Thursday, February 14, 2008

Steve & Molly Save Valentine's Day

It had been one of those weeks in our marriage. The kind of week that starts out on a slightly irritable note and crescendoes into "do I even know you?"

Like most of those weeks, this one included no major spousal wrongdoing...just a series of miscommunications, festering frustrations, unmet (possibly unreasonable) expectations, and excessive recriminations. Yep. The four major "ations" were all there, and looming on the horizon: the national day of Lo-o-o-o-ve.

I'd already bought several Valentines, and last night in the middle of administering a healthy dose of the silent treatment, I even tried to sign them. But I couldn't do it.

The pressure was on to have our traditional Valentine lunch date. Couldn't do that either.

Cupid be damned, I was still totally pissed off. And so was my man. There was no door slamming, screaming or quotable angry exchanges. Just the quiet, scary kind of pissed off that makes you wonder how the two of you will ever clear the air. Now that the nest is empty, and there's no need to make nice and keep up appearances for the kids, these quiet, brooding fights feel even more threatening to the life we usually like quite a bit.

We'd hashed and rehashed the initial offense in a boring remake of "He Said, She Said" retooled for the 25-year club. Elizabeth Perkins, not nearly as fetching in her Maxine bathrobe, claims that Kevin Bacon was obviously distracted and messing around with his computer when she called from work to ask for feedback about an emotional situation. Kevin Bacon, trying to save his bacon so he can get some much needed sleep instead of engaging in the inevitable all-night "conversation," denies it.

So then it became not just an argument, but an argument about how we argue. Not just how we were arguing last night, but how we argue in general. God help us both.

And He/She (God, that is, or the Higher Power or Spirit Self or St. Valentine whatever name you give to the part of yourself that is capable of hitting the EXIT key on the badgering) did. Help us both.

While I don't consider myself particularly religious in the conventional go-to-church sense, I do like the Bible verse about "love hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things, etc." How else can you explain the way rage sometimes, without warning, evaporates and turns into tenderness despite all your efforts to hold a grudge? How else do the healing thoughts pre-empt the hateful ones? And how can the power of two people's history together (which had seemed irrelevant in the heat of battle) suddenly help you see how really stupid the argument was in the first place? Can't explain it. But that's what happened.

And this morning we woke up, still a little tentative and sheepish, but realizing we'd made it through something.

I would be able to sign those Valentines after all, and he could cook me a nice dinner, which we could share by candlelight, laughing again and easing back into the rhythm that sustains us through the more unpredictable and less forgiving parts of our lives.

So, all you sweethearts: Be good to each other. Because whether it's Valentine's Day or your anniversary or just Thursday, and whether you're feeling it right now or not so much, in love togther for the long haul is a pretty damn lucky place to be.


Jas P. said...

Don't you ever feel that conversation is ultimately futile? Like no matter what is said, the two experiences will never meet in the middle? And that attempts to change the form of dialogue don't necessarily affect the content?

It took me years to learn (and I still sometimes forget) to mirror back to Penny what she just said, before daring to offer an opposing point of view.

One reason it took so long to learn is that it feels totally fake and condescending to me, and I hate it when others respond to what I've said by playing it back. It makes me impatient, like, "Yeah, yeah, I know what I said. What do you say?" But for Penny, it's a way of being assured that her point of view is not completely crazy. I don't know why she needs this assurance, but she does.

Even this simple technique, though, is no guarantee that the whole thing's not going to go to hell when I offer my point of view. It usually does, if there's any real disagreement, and I often think I should've just read the script I knew she wanted me to read. But there's some self-negation there that I struggle against. Maybe I'm looking for an assurance that she actually cares about my point of view.

The thing you describe that I can't stand in my own relationship is the deadly bitter silence. Why can't we just really fight, yell, cry, say whatever we really think at the time, knowing we may not think that later? Why can't we keep our sense of humor in the middle of it all? It seems to me that we should be that free.

But how quickly the issue we're arguing about disappears (and our sunny dispositions with it), replaced by the ongoing secondary argument, which is: You don't think or talk the way I want you to think and talk.

Is there a bigger challenge in the world than the deep acceptance of the other and the compromises you come to just so you can generally get along? I can't think of one.

Lil'momma said...

So beautiful. Thank you Molly and Steve.