Ozzie and Harriet: the dark side

ballNchain1No one sufficiently considers the barriers to love between ordinary married persons. I came to this conclusion after watching several romantic movies in a row. The truism we use to foist parenthood on young and unprepared millions claims that they owe it to themselves to possess another human being, and this is the only way to acquire one. It has as its corollary a blind trust in love. Love, the universal solvent, makes a jelly out of all things. Bah.

I don’t care for the problems of young lovers. Half of it’s a fever anyway. And they sleep through so much, wedded more properly speaking to their opinions than to a person. To hell with the young.

Give me a couple fifteen years together, knitting up That Which Sustains a stitch at a time, the way they always have done. See how the world has changed around them, how marriages begin less and less often, and more tentatively, how frailly and faithlessly those marriages are supported by the partners, how often the only real feelings they dare to pass between them are shown in the presence of lawyers.

So this couple. Seems like all their friends are divorced. The last pair to go snipes at our married heroes: “How do you two do it!?” but we know they don’t want to know. Fuck you, you’re next, they’re thinking, but in their hearts they know it isn’t so, and they also hope these two will hang on somehow, will actually even still god dammit be happy. Then they trudge off to court yet again, muttering helplessly, It can’t be right. No one ever told us. How do they do it?

Such a story includes this couple talking, long conversations over long walks autopsying these divorces. This has been part of the stitchery, the necessary work of marriage, yet it takes odd turns as the divorces mount up. How do we do it? they find themselves asking. The old answers surface, bit by bit, consciously sometimes.

Dramatic situation, right?

Married people discover one another the less “in love” they are. Venus power, love qua love, is a disease that blinds me to myself as well as to you. Who are you? I don’t know, I don’t care, I only know how “you make me feel.” As if the loved one knew or could even care. We think it has to be two-way, but this is because we require validation of our feelings. We need to believe that it is not just a fever, not something that will pass with the season or with the popularity of a song. That kind of love is valid in itself, but only as itself. Venus is the force that makes babies, not the force that makes marriages. She is not domestic, but fecund; she is generative fire. Fever.

WaterOnStonesWhen you marry and stay married for long years, it’s the little things that stitch up the marriage: breakfast, the day, the coming together, the meal again, the walk to the lake, the chores, paying bills. One chore at a time. It is an important stage to become bored with this person, to think you know all about them. Then you are ready to be surprised. The trick is to stay patient. Be tolerant, wait, listen, look. They will surprise you, and then the surprises will never stop coming.

But consider how difficult it is to love in marriage. John Crowley said that love is “like a steady wind, a wind you can never stand out of,” “a constant and invisible wind,” and we who are married, the family, stand in it unprotected all our lives, trying to conduct our daily business. Most couples find it so overwhelming that they seek protection anyway: in work, in their children—small protection—in adulteries or friendships or drink or the varied passions of hobby. My friend Lois is overwhelmed by her love for her children. What she feels for her husband I can’t imagine, but I have seen her, head bowed, teeth gritted against the standing wind of love, making mock about and at her children, trying not to let love get the better of her. The kids aren’t fooled. They can’t bear to see their mother overwhelmed, so they joke along with her.

It’s hard to bear this passion in its full intensity, which has more force than sexual passion because it comes from our root, not our belly or heart. We build our survival into our marriages. The furniture we sleep and sit on, the dishes we eat from, the door, the doorway, the succession of rooms, the clothes that we care for as if they are parts of the beloved—indeed they are in a very practical sense. A hurt to these parts is a hurt to our survival. The daily stitches to them, the load of laundry, the bag of groceries, the supper dishwashing, are all the million acts that make us live and not die.

So with awe, sometimes even resentment, we come to learn how important it is that there is someone else here to do these chores with us, to mingle their socks with ours, get dishes dirty with us.

Love between ordinary married persons is an immense power in the world. I find I do not understand the people who detect threats to this power in every little thing: rock music or television or the race or gender of the partners. Nothing is more powerful than these daily acts. If we didn’t sleep through most of them and dull their force with routine, we would have no emotional energy left for the workplace. Love sensitizes us to our feelings. Look full in the face of the person you eat breakfast with, and know that your lives are bound together at the root: rose tree and briar bush.

