THE U-SHAPED CURVE
(Then Comes Marriage, Part 1)
My marital status is more a testament to my wife’s survival skills than it is to my proficiency in love languages.
It’s been a humbling lesson in vulnerability.
And I’m a pathetically slow learner.
“I came in from the wilderness,
a creature void of form,
Come in, she said,
I’ll give you shelter from the storm…”
— Bob Dylan, Shelter from the Storm
A decade ago, my world was a lonely one.
I think too much.
And I get lost in waves of mental melodrama.
In many ways, I still do.
But today I have a shelter from the storm.
And that shelter is my marriage.
Over the course of ten years, I’ve learned some invaluable lessons.
I’ve learned that pride can be a poison.
I’ve learned that my wife is always right (even when she’s wrong).
And I’ve learned that I can be a major jerk.
But more than anything, I’ve learned that I have a lot more to learn.
Because marriage is like any other spiritual discipline. The more we grow, the more we realize how far we truly are from the finished product we thought we were.
So I’ve decided to share some thoughts-in-progress.
On the lessons-in-progress.
Of a husband-in-progress.
Then Comes Marriage will be short series of reflections — more playfully descriptive than clinically prescriptive, and, of course, hardly autobiographical — on wedlock & gridlock, fantasy & fidelity, cupidity & stupidity.
It will not turn a chubby wife into a knockout swimsuit model, or a juvenile husband into an upstanding role model.
It will not curb a wife’s excessive spending habits, or a husband’s regressive bathroom habits.
It will not teach a needy husband how to be less clingy, or a flirty wife how to be less flingy.
It will not cure a husband’s libidinal itchiness, or a wife’s intolerable bitchiness.
In fact, it will do pretty much nothing to shorten our ever expanding wishlists of marital elixers.
But it will shed light on why we feel chronically compelled to compose these imaginary lists. How our illusory expectations beget delusory frustrations. And why we invariably end up asking ourselves – to echo the Talking Heads – well… how did we get here?
So to figure out how we got here, let’s start by rewinding the tapes.
And retracing our steps.
Most buys are impulse buys.
And acquiring a mate is no exception.
“She was a dull person,
but a sensational invitation to make babies.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
It’s hard to fathom, if you think about it.
The most important decision of a lifetime.
Made on a whim.
A flash of chemistry.
And lots of irrational biology.
Attraction is the bait.
Romance is the hook.
Love is the line.
And marriage is the sinker.
When all is said and done, we’re suckers for the bait. And there’s nothing more enticing than the delicious bait of a delicious mate.
But marriage is so much more than spotting and securing a “sensational invitation to make babies.” Animals invite other animals to make babies. Animals do the hanky panky, turn themselves around, and that’s what it’s all about.
But the human invitation entails a far more profound dance.
Humans invite other humans to share a deeply sacred journey. A journey of ups and downs. Triumphs and tribulations. Heartwarming peaks, and heart-wrenching valleys.
We’re in this together.
And so the journey unfolds…
But along the way, something shifts.
The epidural of romance wears off.
Life proceeds on life’s terms.
And as it does, the marriage encounters some inevitable growing pains.
Whether we know it or not.
Whether we like it or not.
Whether we accept it or not.
Marriage gets a whole lot worse before it gets any better.
This is a sociological fact more than it is a nugget of folklore from the inside of Chinese fortune cookie.
“Marital satisfaction generally follows a U-shaped curve. Couples are deliriously happy during the first years of marriage. Their self-reported satisfaction declines and bottoms out when their children hit adolescence, then it climbs again as they enter retirement…
New mothers lose an average of 700 hours of sleep during that first year. Marital satisfaction plummets 70 percent, while the risk of maternal depression more than doubles.”
— David Brooks, The Social Animal
The U-shaped curve is an inescapable fact of life.
The calm precedes the storm.
The storm precedes the crash.
The crash precedes the hope.
And the hope precedes the light.
If you’re sitting where I’m sitting — right between the honeymoon summit and the adolescent plummet— we’re smack in the eye of the storm. The drop is steep, so hold on to your seats (and to your hearts).
For some, it’s a bumpy, but tolerable landing. For others, it’s a devastating crash. But merrily, or unmerrily —
We all. Fall. Down.
The question is not if we fall, when we fall, or why we fall. The question is who we become as we fall, and if these falls serve to tighten our bonds or loosen our screws.
Before we celebrate the sunshine of marriage, we need to take a good look at our own personal shadows. As it turns out, these shadows often shed the most light.
“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I’m out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”
– Marilyn Monroe
The irony of gleaning insight from the likes of Miss Monroe is certainly not lost on me.
But if we read her declaration as a letter from marriage to its individual members, her words take on a new dimension of depth:
Dearest Couple –
I’ll make you feel selfish.
I’ll make you feel impatient
I’ll make you feel insecure.
You’ll make mistakes.
You’ll spin out of control.
You’ll be hard to handle.
But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.
This series is about embracing the worst.
So we sure as hell can enjoy the best.
It goes without saying that a snappy wife is a crappy life.
And behind every snappy wife, is an utterly inept husband.
But behind every inept husband.
And behind every snappy wife.
Is an entire world of emotions.
It’s a world we never see.
But it’s a world we can’t ignore.
Because the hidden world of inner life.
Is the world we’ll soon explore.
So buckle up.
As we slide and swerve.
Through the highs and lows.
Of a U-shaped curve.