This morning as I was making my 2nd cup of coffee, I started to feel a bit peckish. I noticed there was only one banana on the kitchen counter. The old Elena would have gobbled it all up, hoping Stretch wouldn’t remember that lone banana when he came downstairs to make some breakfast. The new and improved Elena got a knife and sliced the banana in two.
Elena, we’re a team,’ Stretch reminds me gently, as I get annoyed when I see that he’s catching onto bridge much faster than I had anticipated.
I should have known. I play from the gut, wing it. He analyzes, counts losers and remembers everything.
You’re going to be better than me,” I complain.
I’m learning bridge so that we can play together.”
I know, I know,” I say unconvinced.
My therapist points out that I say ‘I’ a lot more than I say ‘we’. I can’t wait to tell her about the banana.
Getting married is a big decision. As David Brooks notes in his excellent book The Second Mountain,”
a must-read for anyone over 50:
Who you marry is the most important decision you will ever make. Marriage colors your life and everything in it.” George Washington, who had a pretty eventful life, concluded that of all the events he experienced, “I have always considered marriage the most interesting event of one’s life, the foundation of happiness or misery.”
So with eight weeks and counting til M-Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage. This will be my second marriage, and I want to get it right. I know in my gut that I want to marry Stretch, but I hadn’t really analysed my decision (a bit like how I play bridge). So I resolved to read a few books and listen to a few podcasts on the subject. Everyone seems to agree: marriage is difficult, but it’s worth it. Michelle Obama tells us in her podcast Talking Marriage with Conan O’Brian that she has wanted to push Barack out of the window on several occasions.
People aren’t perfect, marriage is hard,” says Michelle. “But the question is do you want to build something with someone, with this person.”
Marriage isn’t about surrendering something. It’s about a chance to build something.”
Picking your husband is like choosing a basketball team,” Michelle continues. “First you look for strength, no weak links. You don’t want a loser. Second, he’s got to be able to do everything – shoot, defend, dribble. You want LeBron, you don’t want the guy in the third row on the bench who didn’t make the team.’
Is Stretch my LeBron?
Well, he’s not as tall.
But Stretch has a lot of traits that I love. Stretch doesn’t play games. (I’m not talking basketball here) Stretch made clear early on that he wanted to date me, that he wanted to live with me and then finally that he wanted to marry me. Stretch knew what he wanted and that was very attractive. He is straightforward, a clear thinker. I am not such a clear thinker. I act more on impulse. I trust my instinct or the latest psychic. Stretch is also funny, kind, steady, respectful, smart, thoughtful, loyal and affectionate. And, he lets me write about him – not all my blogs are this nice.
On our first date Stretch didn’t brag or boast. He told me about his life, his family, his painful divorce and then asked me
What are your demons?”
I thought it an odd question for a first date. But according to philosopher and writer, Alain de Botton (who wrote his first book On Love in 1993 at the age of 23, and then twenty years later, The Course of Love, a comforting novel about modern marriage), Stretch’s question wasn’t odd at all. It’s something one should know about a potential partner.
How are you crazy? I’m crazy like this, says De Botton… We don’t want people to be perfect. We just want them to explain their imperfections to us in good time.”
If you’re more into podcasts than novels, I recommend The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships, with De Botton and interviewer Krista Tippett, in the series On Being.
De Botton says most people are damaged in some way. Or, in the words of my hero Nora Ephron,
Six years on Stretch knows my demons, has witnessed them at full throttle. I know I’m not easy to live with- I can be snobby, moody, volatile, forgetful, and aggressive, and that’s on a good day. Somehow, Stretch sees all this and remains calm and patient when I’m not so likeable. He’s the first, and probably the last, person to find me cute when I’m angry. Everyone else says I’m scary. Just ask my friend Lauren who still remembers some scene in a parking lot in Sardinia that I have long since forgotten.
Stretch gets me. I think I am a better person when I am around him. He doesn’t hold a grudge, communicates well, is generous, and laughs at all my jokes. And when there’s an edge to my voice, otherwise called my bitch tone, he waits a few hours until all is calm, and then points out that I’ll get better results with honey than lemon.
Oh, don’t start thinking he’s a saint. He still doesn’t know how to properly make a bed, finds tidying up a sofa “emasculating’ and is weirdly attached to ALL his golf shirts. I could go on, but in the interest of getting married, won’t.
I doubt LeBron is perfect either.
I am on the phone with my assistant Claudia. She has been with her husband Matt for 11 years. I ask her what she thinks makes a happy marriage.
She calls out over her shoulder,
Matt, what do you think makes for a happy marriage?
Without missing a beat, he replies,
They both laugh. I think one needs to be fully awake going into a marriage. There will be exasperating moments. There will be infuriating moments. And there will be boring moments.
In great 19th century novels about love, does anyone ever do the laundry, pick up the crumbs, clean the bathroom? It just doesn’t happen,” notes de Botton.
Toss in a pandemic and take mundanity to the nth degree. Nothing tests a relationship like a pandemic. I feel like we’ve been together for twenty years. You see the person – Stretch, in my case- all weekend, and then, there they are again Monday lunchtime and every other meal until Monday rolls around again. Somehow, Stretch and I still like being together- not all the time, heavens, but more than I ever would have imagined. Thank you COVID for this lesson. I don’t need to learn it any longer. Can we please move on now?
Author Lydia Netzer wrote a blog post called “15 Ways to Stay Married for 15 Years” which offers some good advice – My favorite is:
Be Loyal- You and your spouse are a team of two. It is you against the world. No one else is allowed on the team, and no one else will understand the team’s rules. Teammates work constantly to help and better their teammates. Loyalty means you put the other person in your marriage first, and you let them put you first. Ups and downs, ultimately, don’t matter because the team endures.”
LeStretch and me – Go team!