Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Importance of Being Earnest (and Other Marriage Myths)

My gem of a husband and I just celebrated 2 years of wedded bliss and almost 8 shared years together. What an accomplishment! We have no doubt already outlasted many Hollywood couples. There's no question we've been through an awful lot over the past 8 years. Births, deaths, 2 house moves, 6 new jobs, and countless ups and downs of various sorts.

To be sure, we had a rather challenging few years just getting used to each other. While we were never two peas in a pod in terms of our personal preferences, it was the major life issues that often threatened our compatibility. Take, for example, our views on religion. He was raised an Episcopalian in his early years but settled into a stern atheism which has remained his core belief. I'm no saint, but I feel guilty when I miss church on Sunday. The thought of bringing up our future children without a solid religious foundation terrifies me. In a perfect world, I'd send them to a fine Jesuit institution where they can receive a strong Catholic upbringing along with a stellar academic education. But at this point, I'll settle for making sure they attend Sunday school.

And then there's the difference of opinion about the roles of our families. He would be perfectly happy to see his family (all of whom live within 2 miles of us) on holidays and birthdays. I, on the other hand, can't imagine life without frequent visits to and from my family. Being an only child makes you really close to your parents, and I was thrilled to have most of my immediate and extended family settled in the same geographic area just an hour's drive away. I took calls from my mother every day. My husband didn't return his mother's calls for weeks at a time. I visited with my family as well as with his. Now that my family is no longer in the area, I spend even more time with his. I envy the fact that he has a sister and a brother, and that both are nearby. I wish my parents were closer so they could babysit my future grandchildren like my in-laws babysit my nephew on a regular basis.

Our social behavior doesn't exactly click either. I'm a social butterfly while he's a stay-at-home couch potato. We've agreed to live and let live. I only force him to come out once in a while and only with people that he has something to talk about. I go out with the girls for lunch and make dinner dates while he watches football. My friends are accustomed to missing him and try not to be offended by his constant absence. Occasionally, I bring the party home so we can both play host.

Our diets and his smoking habit don't exactly grease the wheels. I adore seafood. He (and much of his family) won't touch it. I can't eat a meal without greens. He (and much of his family) only like green in their wallets, not on their plates. He's a chocoholic and can empty a box of chocolate donuts in one sitting. I call take it or leave it, and most of the time, I leave it. Which effectively means it's going to be taken that day by him. He loves coffee, and I like tea. Fortunately, we both like (and say) tomatoes the same.

Despite these obstacles, we came to the realization at some point that neither the similarities nor differences in our personalities and beliefs were going to make or break our relationship. Love could truly conquer all. As long as there was love -- and an untiring commitment to uphold and improve the relationship -- we could stick it out together. The rest could be argued out.

In addition to love, we have another secret weapon: slight dishonesty. Or little white lies, if you prefer. To tell the truth is human; to spin a bit is divine. After all, who wants to hear the ugly, bitter reality every day? When you ask your spouse if you look fat, do you really want them to say "yes"? Medicine usually goes down better with a spoonful of sugar, and most relationships need a steady stream of harmless little embellishments to keep things on an even keel. Reality isn't all it's cracked up to be. Sometimes, it is better to leave the lights dimmed and let the imagination paint a rosier picture. Besides, a few well-selected pieces of the story are more effective than all the gory details.

Take, for instance, his exes, which seem to pop up everywhere. When I ask about their history, I don't really want the Cinemax version. A simple "she's an old friend" will suffice. Or the extent of his vices. I know that when he's hanging with the boys, he probably smokes a pack and drinks half a case of brew, not to mention the other recreational things he might be partaking in. Don't get me wrong, I don't like it one bit. But being the stubborn soul that he is, my nagging is only going make him more determined to spite me. So I have to bite my tongue and accept his tall tale about "bumming a few smokes and having a few bottles." I don't want to know the rest.

The same goes for my vices, the majority of which can be grouped under a large umbrella that we call "shopping." My husband and I have developed a code language for the various types of misdeeds that I often find myself up to. It translates like this:

Going to Run Errands - Generic label for going out shopping without no definite plan in mind. Useful for just getting out of the house without too many questions asked. Can incorporate actual errands and possible food shopping if necessary.

Going to Return Something - More specific plans that involve an actual geographic location and often a name of a store. Understood that returning something also means buying something, and implied that more than one store will be visited.

It Was On Sale - Not a fabulous price but I really wanted the item and got at least 15% off, so I feel less guilty about buying it. Would have gotten it anyway.

I Got a Great Deal - Actually, I got an okay deal on a great item. I would have held out for a better sale but I'm sure my size would have disappeared. And I really didn't want to miss it. So I'm willing to accept that some bargains are better than others. What's really important is that I got something I loved and I didn't have to give up my firstborn for it.

I Stole It Off the Rack - I got it for at least 50% off and it was priced reasonably/on sale to begin with.

I Committed Highway Robbery - It went on sale for half off and I used another coupon to get an extra discount, resulting in 65-80% off the original retail price. Can apply to quasi-expensive goods as well as those priced reasonably to begin with.

