If you think about it carefully, which I would certainly not advise, the whole idea of being married and living with someone else for decades is basically nuts. The big demographic surprise is not that half of all weddings end up in divorce but that they last at all.
It’s been exactly a year since I traveled out of town and overnight, so the opportunity to have spent every one of the last 365 days at home has been a real eye opener in terms of what it takes to get along.
Jane and I have been married now for 33 years, 2 months – I know this because we got married on a Jan. 1, so counting is easy. That was exactly a day and a year after we had met – at a small New Year’s Eve party that I later realized was set up all along as a kind of blind date. We were both living and teaching along the Canadian border in way upstate New York. She was at Clarkson University in Potsdam and I was just down the road at St. Lawrence University in Canton. Winters were cold back then. Temperatures of -30 F. were not unusual. It was nice to have company, and we both warmed to it very quickly.
To say that we clicked is an all-time understatement. Two weeks after we met we got engaged, and though she claims to have had lots of second thoughts about it over the next few months it was basically over, as we moved in together and started a life in common. A lot of what bound us together were the ways we each had dealt with our own developmental pathologies. Years of therapy helped, but so did a willingness to be open and vulnerable to each other and to admit more than every once in a while that “I’m sorry.”
I was reminded of this (yet again) this last weekend. Here I was, strutting and crowing and demanding credit for having been so organized that I got our admittedly complex taxes done in record early time. Then came word from our accountant that a vital Social Security form for Jane was missing. I like to think of myself as super-organized in such matters and so naturally assumed that the fault lay with SSA in not having sent out the form. I asked Jane to see if she could track it down via the Internet. She glumly reported back that the process entailed detailed documentation, including proof of SSN, a photo ID, and could only be done through the mails.
Her plan for the day had been to write, and such document retrieval would throw her off her planned routine. I discerned in her a touch of anger at me for putting her through this, and when I said that it could wait a few days but that she should not blame me that seemed to calm things down.
Then, on a hunch, I went to the wire file baskets where I keep all of my tax forms and receipts sorted by years. It’s a kind of metal cart with six trays, and 2021 lay just under 2000. Sure enough, after several minutes of plowing through the papers there I found the SSN document in question, which I had obviously mislaid. When I told Jane all about this I claimed credit for being so organized that I could even find wayward documents.
That’s when it hit me. Here I was, claiming all of this credit for everything and not taking responsibility for having unnecessarily put Jane through the discomfort of throwing her off her routine – in fact for having blamed her for getting upset at me.
It was a revealing little moment of the kind of internal negotiations required to keep things going. At the same time it was yet another reminder of how complicated I can make things for myself and for her. For her part I know she has shown a lot of patience putting up with my various craziness, egotism, insecurity, narcissism and flightiness. I work hard at times not letting her know how nuts I sometimes feel. But I think she understands that. It’s scary how well she knows me. And vice versa.
A wise psychotherapist who also did marriage counseling once told me that what he sees most in couples who are not getting along is that both parties feel the need to be right without being willing to give that up. Being willing to realize you might be in the wrong and need to apologize for it can go a long way to sustaining a loving relationship. One of many lessons from a year of extreme nesting.