There are a lot of them out there, about a lot of things. There are personal secrets and there are public secrets that we all know but we don’t talk about. Those are the ones I am going to talk about – the dirty little secrets you learn after you get married that we all know but don’t want to tell (or admit to). And I’m going to talk about them because I think we should – I think that the more we talk about them the less of a secret they will be and the healthier everyone will be. This is going to be the anti-Cinderella story.
I LOVED Cinderella – I wanted this story for my life, which is probably also why I love Pride and Prejudice so much. It is slightly more complex, and I can identify with having a crude, embarrassing mother, but at its heart it is a Cinderella story. Girl from limited circumstances rescued by handsome rich guy and they live happily ever after. Is anybody out there reading this married? Is happily ever after real? No – it is a gigantic load of bullshit and no one tells you this when you get married!
You have the big fancy wedding (which incidentally I also think is a load of crap) float off to a beautiful honeymoon somewhere tropical and sexy and then come back to real life where the story continues and the reality sets in. Now I am not writing this from the perspective of a bitter unmarried 30 something, nor am I writing as a bitter divorcee – I have been married for fifteen years to a man that I truly love, like and find attractive – most of the time. But the garbage we are fed as children, and frankly as young women, is that we can always be happy and can always feel good and will always be madly in-love and it is a total load of shit – don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t.
How sexy is it to wake up and make out with someone who has morning breath? Not very. Or to jump into bed with someone who just enjoyed the chili special with a side of cabbage salad? The honest truth is that it is a testament to your love to get through that night – but you never see that in a movie. In fact how often do you see movie sex that is awkward, or painful, or with someone making an unpleasant sound at just the wrong moment? We don’t – we don’t ever see that and maybe that is because we don’t want to see real life, but if you never see real life you don’t know what it is supposed to look like and when your own life doesn’t look pretty and happy you start to think that something is wrong.
I got married when I was twenty-one and I didn’t know or think any of this then. Several months into my marriage my life was pretty stressful and I was not happy, I wasn’t really in the mood much and I didn’t walk around with a happy glow of perfection everyday. The first thing I thought was ‘gee I’m not happy and I should be since that is what happens after you get married so I should probably get a divorce.’ The good news is that my husband is a pragmatist and said, ‘uh, no – you aren’t always going to be happy and it’s not my job to make you happy. If you aren’t happy change your life and get happy, and don’t expect to be happy all the time.’ Now after that comforting speech you may wonder why I stuck around, but the truth is that he is right – there are too many divorces that I see happening because one or the other person comes home not happy one day and decides that the other person, who by the way is not always happy, nice, kind, sexy or good smelling must be the problem. Bullshit is what I have to say to that. We are fed a line that we should always be happy and we see pictures of people living perfect, happy, sexy, nice smelling lives and think that when ours is not like that the problem lies not in us, or in reality but in our partner – and most of the time we are wrong.
How many people will honestly tell you that sometimes they look across the bed and say to themselves, ‘why am I sharing my bed with you?’ When you are dating the men try (some of them at least) – they shave, they put some effort into the things we care about (read here whatever turns you on), they smell good (or at least not too bad) and then we get married and an ass scratching, belcher hops into bed wondering why we aren’t ready to jump on for a ride. Dude, really? And ladies we can be honest at least with ourselves here: before we got married we maybe put in a little more effort ourselves, yes? So it goes both ways and not only are we not supportive of each other as friends sharing the reality of our lives, we aren’t aware of the honest feelings we as partners are allowed to have.
It isn’t really all that easy to be in the mood all the time. Now I don’t know what the true averages are because I think people lie about sex they way they lie about money but I don’t think people are actually getting laid all that often. Perhaps the exceptions are some of our celebrity friends. And yet I think a lot of us would like it a lot more often then we get it, whatever our personal standard may be. But let’s think about when we have the time – late at night after getting the children into bed, doing the dishes, cleaning-up, paying the bills for which we perhaps don’t have quite enough money, and responding to just a few more e-mails for work – wow, now I’m sure in the mood. I can lay exhausted in bed wanting to have sex but only if it requires no movement and I can sleep through it – the ultimate multi-tasking. And by the way, even if you still have enough energy to want sex it can be really hard to want sex with the person you are sharing all of your stressful life with: worrying together about paying the bills, not a huge turn-on. Fighting about taking out the trash: not a huge turn-on. Having a small child start crying every time you start to get warmed up – major turn-off.
