The day this print edition comes out, June 15, 2011, is my 13th wedding anniversary. As good a reason as any to make my case that knowledge is power.
If you’re about to get married for the first time you’ll probably hear such helpful maxims as: “Marriage changes everything” or “You know, once you’re married she’ll let herself get fat” or “Your wedding day is the best day of your life.”
For the record, my wife didn’t get fat (actually, she got thinner and hotter) and our wedding day was cool but not the best day we’ve had in the last 13 years (which would be kind of sad if you think about it, since it would mean the whole thing went downhill from Day 1).
But people love to give advice that essentially amounts to “Don’t do it.”
I say, don’t do it until you know what you can expect. I won’t pontificate about the cosmic joy of having a soulmate (though it is pretty cool), but I will, in the spirit of fair play, let you in on some of what you can expect when you find yourself having been married to somebody for a third of your life.
#b#1: Marriage is a butt-load of work#/b#. There is a lot to put up with when you share your house with someone else. Bad moods will ambush you. She will ask you for something from the kitchen the moment you leave it, though you’d just spent the last 30 minutes in there. Money will divide you.
You will wonder where that carefree couple of yesteryear went and how these two middle-aged drones ended up on your couch. The answer is simple, really — they grew up when they realized they couldn’t survive on love alone.
#b#2: You can’t get married until the other person means more to you than you mean to yourself#/b#. You’ll notice I didn’t use the word “shouldn’t.” I said “can’t” because it is absolutely impossible to survive the Marine Corps nature of marriage without an utter willingness to give up everything in order to make your partner happy. You will be called upon to quell every instinct you have toward individuality and self-indulgence so that your mate will not be hurt. If you cannot be selfless, don’t get married.
How you know you’ve found the right person for you is easy: she knows you will give up everything for her, but she will never ask you to. And you will respond in kind.
#b#3: You will not be the same people at 40 that you were at 20#/b#. A lot of marriages break up when people hit their 40s because both partners realize that they each want something the other doesn’t. Usually it’s something they’ve wanted all along but never felt secure enough in themselves to admit to. At 40 you are far less willing to compromise when it comes to what you want. You no longer see the point in denying who you really are and what you really like, and that’s a major source of friction for some couples.
I’m aware that this sounds contradictory to point No. 2, but it’s not. The point is, by the time you and your mate have been together for 20 years, you come to a crossroads. You have to incorporate who you really are (as opposed to the hideous lies we tell other people about ourselves when we first meet them so they don’t think we’re insane, radical perverts) into a partnership.
In short, it’s no longer as easy as saying you’d give up everything for her. Now you have to find a way to make both of you happy. And a lot of couples can’t do that.
#b#4: The “You get a tax break by being married” line is complete bullshit#/b#. As two single people, filing singly, and each making about $1 above minimum wage at the time, my wife and I each got back about $300 after tax time every April. In 1999 our first joint tax return told us that we owed the government $1,100.
I’m not going to get into tax issues (nor do I want anyone in finance to straighten me out), but we have had no problems since returning to the “filing singly” way of doing our annual income taxes. I don’t have an accounting degree, but I know the difference between a bill and a refund, and I prefer the latter.
#b#5: You will inherit an entirely new family and all the problems that come with it#/b#. Being married means having two sets of parents, and as parents age, get sick, and die, it falls upon you to be there for your mate.
On the flip side, you now have twice as many people rooting for you to succeed. They will feel your joy and pain like you feel theirs.
#b#6: You’re both still going to be attracted to other people#/b#. I like girls. That’s why I started dating one. Just don’t tell my wife.
Seriously, it’s OK that your mate finds other people attractive. The difference between a successful marriage and a hilarious flop is what you do about it.
Generally, I follow one rule to keep me out of danger — I don’t sleep with anybody I’m not married to.
#b#7: Mutually Assured Destruction is not just for the Cold War#/b#. Any marriage more than a few years old is a ticking nuclear bomb laced with napalm and super-itching powder. You will one day wake up and realize that the person in bed with you has your bunchies in a vise. She knows all your secrets and all your lies. She knows your account numbers, your greatest fears, and your run-home-to-mommy weaknesses.
And then you realize you know hers too. The reason so many failed marriages end so devastatingly is because there’s just too much mega-tonnage under the surface. This is not to be taken as an ad for getting a pre-nup, just a word of caution. Entering a marriage with anyone you believe would push the button on you is not a good idea.
#b#8: You will wonder what your life would have been like if . . .#/b#. I’ll fill you in on something — you weren’t any better off single. You like to think you were, but you weren’t. Had you stayed single, you would have watched all your friends get married and people eventually would have started asking you things like “Are you gay?”
Still, you will wonder about that alternative universe, and that’s OK. Any intelligent person has to be just a little ambiguous about his relationships. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking there’s going to be all this free time and sex waiting for you if you ever become unmarried.
#b#9: Love changes. For the better#/b#. Remember your first month or so together? Did you even bother to put your clothes on?
Yeah, that goes away. But what happens in its place is something called “companionate love.” This is actually much better. For one thing, you can think a lot more clearly. For another, you get to wear clothes. Best, though, is that you get to experience each other as real people.
Were I to give any advice, I would say to not get married until you are well-ensconced in the companionate love stage. Marry early, when youthful passions are still simmering, and you might be in for a big surprise when you realize that sex isn’t everything.
#b#10: Complete, brutal, barbaric honesty is the only way to go#/b#. My wife and I have said things to each other that would start gunfights if we said them to people in the streets. Not because we were looking to hurt each other, but because we were looking to tell each other the bare truth.
Believe it or not, this is all about respect. My wife and I respect each other enough to never leave the other wondering what we mean. It’s a way of not keeping secrets. Because secrets don’t work.
#b#11: Opposites repel#/b#. Yeah, I know. You find his artistic flamboyance exciting. You can’t get enough of his political passion and sense of righteousness.
You’ll get over it. Yes, opposites attract for brief, intense periods, but in terms of marriage, no. People who are very different have very little chance of making it past a few years. In short, don’t marry passion, marry comfortable.
#b#12: Sharing the bathroom gets old fast#/b#. And it gets worse as you go. ‘Nuff said.
#b#13: There is no pause button#/b#. When you are married, you are #b#always #/b# married. Every day, every second, every long stretch of time. You don’t get to stop the ride and step off. You’re married on vacation, at work, at a conference, in the shower, and while you’re fixing your car. You can hide your ring, lie your tail off, or run away. But you’re still married.
So … After all that, is it worth it to be married?
You bet your ass it is.
Love you, baby. Happy anniversary.