleck's marriage-dooming Oscar acceptance speech, where he thanked Jennifer Garner thusly:

I want to thank you for working on marriage for 10 Christmases. It’s good, it is work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I’d rather work with.

And marriage certainly MAY take work, but to refer to it as such is ungentlemanly - not as ungentlemanly as completely diminishing the Canadian role in the rescue of the American diplomats in Argo, certainly, but not great for a marriage's long-term prospects either.

A LOT of people disagree with me. Here is a post stating that people (like me) who found that reference off-putting "don't get marriage." And I am currently being disagreed with by EVERYONE ON TWITTER. But I stand by my position! And to agree with me, here's Mindy Kaling from her rather fantastic "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?":

I also became familiar with an entirely new category of person: the unhappily married person. They are everywhere, and they are ten thousand times more depressing than a divorced person. My friend Tim, whose name I've changed, obviously, has gotten more and more depressing since he married his girlfriend of seven years. Tim is the kind of guy who corners you at a party to tell you, vehemently, that marriage is work. And that you have to work on it constantly. And that going to couples' therapy is not only normal but something that everyone needs to do. Tim has a kind of maniac, cult-y look in his eyes from paying thousands of dollars to a marriage counselor. He is convinced that his daily work on his marriage, and his acknowledgement that it is basically a living hell, is modern. The result is that he has helped to relieve me of any romantic notions I had about marriage.

I am just guessing here, but I'm betting that it's harder being married to me than it is to be married to Jennifer Garner. I mean, I have my good points (I am funny and somewhat cute and can really bake, mainly), but I've also been hospitalized several times for various life-threatening medical problems over the past few years, gone through multiple bouts of soul-searing depression, lost my MIND each time I had a baby, weighed nearly TWICE what I did when we started dating (when I was an anorexic 18 year old, let's be fair here), been a panicky, unemployable agoraphobic (don't I sound like a treat?) AS WELL as the usual sort of marital things that happen when people are married for nearly FIFTEEN YEARS. 15 years! So being married to me is not only probably a full-time job - it's probably also a candidacy for the sainthood. But Bill has never implied anything of the sort.

And here is why: it would cruelly undermine my fragile sense that at least I have my marriage to rely on if Bill laid bare the secret mechanisms of our marriage. I know full well that being married to me MUST be hard work and really, really don't need confirming proof from Bill who lies like the good, good man he is whenever I press him on this topic. (My favorite statement from Bill: "Being married to you is nothing but pleasure." Oh sure it is.)

I am probably more emotionally fragile than Jennifer Garner, beautiful in a beautiful dress, but another secret is that we're all pretty fragile, at heart, and like Mindy Kaling, I don't find calling marriage "work" bracingly modern or what have you - I find it chilling, further proof of a cold, hard world where every good thing takes endless hellish effort to maintain and is probably not even worth it, in the end.

I think, actually, that a good marriage is built on a solid foundation of being a complete and total LIAR, of not only holding up the fiction that one's spouse is as youthfully irresistible as when you first got together but also the fact that at heart, we're all pretty unlovable and flawed and disappointing. We shelter each other from not only what time certainly does but also from the knowledge that each of us is a pretty big let down. And this - this sheltering - IS work, but it is the sort of underwater emotional work that I don't think needs a lot of exposure to air. It is the secret work of marriage and we make it too open at our peril.

There's an old Billy Bragg song that always springs to mind when I think of things like this:

The temptation
To take the precious things we have apart
To see how they work
Must be resisted for they never fit together again

(From "Must I Paint You A Picture)

Maybe I don't get how marriage works, but I do know that if Bill was winning an Oscar (and for what? Probably special effects.), he would thank me and say some pretty, inconsequential words about me, because he does know how marriage works, how the mechanisms of our fragile, precious marriage work.
He would know to shelter me (beautiful in a beautiful dress) from the cold chill of the word "work" next to my name.