As I was sitting in my living room, chatting with my daughter-in-law, I saw a photo in a magazine of Zsa Zsa Gabor. I commented on how sad I was when she passed away, and my DIL replied, “Who?” God, I’m officially old.
I spent the next several minutes telling her about the Gabor sisters. The easiest way for me to describe them was to say they’re like blonde Elizabeth Taylors, with accents (and, of course, diamonds, fabulous clothes, multiple husbands, and presence. Big Star presence). The conversation came to the subject of Eva Gabor’s role in the TV sitcom Green Acres, one of my favorite shows during my youth. I explained that the storyline was about a gorgeous, wealthy city girl from NY who falls in love with a farmer. She leaves her high rise and chic wardrobe behind to move to his farm, where she spends the next several years learning to milk a cow, clean barn stalls, do her own laundry, and live life channeling Ma on Little House. She never quit longing to go back to the city, but Hubby was determined to get her to embrace the farming life.
“Well, that’s just stupid,” DIL said, “That would never work in real life. In order for them to be happy together, one of them would have to be living a life they don’t want.” And there it was. Reality.
As young girls, many of us were raised on fairy tales, where the handsome prince comes and bestows a gentle kiss, and suddenly our heretofore lonely life becomes magically perfect. Everyone lives happily ever after (although exactly how that gets accomplished is never in the story).
As we grew up and out of storybook land, we were bombarded with advice from mothers, friends, and distant relatives from South Dakota at every Christmas family dinner, on finding a husband (or keeping one), and picking a “good mate,” to avoid becoming that cliched, middle-age divorcee next door with the seventeen cats.
Like most things in life, marriage myths aren’t iron-clad and there will always be exceptions. But there’s no disputing that roughly half of all marriages in this country end in divorce. (It seems to me that any national endeavor with a 50% failure rate might tell us something isn’t working.) With my apologies to Cousin Helga in Des Moines, here are a few of the most common platitudes, debunked:
1. Technically, it wasn’t cheating. This is a defense most often used by spouses who get caught having cyber sex with strangers every night at 3 a.m. (“I’ve never actually touched her in real life!”) Or who get busted sloppy kissing your best friend at your high school reunion, but who insist that both parties were fully clothed, with one foot on the floor at all times (“We were just kissing. We didn’t really do anything.”) Any sentence that begins “Well, technically…” isn’t going to end well. The reply is most likely to be “That guy I met at the Booger’s housewarming party, where you and my trampy hairdresser got so well acquainted in the back seat of her stupid little convertible? He’s technically a tax attorney, but he’s agreed to represent me in our divorce.
2. Opposites attract. This may be true early in the relationship, or when the similarities aren’t consequential. “He likes vanilla ice cream, and I prefer strawberry” is cute and silly. But “He wants to sail around the world for two years, free of pets or tiny humans that need schooling and clothing. My life’s dream is to host the family Thanksgiving dinner every year, surrounded by my children and grandchildren” is potentially a marriage killer. Or he’s a triathlete who believes his body is a temple and starts every day with a kale smoothie and 37 vitamins, while you think a pitcher of coffee and a stale Krispy Kreme doughnut constitutes breakfast (and we won’t discuss your argument that restaurants need to get more civilized and bring back the smoking sections). If you have to hide significant truths about yourself, you’re with the wrong person.
3. As long as we love each other, nothing else matters. Dumbest myth ever. This is a notion held by people who can afford to be romantic because all their other more practical needs have been taken care of. If you can’t pay your mortgage, send your kids to a decent school, or spay Boo Boo, your beloved Rat Terrier, before she gets knocked up by the randy Boxer next door (leaving you with half a dozen weird puppies you can’t even give away in the Walmart parking lot), love gets back-burnered until that other crap gets resolved.
4. Romance should come naturally, forever. What are you, like, fourteen? By age fifty, we should know that romance only comes without any prompting when we’re in Phase 1, the early stages of the marriage. Everybody is all breathless and adoring, and we can’t wait to be together every night, when we’ll have scintillating conversation, followed by mind-blowing sex (who needs sleep?) and pillow talk promises that it will “be like this forever.” Horse hooey. Romantic love, that head-over-heels-butterflies-in-the-tummy, emotional state, is powerful, wonderful, and finite. That’s not to say it’s gone, never to return. It just takes a little work. Maybe even some planning. Couples who believe it should come naturally for forty years are often the ones who complain that they’ve lost that lovin’ feeling and they don’t know why. We need to grow up and give it a little effort.
5. If he loved me, he’d know everything about me. Yes, your hubby is amazing and he can do many things, but he doesn’t work at Psychic Hotline. Being married doesn’t give him super powers and he can’t read your mind. Many men have tried this with their partners. All have failed. If there’s something about you that he needs to know, whether it’s your favorite color, the perfume you wear, your dream vacation destination, or what gets you going in the romper room, tell him. Pouting and/or whining because he didn’t “just know” that you like pink roses, not yellow daisies, because you told him over dinner one night in 1983, is virtually guaranteed to end up with two issues to fight about – the original problem and your pissy silent treatment because he forgot that specific tidbit. You may work it out, but it’ll be a long time before you get another bouquet of flowers. (My mother used to call this “Shooting your own foot off.”)
And my personal favorite:
6. If the relationship was meant to be, it would take care of itself. I’ve always found it interesting that we’re willing to work for years at our jobs to get where we want to be. We work at our friendships, finding the time in our overcrowded schedules to get together with our besties. We take parenting classes and read a dozen different books on how to raise future billionaires that will support us in the manner in which we’d like to retire. We work on our cars. We work on our tennis game. But we think our marriage should “just take care of itself.” It’s simple cause-and-effect. If you don’t take care of your money, you won’t have any. If you don’t pay attention to your kids, there will be no relationship with them when they’re adults. If you don’t put some energy and time into your marriage, you’ll most likely end up single. Now go hug your spouse.
And they lived happily ever after.