“It seemed to her everyone had too much self-protective pride to truly strip down to their souls in front of their long-term partners. It was easier to pretend there was nothing more to know, to fall into an easygoing companionship. It was almost embarrassing to be truly intimate with your spouse…” ~ The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty.
Last eve I sat amongst the group of women in our bookclub chattering away on our latest book. Our book this month appeared to be light and easy as the busy schedules between Halloween and Thanksgiving rapidly came upon us. In our almost four years of monthly gatherings, this particular book generated a lot of discussion. One never knows what sparks interest in our diverse group as we laughingly teased our host of her book title’s choice. When we read about the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother the girls were unusually quiet and disdainful. Half the Sky:Turning Oppression into Opportunity Worldwide became heated when discussing beliefs and politics. And Fifty Shades of Grey, well, there’s not a lot of in-depth discussion unless you were perusing the multitude of toys (some that had lots of depth) our pleasure party hostess was passing around. Laugh. Out. Loud.
Set in Sydney, Australia our book probed into relationships; the walls we build and tear down. Appearances. All of us could relate to a character in the book and as I looked across the conference room table I pondered the secrets we all contain; how appearances are deceiving. Upon reading questions from the publisher’s Reading Guide my mind considered the following: When one person betrays another, can that person be forgiven? Or is the damage irreparable? How well can one know one’s spouse? Is it possible to ever completely know another person?
This eve I sat on the adjacent couch from the hubs watching college football; the man I’ve known for 23 years. The choices he and I made, all those years ago, have brought us to this shared path. Did I ever think the quiet guy in my calculus lab would be my life long partner and father of my three children. Nope. Never in a hundred years. My eight year old son was crushed when I shared a conversation with my 11 year old son; as we discussed boyfriends and girlfriends while driving. When asked if I had ever had a boyfriend in sixth grade my boys were shocked when I had to answer in the affirmative. It was Daddy, right Mom? And so I reminded him of how the hubs and I met in 13th grade; grateful we had reached our destination. Steering wheel convos.
I noted that a blog I follow (www.aholyexperience.com) also was touching on the subject of marital relationships. I smiled. I am not the only one that has to explain this to my children. Most times, with technology, the staged and extravagance of life is considered the norm. The more friends, tweets, or pins; the more relevance the act has in our society. Do I need to Facebook where the hubs and I are eating to make us appear more romantic? Or am I more smitten when he tackles algebra with the eight year old, explains hard drive partitions with the teen or gleefully kills our middle son online gaming?
The hubs and I, like his parents before, run the family business; the nuts and bolts that keep our life fastened together. It is very boring. There is nothing Earth-shattering about manufacturing custom bolts; the thunking and thwacking of machinery punctuating our hours and days. Our life is very ordinary and routine. I do not wish for drama though some days I imagine something different. A spark! In mid-life it is easy to be distracted as we note the physical changes that mark the passage of time. Sagging, wrinkles, loss of strength, a paunch. With the loss of youth comes the concerns of health, strength, mortality. Each falling, graying hair symbolizes weakness, frailty. We mourn the dreams and achievements of our youth that are still unfulfilled. Are we the people we thought we would be?
During half-time I turned to the hubs and asked if he had any deep dark secrets. When he laughingly answered, not that I know of, I thought of the layers of our relationship. I had wondered, last night, if any of the other girls ever wished a different outcome. Did they wish they could go back in time? Be with a different person? If they are still married, do they ever long to be with someone else? Do I? How well do I really know any of these women anyway? I turned on my Kindle to find the quote I had highlighted above.
With the ease of mid-life relationship comes the acceptance of some annoying habits. Does the hubs really have to apply toothpaste directly into his mouth from the tube? Or grow the infinite shades of grey beard (although this month he claims he is growing facial hair to support men’s health)? Is it easier to pretend I know everything about the hubs so that I don’t need to divulge my own changing insecurities? Are we like onions with varying layers; afraid that if we are cut into that we will repel; making the eyes go teary?
So many questions, too little answers. I liken myself to an onion with paper-thin layers. As life progresses and bad things happen I learned to build my wall and thicken my layers. For some, weight becomes their insulation and the comfort is found in food. For others more addictive behaviors become coping mechanisms: the bottle, the pills, promiscuity, drugs. It is instinctive in our nature to protect ourselves; bottling up feelings and emotions. Don’t ever let anyone know how small they make you feel was the internal message I learned from my own mother. Pride. Instead of communicating she chose the silent treatment. Pride. Instead of speaking to my father she stonily sat; my father having to decipher what was wrong. I learned to build walls in my youth.
As an adult I most appreciate people that are real; the ones not too absorbed in their appearances. It is the person that admits to their faults behind the flawless exterior that I appreciate. The ones that understand the day isn’t always perfect. I do not wish to peel other people’s layers, I have difficulty enough shedding my own. I want to know what I am dealing with; not second guess or play mental games. It is the sharpened knife that can cut through the onion in one swift movement, getting to the core.
The hubs sharpens his steel blades as he works with his hands and his words for the past 23 years; 15 of them married, 13 of them as a parent. I used to think I knew my husband, inside and out, but as each son joined our family I was constantly amazed at the breadth and depth of his love. It was he who woke up with me every two hours as I struggled to nurse our firstborn; his voice that talked me into sticking with it the entire first year and each subsequent child. It was his left shoulder that carried many of my burdens and dampened my tears as I stood before graves and hospital beds. It was he who has absorbed: the angry fists as I’ve raged, the stony silence as I’ve built layers. It is his ability to cut through the crap and walls of life, like a knife, to get to the heart of the matter. He is my sword.
And so through the monotonous days I remind myself of this. The cooked meals, the mopped floors, the greasy fingerprints on my accounting paperwork, the co-parent. As we co-habit midlife together our easy companionship should not be taken for granted. I don’t mind secrets; I’m very good at keeping them. At times when I have felt betrayed (thankfully not with an affair), I have been able to forgive him; the damage not irreparable. The marital relationship, as well as friendship, takes a lot of maintenance and work. It goes in two directions. Will I ever, really, know all the ins and outs of my spouse? I don’t know if I really want to. I want to be able to discover new nuances and annoying habits as we grow old together. My mind sees two rocking chairs upon a large porch overlooking the ocean while he envisions a bench swing on a log cabin overlooking forests. We will always be a work in progress; the onion and the knife. It is a gift, the secret mystery of life, each and every day.