Tomorrow, Sept. 30, 2013, marks 35 years of marriage for my husband Bob and me. This is an important number, so I began this column a month ago.
I recorded a series of incidents, all from September, with the goal of answering the question, “How did this marriage last 35 years?”
On Monday, Sept. 9, I am sitting in my living room with friends when we get on the subject of husbands and chores.
One woman says that she has prepared every home meal her family has eaten during her entire marriage, and that she should never have allowed this imbalance to happen.
A second woman admits that she also cooks full-time and adds, “My husband doesn’t know yet that pans have two sides and you should wash both of them.”
The examples continue along these lines.
I am silent.
I have a husband who cooks much more often than I do, who grew up in a restaurant so he washes his pans as he goes, and who, when not cooking, likes to putter around the house cleaning up.
A successful marriage doesn’t require a man like this — too few exist — but you do need to experience what I experienced that evening. As you compare your partnership to others, you need to feel lucky.
One morning my husband forwards a web link to me with no explanation at all.
It takes me to an article titled, “Fake orphanages. Bogus animal sanctuaries. And crooks growing rich on Western gullibility …” It’s about scams in poor countries funded by ignorant tourists.
In paragraph seven, I find a reference to bogus orphanages in Cambodia, especially in Siem Reap, where Bob and I visited an orphanage last winter. We watched the children dance and we purchased watercolors we thought they had painted.
This is not the first such article we’ve encountered since we got home. We’re deeply troubled to think we may have contributed to a corrupt enterprise, but then again, we may have helped genuinely poor kids.
The puzzle remains in Bob’s mind 10 months later, just as it remains in mine, which is why he sent the URL without explanation.
Our attempt to make moral sense of the universe is similar. Some conundrums don’t compel either one of us; others draw us over and over again. When people talk about “shared interests” they usually mean baseball, travel or grandkids, but moral issues are a deep shared interest. A marriage needs that.
On Sept. 13, we are alone, facing each other over dinner. A partially consumed bottle of wine sits on the table. I wish I could relax, but my nagging problem with a lack ideas for columns flits through my mind.
“How are you?” Bob asks, with a strong emphasis on “are.”
“He really wants to know,” I think, so I tell him. He listens. Then he says, “Write the personal stuff. I know some of it will be about me. Write it anyway. You have my permission in advance.”
As my home editor, he knows that my best columns have been personal, mostly about my parents and our children. Now my parents are deceased and our children live far away. That leaves Bob.
“Are you sure?” I ask.
I don’t remember his exact response but it was something like, “I want you to keep writing because that’s what you want. If your kind of writing requires that you write about me, do it.”
Marriage requires a commitment to shared goals, like buying a home or raising children, but it also requires a commitment to your partner’s goals even if they don’t synchronize with yours.
This is not easy, especially when your partner’s goal is to spend interminable weekend hours standing in the water with a fly rod in his hand.
One week before our anniversary, I visit Bob’s new fishing club near Truckee for the first time.
Since joining two months ago, he has struggled with doubts. Is Truckee too far? Will he visit often enough? How are the people? How are the trout? Does he like everything enough to justify the significant expense?
Several times, listening to him explain his fishing club to friends, I’ve noticed his hesitation. It almost sounds as if he wishes he could change his mind.
At some point I realized that this exciting new move for him was losing its pleasure under the weight of fearing he had over-indulged. I knew I could do something that would make it OK.
One evening I asked, “When can I come up and see the club?”
He jumped to his feet immediately and dashed across the house to grab his calendar. He came back clicking rapidly, naming dates, as excited as if someone had just handed him a lottery ticket, winked, and said, “This is a winner.”
Bob loves his fish, but he loves me plus fish more. I don’t have to do anything at all to please him except be myself and come along.
“I found your Netflix movie on the DVD player,” Bob says. We have separate queues because our tastes are totally incompatible.
“It sounded great,” he continues, quoting the description on the Netflix sleeve. “Guy gets diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. He has young children. It’s 2 ½ hours long. In Spanish. Of course, I watched the whole thing.”
I collapse in a chair, laughing.
Thirty-five years of different tastes, different obsessions, different ideas of what’s fun.
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at [email protected]