I'm Just Going to Look - Every once in a while, I get put on a severe shopping curfew where I'm really not allowed to buy anything. This phrase is used convey my sincere effort to not buy anything at all. But we all know that I don't go out window shopping, so it really means I can't spend more than $40 total. Usually results in bringing home reinforcements of hand soap, shampoo, or "stuff for the house."

Kills - My husband's word for what I bring home from my retail adventures. The first thing he says when he sees me walk in with shopping bags is "Let's see your kills." Also used when he brags to others -- like the ladies in his office -- about my shopping conquests as in "My wife got some great kills yesterday at Nordstrom."

Playing - Trying on new clothes and putting together outfits. Usually involves extended periods of absence from my husband while holed up in my room (the guest bedroom) with the door closed and the cat clawing at the door. Analogous to his breaking in a new video game.

Going to Therapy - Going to the J.Crew store when my favorite manager and associates are working so I can shoot the breeze, catch up on valuable news, gossip about the latest husband tales, and get complimented to high heaven on a new outfit I put together. Also creates expectations that I will come home with a small prize that was a "gift" from the manager, ie. a secret discount on something. The equivalent of his going to his favorite watering hole where everybody knows his name and getting a beer on the house.

Going to Buy Presents - I'm going to buy a gift for an upcoming birthday, a gift for a past anniversary, a gift for someone I haven't decided yet, and a gift for me as a reward. I work hard to buy good presents.

My Birthday Present - I've so over-budget from previous months, it's not even funny. Please, let me buy this and let it be a birthday present from you. Or my birthday present to me. Nevermind that I already used the birthday and Christmas card this year. It can be my half-birthday present. Or next year's birthday present.

We also have frequent conversations that go like this:

Her: "New? No, I got this a while ago, I just haven't worn it yet." No, I didn't just bring home that shirt. I brought it home 3 weeks ago, so it doesn't really count in this month's purchases.

Him: "But you just got a new bag!" Her: "No way, I got this bag last year!" Even though it's September and I bought it at the end-of-season in February, it feels like it's been a year because, well, you know how quickly handbag trends change. Two seasons past is effectively a full year behind in fashion.

Her: "But I just gave away 12 pairs of shoes!" I bought 4 pairs in the last 7 weeks and have my eye on one more pair before my mission is accomplished. I needed the space to put them. Can also be combined with "It's the change of seasons and I have no warm boots/summer sandals/rain shoes to wear."

Her: "But I just cleaned out my closet and donated half of my clothes!" Honestly, my closet was getting so overcrowded that the cat was getting lost in there and I couldn't get to anything myself. And yes, I admit that I got a little carried away with the J.Crew clearance rack lately and now have too many sweaters that I can't return. But it looks much better since I gave a bunch of stuff away, wouldn't you agree?

Her: "I haven't actually spent anything this month because I returned so much." The truth is, I bought 10 things last month which is 5 over my budget, and I bought 5 things this month. However, I did return 5 of the things from last month today, and because I bought the same number of items, it ended up coming out even. Do you want to see my receipt? If feeling brazen, I would add "In fact, I even made some money because I got back more from the returns than I spent."

Her: "I bought you some new things, and you didn't even have to ask." For my altruism, I hope you consider letting me keep a few things that I threw in for me.

Him: "I see you got a package today." Honey, I think you're taking advantage of this work-at-home thing. It's a good thing I came home before the UPS man showed up this time. How many more packages are you expecting this week? Tell the truth now.

Her: "Oh, it's just a replacement for the pants I bought last week that didn't fit." Plus another pair of the same pants in a different color because I love them so much and you know how hard it is to find pants that fit. And a few other things that went on sale this week that I really couldn't miss, especially since I was already placing the order... You know how murderous those shipping charges are!

Him: "What are all those boxes sitting out by the trash for tomorrow's pickup?" Her: "I was going to keep them for selling eBay stuff but I decided not to sell now." Um, yeah, I got a lot of packages this week because I needed to try several pairs of shoes to see which fit. There were actually 4 more boxes but I already sent those back.

Her: "I think it would be a great idea if you ordered that server/video component/game/electronic part you've been looking at." Because the UPS man thinks that you never get packages and that I spend all the money around here. Go ahead, it can be your birthday present from me (with your money). Besides, I have my eye on a new coat but I'll feel guilty about ordering it unless you order something too.

Anyway, you get the idea. It boils down to a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. My husband knows that I always under-report my spending and the number of purchases I make. Is this good for the bank account? No. Is it good for my perpetually overloaded closet? Not really. Is it good for our overall relationship? Heck yeah!

We figure, if couples argue about money more than any other topic, let's just avoid it unless it's absolutely necessary. As long as the mortgage is current, the bills are paid, and the credit cards are carrying a modest balance, I'm usually in the clear. The important thing is, we accept each other's weaknesses and we don't try to change one another. Isn't that the secret to domestic bliss? It worked for my mom, and she's still hiding her shopping bags from my dad almost 40 years later.

Here's to another great year together!