Whoever said, “If you have lemons, make lemonade,” never met my wife. When you make lemonade, you can drink it, sell it, give it to friends who don’t really want it but take it just to be nice, or leave it in the fridge to become a chemical weapon. In any of those scenarios, by next week your lemons will rest in the mists of history.
My wife believes everything has an appropriate shelf-life. She watches expiration dates. If canned soup hits the “best if used by” mark, she tosses it. Aspirin that expires in November is in the trash by Thanksgiving. Consequently, she goes for things that will last a long time. When we buy regular milk it becomes clabber by the next morning. Organic milk stays good for weeks. Guess which one she buys.
My in-laws possess a lemon tree, and this year it bore enough fruit to fulfill any fertility commandment from the Old Testament. We ended up with lots of lemons. My wife didn’t squander them on something as ephemeral as lemonade. She went for shelf-life. We squeezed lemons, poured the juice into an ice cube tray, and made frozen juice cubes. We had one tray. It took about a week. But now we have zip-lock bags packed with lemon goodness that will fulfill our lemon juicing needs for years. Probably until I retire.
Knowing this makes me feel good. My wife has chosen me to fulfill her marriage requirements, despite the fact that we’re different in almost every way partners can be different and neither of them be a chimp. (If it comes to that, I will be nominated for chimp on the basis of my poor impulse control.) This is not a random happenstance. My wife thinks about these things.
Therefore, it’s my job to think of things she wouldn’t think of by herself. That’s a long shelf-life contribution, and it’s how I pull my relationship weight. For example, she’s been sick for a couple of weeks. She’s been coughing like a French Quarter junkie, and she had to work Saturday. Then one of her crowns popped off before she went to work.
In this situation, at the end of the day her thought process would go something like this: Illness + fatigue + pain + emergency weekend dental work = soup, aspirin and early bedtime
My thought process goes more like this: Illness + fatigue + pain + emergency weekend dental work = homemade brownies, scotch whiskey and dumb TV
I’m drinking to celebrate the fact that, as of today, I’ve been to more weddings than funerals this year. I’ve grieved that several of my loved ones passed beyond the reach of man, although at least I hadn’t loaned any of them books. On the other hand, more than twice as many friends promised to love and honor each other forever, and they celebrated by accepting ugly wall clocks and pretentious 1-cup coffee makers.
It’s a happy situation. I’m therefore drinking vodka, which is nasty, rather than tequila, which is loathsome.
As I listened to the vows in today’s ceremony, I thought about my own wedding vows. If I wrote my marriage vows today, they’d be vastly different from the ones I wrote for my actual wedding. In addition to love, honor, and cherish, I might include vows like:
I promise to do whatever it takes to keep you warm, even if it means adopting more cats to pile on the bed.
I promise to pay attention to things you like so I can buy them for you later.
I promise to pay attention when you tell me I’m acting crazy.
I promise never to cook Garlic Orange Chicken Stir Fry again.
I promise not to make fun of your addiction to making lists.
Then I realized most of that was pretty dumb and not at all what I want to say. Then I thought about what I want to say instead of that. Then I drank vodka, which kind of helped. Then I decided that I really wanted to talk about how marriage changes things. I mean, one moment you’re in love, and the next moment you’re in love and married. What the heck does that mean?
Here’s the short version. Love is a gift you give your lover. Marriage is a war you fight against yourself.
Here’s the long version. I think the “love is a gift” part is pretty understandable. It includes basic things like giving flowers and back rubs, physical intimacy, and treating your lover no less courteously than you would treat a librarian or a beloved English actor.
On another “love is a gift” level, whenever I’m out later than expected, I call my wife. She does the same for me. As I call her, my buddies may harass me by saying she “really has me on a short leash.” I explain that I’m glad she at least cares where I’m at instead of using my absence to frolic with a grunge-punk band and shoot dope under her toenails. Besides which, being so paranoid about really short leashes makes them sound like they have tiny penises.
The “marriage is a war” part is less obvious. Whenever my wife and I behave like loving, caring individuals, no war is necessary. But sometimes we act like regular people, which is to say irrational and thoughtless. When I feel my wife is acting that way, I have decisions to make and possibly a war to fight.
Here’s an example. I indicate to my wife, I think successfully, that I’m interested in a little hanky-panky later in the evening. I receive promising indications, but not a positive confirmation. We go to dinner with a friend, and my wife orders a barbeque plate of heroic proportions. I anticipate her request for a doggie bag, but it never comes. She enjoys the entire meal. Now any attempt at hanky-panky that evening would result in nothing but her shrieking like a rabbit caught in a gate.
My war against myself begins inside my head.
“Was I clear? I know I was clear. Does this mean something? Maybe she’s not too interested in me anymore. Or maybe I wasn’t clear. Did she have to order the big plate? It’s not like we were going to a French restaurant or something. We can go to this place anytime. Am I less desirable than a barbeque sandwich? I don’t know what to say to that. That can’t be right. But hell, she didn’t have to eat the whole dinner—she could have taken part of it home for tomorrow. Am I less sexy than half a barbeque sandwich? I can’t ask that! What if she says yes?”
At this point I am losing the war. I have taken something she did that annoyed me, and I’ve transformed it into a marriage-threatening cataclysm that I can’t talk to her about because I’m terrified of what we might say. Even better, as long as I don’t say anything, this will now creep around unseen in our marriage like a French Resistance fighter causing more creative and disruptive sabotage forever after.
How do I win the war? I risk everything. I open my mouth and say the stupid things I was worrying about. Even if it hurts my wife, hurts me, and hurts the guy who made the sandwich. I listen to her possibly-horrifying responses, because if our marriage survives this then at least we won’t have it under the surface tearing our marriage apart.
That’s what I mean by marriage being a war you fight against yourself. I’m not sure what that would look like in a wedding vow. Maybe something like:
I promise to fight for us. We’re worth risking everything for.
Now I’m going to cook dinner. We’re having soup. And vodka.