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. 


  1. I think you're a romantic and so is Bill, and that's delightful and I love you for it.


    I think the example Mindy Kaling gives is kind of extreme. I've known couples like that. They haven't lasted.

    I also know two couples where the wife is constantly - and I mean CONSTANTLY, all the time, everywhere - extolling the virtues of their wonderful, perfect, all out stunning husbands... and the husbands in question are actually horrible people who would benefit immensely from a little realization that a good relationship is something that requires both participants to work on it sometimes.

    I can see both sides of it, I guess, but I honestly didn't think Affleck's comment was anything but honest and sweet. Truly. Ben & Jennifer have three kids that are almost exactly the same age as my three (we're besties now!) - and right now, although I love my husband dearly, maintaining the romantic, loving part of our marriage IS work. We have to make the time for it out of our incredibly busy days. We have to give it some space to grow & not stagnate in amongst all the many demands of young kids. For me *personally*, the notion that Michael acknowledges the work of our marriage BUT SIMULTANEOUSLY says that he finds that work enormously worthwhile and ultimately rewarding, would be to me both comforting and lovely.

    But that's me. It's obviously a very personal thing - which is probably why award acceptance speeches should be done away with altogether. Thanking your spouse is a private thing that likely should never move into the public sphere.

    1. I know marriages like that, too. "My husband is so amazing!" and meanwhile the husband is like, a sullen slugman. Those women are the kind who feel like admitting any sort of failure would be admitting total failure, and poor them.

      But I think that enough people feel like me that comments like Ben's should be... carefully made. Know what I mean?

  2. I'm not sure if I agree either, but that certainly was a love letter to your husband.

  3. Not to be all serious-pants, but maybe marriages don't all work the same. I'm guessing this is true. So maybe what would have been a soul-crushing comment was completely appropriate and even romantically endearing for Jennifer Garner. We don't know her, her temperament, her needs, or what their marriage dynamic is like.

    Either that, or Ben slept on the couch that night.

    1. This is true, and a friend once said to me "we don't know what a marriage feels like on the inside." My BEEF with saying that marriage is work is that a LOT of people feel like I do and this isn't SECRET, you know? There are other ways of phrasing what he wanted to say without making being married to Jennifer Garner sound like a pain in the butt.

  4. I see your point, but at the same time it's refreshing to hear a Hollywood star publicly recognize that marriage isn't all rainbows and fairies, even for Hollywood stars. It's tempting to think that if we were only rich like them or beautiful like them that our lives would be perfect and easy, and his little speech was a good reminder that even the rich and beautiful have to put in some effort.

  5. i love your perspective, beck, as usual... having been married 10 (mostly miserable) years myself... i've been the person mindy ran into. (not proud. not proud.) our marriage was so hard for so long that i could hardly even disguise my contempt for happily married people, or for young girls about to board... i viewed marriage like the titanic... enticing, beautiful from afar (and at first maybe), and then frigid and deadly. i know... i should get a post at hallmark. thankfully, THANKFULLY, ours has turned a corner... and having been quite a bit of "work" myself, i don't think i'd take well to that sort of "compliment" either... i am more and more comfortable in my own skin of my own marriage (praise and glory!) but am still too fragile for that, i think.

  6. I think the biggest surprise of my own marriage is that it has been surprisingly easy to be together. This doesn't mean that it's never work, but it's not as much work as I thought it would be. I actually find parenthood to be more work than marriage is (I love my kids like crazy, and it's totally worth the work--but it is often work). Maybe the "raising kids together" part was the work part he was alluding to? My husband and I tend to talk about marriage and parenthood as this crazy adventure we've embarked on together (because doing laundry, making lunches, and badgering the kids to do their homework is *so* adventurous!).

    He might of also meant it in more of a self-deprecating way--in that surely marriage to him must take work on her part. I sometimes only-half-jokingly thank my calm, logical husband for putting up with me, his sometimes overly-dramatic, goofy wife. He scoffs and says, "oh no no...thank YOU for putting up with ME!" Thankfully I don't think either of us think we're working.

    I also think Hollywood marriages, and the extended periods of time that couples spend apart when filming, probably do require a bit more work than other relationships.

    1. I just reread what I wrote yesterday and saw the "he might of." I can't believe I did that. I'm going to go turn myself in to the grammar police for a good flogging.

  7. When Ben got to that part I must admit I was surprised...I really think it probably all sounded better in his head. In other speeches of late he thanked her quite nicely. I can definitely see both sides...we have been married 15 years too!

    I know marriage or any life long relationship takes "work" and by work I mean constant compromise, an awareness of someone elses needs and feelings and a general sense of you can't be a jerk all the time. I really like your point though, the illusion of letting me think I am catch and a dream to live with = priceless.

  8. My problem, if i had one, and I don't, with him thanking his wife, was that he sounded like he was backtracking and it was weird. I figured he was super excited about the Oscar and forgot about it until I read some stuff online. I have been married for nine years and I always say that I feel like I love my husband MORE now that we are married this long, because I have discovered that he is (mostly) nicer and tougher and more loving than I knew when we got married. But, I also say, I am worried that he would be justified in loving me LESS than when we get married because I fear that I have proven to be more of a hag and a yeller and a bad mother. I don't really think marriage takes work as much as it takes stick to it-ivenes. Parenthood, on the other hand, takes work and CONSTRUCTION work, for me, ha!

