I never wanted this for me.

Both of my parents have told me independently their theories on why marriage changes a relationship, and the premise is basically the same.  They both believe that everyone has deep-seated ideas of what marriage looks like and no one knows it until those ideas surface in their subconscious and, eventually, their behavior.  Even if you live together before you get married and don’t reorganize your finances… Even if the only things that seem to change are the jewelry on your left hands and maybe her last name… You’re not safe from those repressed ideas bubbling up and taking over.

I call my dad’s theory “The Tapes.”  You know how sports teams watch “tape” of themselves and their opposing teams to learn from their mistakes and look for patterns that they can manipulate?  My dad says that everyone has similar “tape” filed deep in their mind under “marriage.”  So they come home from their honeymoon to the same home they lived in with the same significant other and the same job and the same car, assuming everything is the same.  Then they start using words like “husband” and “wife” and “marriage”… and their mental marriage file is suddenly flung open and the tapes begin to play in the background like an outdoor movie.  The person can continue along with their life pretending they aren’t watching the tape, but they can’t ignore it completely.

Suddenly, the wife gets frustrated with her husband because he isn’t home for dinner every night.  The husband has never been home for dinner every night, so he, in turn, gets angry because his wife isn’t making her (changing) expectations clear.  Then the husband is aggravated because his wife decides to visit a friend who just had a new baby the same weekend he is supposed to attend another friend’s birthday party.  In the past, they would have just done their own things, but now he expects them to go to the party as a couple – a united front.  She thinks it’s clear that she needs to be with the new mom to help around the house, so she is frustrated with her husband’s lack of understanding.

Clearly these are oversimplifications that revolve around stereotypes, but they illustrate the point.

Back when I was single,  I used to console myself by saying that I would make an awesome girlfriend.  I would be the cool chick that all my boyfriend’s friends would want to invite out with them because I didn’t make my boyfriend leave early or stay home with me when I had a headache.  I would be understanding when he wanted to hang out with other people and wouldn’t make him check in with me all the time.  He wouldn’t have to drive me to the airport early in the morning because I’d take the bus instead.  I wouldn’t harp on him for his imperfections or ever try to change him… Because I would be The Perfect Girlfriend.

However, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that I have “girlfriend” tapes.  Sometimes things come out of my mouth and within nanoseconds I’m doing my damnedest to shove them back down my throat.  Galen will go a few weeks without trimming his beard (NOT a big deal – nor anything that concerns me) and I’ll say something really sweet like, “Haven’t had much time to keep up the beard, huh?”  And then punch myself in the kidney.

Then there was the other day when we were hanging out at my apartment getting ready to go to a party with friends.  He was wearing a hat because it had been raining, but I thought his hair looked particularly good that day.  So, naturally, I said, in my most passive-aggressive voice, “Are… you going to wear that hat to the party?”  Being the incredibly nice person he is, he just looked at me and said, “I don’t know.  Do you think I should?”

I don’t WANT to say these things.  I really don’t.  Nor do I care if he trims his beard or wears a hat…  In no way do those things reflect upon me.  In fact, I don’t really care how he dresses or how often he showers either, as long as he doesn’t smell (I do have SOME standards).  But it feels like there’s something that says to me, “Megan, real girlfriends comment on the things their boyfriends wear in very tactless ways.”  So I do.

I’m hoping this tape doesn’t last too long.

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4 Comments

Filed under Boys are Dumb, Girls are Crazy, Deep Thoughts

4 responses to “I never wanted this for me.

  1. Abigail

    I completely understand this!

    Part of the reason why I feel like I might never marry Kyle, even though I love him and think he is of life-partner quality, is because I am afraid of my own marriage tapes. I don’t want to care about all the things that he does so so differently from me, but when you unite your outcomes (by marrying or living together) how do you avoid caring?

    I have no answers to these dilemmas, only feelings of solidarity. Kyle is the person least deserving of my passive-aggression and yet is probably the most likely to be subject to it. How is that fair?

  2. talia

    Wow, am I so glad you put all this into words. I’ve always felt there had to be a way to explain this, but I never could. Sadly, I don’t have any solutions either, except to acknowledge what happens as it’s happening, with the hopes that maybe it will lessen in frequency. But man, do I have those moments when I wish I could suck the words back in…

    And I have a sneaking suspicion that despite the occasional comment, you really are a perfect girlfriend. Or at least a totally rad and awesome one, which sounds way more fun anyway.

  3. tommy the truck

    I think the tape thing is true, something to recognize and learn from. Something to laugh at if you can. And then:

    “Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could; Some blunders and absurdities crept in; Forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

  4. Liesl

    I think the first step might be to not punch yourself in the kidney.

    Oftentimes what we say matters very little compared with what someone HEARS us say. That might be step two: “G? Let’s stop for a minute. I want to know what you just heard come out of my mouth.” And give him a chance to respond before you assume that he’s assuming you’re a terrible girlfriend. [This suggested step two might be really overwhelming to carry out if you as a couple don’t regularly talk that way. And practice makes perfect.]

    Maybe you “just know” from the micro-movements in his face that what you said was hurtful, but it doesn’t matter: it’s important to have him say, “Yeah, dude, I really like this hat today and I thought it’d be nice to wear to the party,” before you jump in with the apologies and the feeling guilty and the shaming and the torture.

    It’s not about the hat, or the beard. But somehow those things become the target and the means to communicate the sentiment, “Babe, you are a fox – your hair looks amazing, your face is sexy. I just want to say I think you look amazing no matter what, but your hair looks ESPECIALLY good tonight.” And you’re so concerned with saying the wrong thing for fear of being anything less than the perfect girlfriend that it comes out with a twinge of a passive-aggressive whine.

    So here’s my step three: take a deep breath before you say whatever comes out next. Hell, most of us would benefit from taking a deep breath before we say anything. Getting into the habit of taking deep breaths before we talk might have the impact of reducing those comments we “let slip” that make us want to punch our kidneys in retrospect.

    And step four (borrowed from Talia, Tom and Ralph): acknowledge what you said, learn from it, let it go. Practice doing this without any judgment. For the most part, there’s a good chance you are the amazing girlfriend you aspire to be. But the most amazing girlfriends admit that they’re human and make mistakes, and feel appropriately sorry about these mistakes, and then forgive themselves by the end of the day because all of this beating-oneself-up is making them less-than-perfect PEOPLE. Girlfriends are people, too. Love yourself with your whole heart, and TRUST ME you will be someone’s Perfect Girlfriend.

    So stop punching yourself in the kidney.

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