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.