After that rush of feeling, how can you get on the train, trying to guess: Which of these faces was looked at this morning, and which was ignored because of the fear of love? Most of the people you work with are miserable. What if you looked one of them in the face, what if your eyes filled with tears of pity? Intolerable. That would never do.

Marriage makes us human, and it isn’t easy. We have to have faith that it is a good thing to feel love, because the benefits are not always obvious. What is most of our music but advertising, propaganda on behalf of love? “It’s going to hurt, but you’ll like it, sha-la-la.” Is that any way to sell bread? Yet it’s true, and we need it, as we need bread.

It seems what we seek every day is not happiness but a reliable anaesthetic. Maybe we do need to be sold on the dark side of love, after all.

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TSM-cover-200x301Because this post is so very thinky, it’s appropriate that I bring your attention to my magical realism novel about trailer-trash sex magicians, Trash Sex Magic, available in paper, ebook, and audiobook.

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Ozzie and Harriet: the dark side — 9 Comments

  1. And you’ve put your finger on the difference between fiction focused on the young, and mature fiction. Stories about young men or women necessarily are bildungsroman — the seeker for fortune, the handsome youth on a quest, the young woman ISO Mr. Right. They end with the wedding, or Aragorn assuming the crown, or Princess Leia draping a medal around Luke and Han’s necks (but not the Wookkie or the droids, second class citizens!).
    Stories about mature people do not and cannot end that way. Mature fiction ends in a more nuanced way — the abbot in CANTICLE FOR LIEBOWITZ watching the spaceship take off for the stars, Schmendrick and Molly roving across their world singing songs.

  2. I agree that long-married love is the hardest thing to write about. I haven’t a clue as to how such a marriage is done, though I am in one. All I know is the longer we are in it the more powerful it is.

    But I don’t understand this thing called “working on your marriage” either.

    Love, C.

  3. Those of us who chose someone who didn’t stay for the next stage of love envy those of you still hanging in there. Maybe that is why I don’t write pure romance–I am not interested anymore in teen angst. I want red meat. And I am studying it from afar.

  4. “Working on our marriage” is old married talk for “having another in a series of long-standing fights.” You know you’re old marrieds when you can have another installation of one of these fights and then break off and get to work on finishing fertilizing the lawn together, because it’s going to rain any minute and that needs to be done–and it’s over, you give it a real rest.

    Cat, I burst out laughing at “I want red meat.”

  5. I guess it works differently for all of us. We don’t fight. We did in the earlier years, but we don’t now. That doesn’t mean we agree about everything, but evidently we do agree on everything that is important! 🙂

    But talking, o do we talk! But hardly ever about ‘us.’ At least not these days.

    Our most important guideline is we have sit-down dinner together almost every night — dinners which mostly, I shop for and do the cooking for. We talk, listen to music, enjoy our meal, etc. Many times this is our only real together time, particularly due to circumstance of work we go to sleep at different times too.

    Love, C.

  6. Jennifer, I enjoyed this post very much. There seem to be two types of love that take center stage in our culture, young love and faded love.

    In the same way that it’s often easier to write a snarky or excoriating review of a book or a concert than a favorable one, I think it’s easier to write about people trapped in loveless marriages than about those who’ve happily stayed together. When I was selecting the fiction for Orem Library, I grew allergic to reviews that began “a bleak look” or “a harrowing examination” of a dysfunctional American family. Maybe these authors thought they were breaking new ground but it was much rarer to find serious examinations of couples whose marriages withstood the travails of everyday-ness to find the peace and power you described.

  7. C, every couple has their own little bricks with which they build their fortress! What I tell people who sneer at romance novels because “they’re all alike” is, “Okay, so you wouldn’t mind trading your marriage with anyone else’s. Because they’re all alike, right?”

    Susan, I’m with you there. I also delete all FB posts that come with with words like “heartbreaking!” “outrage!” or “horrific!” attached. I must have sunshine about me always. Bad news is cheap. You have to look for the good news … but it’s there!

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