Nobody out there tells you how not sexy kids are – they are a lot of fun to make, less fun once they live in your house with you. And here’s the problem – if you say this out loud it somehow means that you are not a loving parent who adores their children, but this is not true: I do adore my children, I think they are wonderful and fabulous and I am thrilled that I get to share my life with them, but I am also thirty-six and like to fuck my husband and sometimes I want to do that when they want dinner and it is a pain in the ass – that’s the truth.
And then there are all those other little secrets in marriage that sometimes we might be better off not knowing about but that maybe would be good if we all acknowledged were real. Like the fact that we had sex with other people before we got married and that maybe it was even good or fun or both. It doesn’t mean that we want it back just that it was what it was at the time – that’s okay. Or how about the fact that there are still attractive people in the world – I notice them, I know that my husband does too, I also know how to keep my pants on and my expectation is that he will as well. Or do you ever have a naughty dream about the hot parent you see at baseball/soccer/piano/whatever class – this is not actually infidelity but it may mean that you need to go to bed a little earlier with the person in your house and make sure those naughty bits are being tended to. I’m not sure I want to hear about my husband’s dreams in detail but I think it is ridiculous to suggest that it doesn’t or shouldn’t happen. And it doesn’t actually mean that you should leave your current relationship for the dream sex you just had – News Flash – it was a fantasy and everyone has them!
All of this is to say that marriage is hard. Not because the state of being married is hard, though it is no small challenge to share a home and a life with another individual, but because we do a lot of things to ourselves within our marriage to make it harder. People tell you that having kids is hard but wonderful and joyous, but they don’t tell you that they are home wreckers, though they are. I don’t think kids inherently make a marriage stronger unless you ascribe to the belief of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – and I say this with an enormous amount of love for my children – they are beyond words to describe their fabulousness – but they are hard on everything they come into contact with! And they are only one part of a lot of marriages – there is so much more that is equally hard and equally home-wrecking, ugly, stinky and unpleasant. And all of this is the complete package that no one likes to talk about: we didn’t like to hear that Martha Stewart had an army of hundreds of underpaid workers making her home and meals look as fabulous as they did with never having to muss her hair – but she did have them and they did the dirty work. We like the white dress, wedding cake Cinderella moment but that is not the whole story – you also have to like the dirty, smelly, exhausted sex while you can get it – and you have to be okay with the fact that sometimes even those times are few and far between – that’s life. Everyone’s life.
So why am I telling this secret in particular, and really I am only scratching the surface here? Because I watch a lot of good marriages fall apart for no reason – because someone isn’t happy. I think the expectation that we can always be happy and that we can even always like our partner is unfair, but the assumption that that moment in our life is paramount is absurd. It passes, sometimes quickly, sometimes after a longer time, sometimes requiring work and attention. And sometimes it may not pass at all and your relationship may change – but that does not necessarily mean it is bad. And then why do I care if people around me are getting divorced – not my life, what difference does it make to me? I have yet to meet someone, not in an abusive relationship, who is markedly happier post the divorce.
The end of this part of the story is that I really don’t care if you get married or if you stay married – that is your business, not mine. But I am tired of picking the kids up from school, having had a bad day and having no one be honest about the fact that they have them too. Ask your average playground mom and they’ll tell you they can’t remember the last time they fought with their spouse, that they have sex daily, and that their kids always do their homework. BARF! Really? Not in my world. But then playground mama is shocked when her marriage is over –maybe because she was lying to herself more than she was lying to me. We need the truth of our lives, not the lives we think we are supposed to be living, and we need to truthful about our lives.