  9. I actually thought that Ben Affleck was saying pretty much the same thing you are - that he's not perfect and that he appreciates all of his wife's efforts to make their marriage and home, good. That he said it in such a public venue might not have been totally appreciated (we all like to pretend that things are rosy, n'est ce pas?), but that was pretty much the only thing he said on stage that didn't make me want to vomit. (Thank you Canada was ok as well.)

    The other thing I think is, this is very similar to the argument that motherhood is such a hard job. My stock answer has always been, of course it is - what did you expect? I personally am not a fan of bitching about motherhood, but that doesn't mean it's not hard work. Same with marriage - I don't talk about how hard it can be, but it can be hard. I'm willing to give a husband the same leeway I give a mother - if you need to acknowledge that it's tough work, go for it. My stock answer remains the same.

  10. I never thought of it like this before (in terms of the implications of calling marriage 'work'). I see what you are saying though.

    How's that for deep thinking?

  11. I don't even know whether I agree more with you or with Hannah and the other commenters who have stood up for Ben ... all I know is how much I love this post and miss your writing. This was just beautiful, and it's amazing how readily I believe your Bill-is-wonderful thing EVEN WHEN you are clearly stating that you believe the most important thing in marriage is to conceal your spouse's shortcomings and affirm instead that your spouse is wonderful. I nod, I get it, and then I step away thinking how nice it is that you're married to such a wonderful man.

  12. That Huffington Post article is such a smug ode to smugness that I'm seething. Because the Mommy Wars aren't stupid enough, we need to start Wife Wars? Also HuffPo has a wedding section -- WTF?!

    But I digress...

    We all know a person or a couple like the one Mindy Kaling wrote about. If you are single they are your nightmare. If you are married, they are the ego boost that makes you appreciate your own healthy marriage and your own awesome taste in spouses.

    I agree with @karengreeners -- I think you and Affleck are on the same page and you just have a different definition of "work" than Ben. And hopefully his wife.

    I wish celebrities would keep their private lives private. But if they feel compelled to share than I prefer something like Ben awkwardly acknowledging his appreciation for his wife's efforts and his own shortcomings. That's much healthier and more real than Seal and Heidi Klum. For years they made public spectacles of their love and devotion by renewing their wedding vows with big faux weddings every year AND starred in way-too-intimate music videos and then BAM! They're divorced. If only they'd focussed their attention on their marriage instead of their image, maybe they'd still be together.

  13. I love this beautiful post, it's a beautiful homage to Bill.

    I'm sure I'm partly awesome to be married to, and partly VERY DIFFICULT to be married to, but fortunately Mr never really tells me how difficult I am. Well, sometimes he does, but never to other people.

  14. It reminds me of an interview of Seinfeld years ago. He was being asked about having children and "aren't they so much work?". He said that he gets so sick of that question. He said (and I paraphrase here), everything worth having is work. So yeah, it is work, but it is worth it!
    Same thing with marriage. And I try to tell my single friends this. It is work, but it shouldn't be GRUELING work either.
    And if I won an award I certainly wouldn't want my husband to acknowledge me and our marriage by how much work it is. I completely get your point about that.

    It is the same thing with the husbands (and wives) who go around pointing out gorgeous women. I know there are millions of far more attractive women out there than I. I do not need the ONE person in my life who is supposed to love me above all others to point them out and then go on to drool over them. If it is just my hubby and his friends sitting around that would be one thing (I completely don't care), but if he would do that in front of me that is another story. And I point out beautiful women to my hubby and we talk about it just stating a fact, yes she is pretty. I am talking about men oogling women to their wives and women doing the same to their husbands. Just nuts. I have explained this to my brother in law so many times because he is so guilty of this and I know it bothers his wife. It is just disrespectful. I would never do that to my hubby and he wouldn't do that to me either, but I know so many couples who do. I don't get it. ANYWAY... you can tell this really grates on me. ;)

  15. Yes to all of it..your relationship is yours and Bill's and you get each other and that's fabulous. my hope is that everyone's relationship is right for them. I wouldn't call my marriage work but I might say that I have to make an effort sometimes, to do things I don't want to do because they're better for someone else, to bite my tongue when I really want to give in to my more selfish nature and say something mean, not to respond belligerently when I know full well what someone means by something he has said.

    I just assume this is *my* work, in that I have my own issues and my key, fundamental goal is to not make my issues anyone else's problem. So it wouldn't be something I'd mention in *my* awards speech.

    (Ditto the kids, who are the most work in the sense that I have to [or do I? couldn't I just wing it?] think about stuff all the time and sometimes I want to turn my brain off.)

    I know nothing about Ben or Jennifer but I bet their relationship is more work than mine, because they are *stared at* all the time, and have cameras focused on their house and have to try even harder than the rest of us not to make that snap, snide remark lest it be plastered on the front of the tabloids tomorrow and their whole relationship blown up and picked apart.