PROP IN THE
NAME OF LOVE
(Then Comes Marriage, Part 7)
What happens under the table —
Stays under the table.
As newlyweds, we play footsie there.
As seasoned spouses, we exchange shin-kicks and thigh-pinches.
Which is couples-code for:
“Shut up. You’re babbling again.”
The two most common under-the-table gestures are:
The spouse-muzzler wants her husband to stop yapping, while the spouse-prompter wants her husband to start yapping. To earn his seat at the table by contributing more than a dispirited yawn to the dangling conversation.
What both of these gestures share in common is a covert sense of performance anxiety. We’re a united front. So if one of us acts like an imbecile, we both go down with the ship. Guilty by association.
Spouse-prompting is normal.
And so is spouse-muzzling.
(My wife is a pro. Thanks to yours truly.)
But when we become overly invested in outward extensions to the detriment of inward intensions, things begin to take a turn for the worse.
When a spouse becomes a prop, our show is bound to flop.
And when a spouse becomes a trophy, the marriage is doomed to atrophy.
The underlying dynamics of this prevalent phenomenon is what we’re here to explore.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Season 8. Episode 8.
Larry David is impressed by Ira.
And turned off by Nathan.
Ira is the successful, good looking husband of a plain-Jane, oversized wife.
Nathan is the mediocre husband of a knock-out trophy wife.
Larry: I don’t think we can work together anymore. I can’t trust you with my money.
Nathan: What are you talking about?
Larry: Your wife is gorgeous.
Nathan: Yes, thank you.
Larry: I don’t like what that says about you.
Nathan: It says I have great judgment.
Larry: No. It says you’re superficial.
Nathan: You can’t judge me because I have a beautiful wife!
Larry: Eh, I think I can.
Larry may sound unreasonable.
But consider the following.
Are we not deeply impressed by those who live a lifestyle beneath their means — like the real estate mogul who lives in a semi-attached house and rides the C train to work?
And are we not grossly turned off by those who live lavishly beyond the margins of their resources — like the desperate schmuck who breaks the bank to build a palace and parade around in his Porsche?
Why are we so impressed by those who live unassumingly when they can easily justify living large?
And why is Larry David so taken by Ira simply because he married a size twenty when he could’ve hitched a size two?
Let’s take our inquiry one step deeper…
If understated is classier than overstated, why do we perpetually pay more to fashion a facade of status and success?
If stature evades those who chase it, why are we still running?
We all know that unconditional love trumps conditional love.
“Conditional love ceases when its condition ceases.
But unconditional love will never cease.”
– Avos, 5:16
But does “unconditional love” even exist?
I married my wife — on certain conditions.
Her looks. Her personality. Her nature.
Her uncanny ability to operate a muzzle.
If I woke up one morning to an obese, bearded version of my wife – with the body odor of a homeless shopping cart, the charm of Marilyn Manson, and the eating habits of Hannibal Lecter – our marriage would be over before breakfast. I married my wife on the conditions most conducive to the the chemistry we share. Tamper with those conditions, and I’m out.
Does this make my love “conditional?”
And if it does, what exactly constitutes “unconditional love?”
Is it possible to love sans any conditions?
In the chic office of an overpriced shrink –
You will notice two types of frames.
Wall-frames are accolades.
Posh professional awards.
Ivory tower accreditations.
It’s a monument of self-promotion.
Desk-frames are personal.
Touching letters from a mentor.
Spiritual axioms of encouragement.
Wall-frames face the client.
They proclaim: “You Picked A Winner!”
Desk-frames face the clinician.
They proclaim: “To Thyself, Be True.”
Wall-frames massage the ego.
Desk-frames assuage the soul.
But where do we frame our spouses?
Are they props to enhance an image?
Trophies to adorn our walls?
Or are they invitations inward?
Doorways to a deeper existence?
The difference between a cheap marriage and a deep marriage is the difference between a wall-frame and a desk-frame. It’s the difference between shallow love and hallow love. Superficial using and genuine fusing.
“Misdirection is the cornerstone of successful magic; without it, even the most skilled sleight of hand is unlikely to create an illusion of real magic…”
– The Encyclopedia of Magic and Magicians
Misdirection is showing the audience one thing to distract it from another. If they focus on my wand, they’ll miss my swap.
We are all magicians.
Masters of deception via misdirection.
We compensate for an insecure interior.
By constructing an estimable exterior.
But the facade is just that: a facade.
We don’t chase status so much as we dodge a deep-seated fear of insecurity.
We all do it, to a certain degree.
The question is which frames we prioritize.
We’re impressed by the understated.
Because they prioritize the desk-frames.
And we’re nauseated by the overstated.
Because they prioritize the wall-frames.
The understated live by an inner truth.
Rather than peddling an outer spoof.
The overstated live by an outer lie.
Rather than heeding an inner cry.
Conditional love is a wall-frame.
Unconditional love a desk-frame.
Unconditional love is not blind love.
It’s not a blanket lack of discretion.
It’s love sans ulterior motives.
The term “conditional love“ is a misnomer.
A literal translation of the original Hebrew is not “conditional love,” but “love that hangs.”
Love that “hangs” on a wall of accolades.
Love that dangles for public approval.
Love that hinges on optimized optics.
In a community that deifies appearances above all, it’s easy to lose touch with the inner whisper of emotional integrity. We squeeze our children into frames that may not suit them. We muzzle our spouses and bolster our houses to inflate the valuations of our stocks. The more grandiose a family function, the less we detect an inner dysfunction.
But the wisdom of unconditional love redirects our hearts — away from the flashy walls of promotion, back to the soul-searching desks of devotion. It values intrinsic endeaarance above extrinsic appearance. Because what good is a world that adores us, if those who truly matter silently abhor us?
Our walls are well-dressed,
But our desks remain bare.
The world may applaud,
An allure of hot air.
But what do we glean
from a standing ovation,
If behind the bright scene
Looms dim desolation.