Thursday, October 6, 2011

Squirrel takes over baseball game

Swear with the Squirrels

Squirrels! Squirrels! Squirrels!

Why my husband is NOT my best friend

So, OK. . . what's on the top of my head today? I'm not halfway through my enormous Starbuck's mug yet, so who knows how coherent it will be, but several ideas have been forming like baby icebergs in my brain, waiting to calve.

I have been married for 38 years, to the same person I mean, and as with a lot of life's more arcane mysteries, I can't really talk about it. I've attempted to write about our relationship before, either in this blog or "that other one", the Open Salon experiment that backfired so badly.

So I won't write about it except to say a few things, maybe dispell a few cliches. If you read this at all, and let's hope somebody does, you'll realize I keep yammering away at certain themes: horses, Anthony Perkins, Harold Lloyd, frustration as an author, etc. But it's the cliches that really get down my neck, chief among them "everything happens for a reason" (with a side of "God never gives us more than we can handle").

These sayings are idiotic in my mind, because there are murders, disasters, jihads, planes flying into towers, world wars, child murders, and all manner of things that happen for no reason at all, except perhaps human stupidity and indifference. And as far as good o'l God seeing to it that we aren't overburdened, as a friend of mine likes to say, "our prisons and mental hospitals are full of people who had more than they could handle".


So what do we attack today? So to speak. I hear this phrase all the time: "My husband is my best friend." I have never felt that way about my husband, and I will tell you why.

I have a best friend already. That's part of it. To her, I can tell all the woman-stuff that guys, sorry about that, just don't get and won't get in a million years because of their hormonal structure and brain physiology.

So if I already have one, how can my husband be my best friend? To me, the term implies a buddy-buddy-ness, being there to listen on the phone when you lose that promotion, walking along the beach skipping stones together or sitting in Starbuck's over a double caramelized Machiavelli, just gabbing away.

We don't do that.

It also implies, to me, sexlessness. I'm not saying we're Romeo and Juliet, but our marriage is not sexless and never has been.

Saying "my husband is my best friend" is supposed to be totally positive, but to me it's totally weird if you really look at it (and that's the thing: how many people LOOK at it?). It's like roommates who really get along and even do each other's laundry in a pinch. (He does his own laundry, by the way - always has - it's why we're still married.) So if we aren't best friends, what are we?

The other one is "soul-mate". I don't know about that one either: I dislike like it for reasons that are hard to articulate. It just doesn't hit the mark, and maybe nothing can. My husband is my husband, and occupies a unique place in my life and has occupied that place for the vast majority of my life (since I was ten when I got married - one of those cultural betrothal things). He is my life partner, the father of my children and grandfather to my precious grandkids. And guess what: a best friend doesn't do that.

"Friend" is great, it's wonderful, but it only goes so far. When you're in the trenches together for nearly 40 years, you find out about the deeper levels of commitment that most people seem to ignore.

There are three of them, actually. Everyone goes on and on about commitment, and it's fine. But you can be committed to a dog, a job, a fitness plan. Will that be enough to keep the bond strong as life's hurricanes blast you out of your chair?

The next level, as I see it, is devotion. Great-sounding word, isn't it - and a leap beyond commitment in emotional content. But is it enough to stay married?


The third level is one that doesn't even occur to people, and I call it covenant. In case you think I'm going all religious on you, let me define it now:

cov·e·nant [kuhv-uh-nuhnt] Show IPA
an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified.
Law . an incidental clause in such an agreement.
Ecclesiastical . a solemn agreement between the members of a church to act together in harmony with the precepts of the gospel.
( initial capital letter ) History/Historical .
Bible .
the conditional promises made to humanity by God, as revealed in Scripture.
the agreement between God and the ancient Israelites, in which God promised to protect them if they kept His law and were faithful to Him.

OK, I see where this is going all Biblical, and that puts people off. But what I'm trying to say is: you don't sign a contract with your best friend, unless you happen to be business partners. You don't even sign a contract with your soul-mate, as a general rule.

Marriage is legal. It's something that holds up in a court of law. Most people seal this covenant in a public setting, often very elaborately and expensively, as if to show off the intensity and sincerity of the covenant (though more often, it's the elaborateness of the trappings, including the supposedly-virginal white wedding gown. This ubiquitous bridezilla-mania represents a return to a deeply sexist tradition that makes my hair stand on end).

But the truth is, as people sign that register and smile their faces off, they don't really think that they have signed on for the long haul.

Remember how it goes? Forsaking all others; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health. . . so long as you both shall live.

If you think it sounds cold to define marriage as a covenant/contractual agreement, then why do people still insist on it? A few decades ago, the prediction was that legal marriage would become completely obsolete by the year 2000 (always named as the watershed year when absolutely everything would change). People would just live together, or if they married at all the marriages would be loose agreements with lots of escape clauses built in, based on the concept of "serial monogamy" (which still exists: it's called a pre-nup).

Most of us don't have prenups unless we're George Clooney or something, and last time I checked, I wasn't. So OK, why has marriage become more popular than ever, with crazed brides stampeding each other to upstage their girl friends and nab the perfect virginal white gown? On one level at least, it has to do with the kids. Raising kids can be brutal, and it's long and it's very expensive. "Commitment" won't do it. This isn't a Dalmation. Even devotion might wobble and collapse in the storm.

So we're back to that old, creaky, Moses-esque concept of covenant, because it has been the glue in profound human attachments for millennia. Can I step out? OK, it's just my girl friend, she'll never notice. Oops, wait a minute. . . she's my wife. Not only that, she's the mother of my kids, who just happen to have my name on them.

We won't go into the ramifications of last names right now, except to say that the awkward double-barrelled name seems to have trickled away in popularity. (Think of it: the next generation would have four names, the one after that eight. . . It just doesn't work.) Suffice it to say that, in my opinion, that "little piece of paper" people used to scorn is about as unimportant as the Magna Carta and other little pieces of paper that have made a bit of difference over the years.The bits of paper that have changed the course of human history.

Why are we still together? I only have one husband, and he occupies a unique position in my life. To say he's some sort of patriarchal figure would be completely inaccurate, except for his innate need to be protective in his love.

We signed on the dotted line all those years ago, and during those inevitable stormy times when it looked like we might be over, one or the other of us would say: wait a minute. Let's wait it out, work at it for just a little bit longer.
We're not best friends. We're married. Still married. And somehow, as intimate and exclusive as we are with each other, the marriage is part of a much bigger picture, a network or matrix of kids and grandkids, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and other people we probably wouldn't be able to stand otherwise. And may I say this? Marriage is the basic social unit of society, a whole lot of interlocking puzzle pieces of people at least making an attempt at commitment to living in a manner based on love.  Or devotion.

Or that which lies beyond devotion, and always will.