Monday, November 22, 2010

The Straight Line and The Scribble

I generally shy away from talking about marriage.   It's a sticky wicket (do people still say sticky wicket?) that I have steered clear of, for several good reasons.  

And who is an expert on marriage, really?    Certainly not me.  

We recently passed our 11th anniversary, so maybe that is why marriage has been on my mind.   

My husband and I are polar opposites in almost every way.   He's methodical, detail-oriented and pragmatic.   I'm impulsive, messy and emotional.

Imagine a straight line and a scribble falling in love, and you've just about got the picture.

We felt like a perfect fit; he likely thought he could straighten me out a bit, and I felt that I could loosen him up.

Since more than a decade has passed, I can look back and see our marital trajectory, at least how it has been so far.  It began with the shiny, sparkly years of early marriage - double income, no kids, lots of freedom and few arguments.    With money to spare and no children, what was there be to argue about?

The arrival of first child coincided with our entrance into the Coping Years.    Suddenly both of us were catapulted into Adulthood.   Sure, we thought we were adults, but in reality we were just playing house.    Down to one income and with a mortgage and a small mouth to feed, my husband realized the financial burden of keeping us afloat was up to him alone, at least for the foreseeable future.    Becoming a mother and not contributing financially created an identity crisis of epic proportions for me.

My husband coped with his additional responsibilities by buckling down, finding a job that had great upside earning potential, and settling into his career path.

I chose a less practical route.   By now the story is familiar, but suffice it to say that jumping into a bottle is not a recommended coping mechanism.

My alcoholism sky rocketed as our kids became toddlers, then preschoolers.   I now think of this time as the Dark Years.   My husband and I drifted further and further apart - not with a bang, but with a whisper.  As I retreated further and further into the bottle, he amped up his practicality and held everything together.   

We almost didn't make it.

Those differences that seemed so endearing when we were first married now threatened to tear us apart.  

I got sober when Greta was five and Finn was two.   Shaken, wobbly and scared, we entered the Year of Uncertainty.

We had to get to know each other all over again, but without the sheen of new love to be the mortar to our many cracks.   We both thought that ninety percent of our troubles would evaporate when I got sober.    This did not turn out to be true.

A scribble does not easily become a straight line, and a straight line does not easily become a scribble.  

Fundamentally, we were still very different people.    Without the distraction of active alcoholism looming over our heads, our day-to-day differences became louder, pointier.    I was sober, but I was still a disorganized, impulsive short-cut taker.   We fought about laundry, finances, housework, yard work, who goes to the dump, who mows the lawn.  

Still reeling from the wreckage of my drinking, he became hyper-critical and I became hyper-defensive.  We were score keeping - pawns in a game nobody can ever win.

When I received my medallion for one year of sobriety, we were as lost and distant as we had ever been, only this time without alcohol muddying the water.

We were going around and around the same track, having the same arguments again and again.   We were stuck.  

Luckily, we decided to get help, to find a neutral party to listen to our troubles.  We found a safe haven to air our differences, talk it through.   We couldn't fix anything on our own, since we were both so preoccupied with Being Right.

We entered the Rebuilding Years.   I hope they never end.   Marriage is work, despite what the fairy tales whisper in your ear.


Little by little, we rediscovered each other.   Instead of trying to change the other person, we re-learned how to appreciate our differences.    What we discovered, once we worked through all the noise, the petty arguments and arm-crossing, was a huge amount of respect for each other, and a core of love that we realized never really left, it had just been eclipsed by the daily petty grievances, constant negotiations, and the endless work of raising two kids. 

Mostly we learned to let go of expectations.   We had to let the other person be who they are, not who we wanted them to be.   

Things are good, now.  Stable, predictable, ordinary - just as they should be.   It is an astonishing amount of work to achieve ordinary, and we've learned to respect that.    We laugh about issues we used to fight about endlessly.    It's not perfect - no marriage is perfect, of course.   We're learning to embrace the ordinariness of everyday life, instead of pining for some ideal in the future.   "We'll be happy when  ..." has been removed from our vernacular.  

But I didn't become a straight line and he didn't become a scribble.    

Today we're both, well, wavy.  


14 comments:

  1. I loved this. Thanks for being so honest and open. Matt and I are also a scribble and a straight line. I hope we too can become wavy together.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love this too. What Becky said.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really like this post because our marriage is very similar. Joe is the scribble and I'm the straight line and over time, with lots of work, we've both become "wavy" as well. All I can say is that I so needed a scribble in my life...and I think he'd agree that rulers are good to have around too!
    Thanks for sharing. :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. So good. I'm sure it was good writing it too :) I think we've talked a bit about our marriages in person, and you probably know that aside from the creative/writer'ish types that we both are, my hubby and I are also pretty straight and scribbly too. It's so nice to read about the work behind the marriage, you know? Thanks for putting it out there.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Oh Ellie, what a BEAUTIFUL post! I have to share this with my husband. I'm the scribble, he's the straight line. You described almost exactly what we have gone through (except that in sobriety, I was the only one who was hyper-critical--I've grown however) over the last few years. Thank you for your beautiful words. Again, so comforting not to feel alone, even in our relationship dynamics.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Congratulations on 11 years. I don't generally write about marriage either, because it's just too personal to write about (unless I was doing it completely anonymously), though sometimes it sure would be nice to hear someone elses opinion! If you don't mind me asking, how did you go about finding the neutral party?
    journeymum@shaw.ca

    ReplyDelete
  7. Oh what a lovely post. THIS is the stuff they should tell you before you get married. It's messy and it's hard work - but in the end - if you can stick it out - you'll be wavy together :) What's better than wavy?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Really terrific analogy! Oh, <----- scribble here; works for us though because when we meet in the middle we're learning from one another's strengths.

    "Mostly we learned to let go of expectations"

    Therein lies the link to healthy sobriety, don't you think! Expectations are pre-determinined resentments, something we simply cannot afford. Super post ~ Our four year anniversary was yesterday *wink* :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. This is really beautiful, and really important to hear!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you for this honest post. I can relate on so many levels.
    You've helped me more than your'll ever know.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thank you for this honest post. I can relate on so many levels.
    You've helped me more than your'll ever know.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Congratulations on 11 years. I don't generally write about marriage either, because it's just too personal to write about (unless I was doing it completely anonymously), though sometimes it sure would be nice to hear someone elses opinion! If you don't mind me asking, how did you go about finding the neutral party?
    journeymum@shaw.ca

    ReplyDelete
  13. Oh Ellie, what a BEAUTIFUL post! I have to share this with my husband. I'm the scribble, he's the straight line. You described almost exactly what we have gone through (except that in sobriety, I was the only one who was hyper-critical--I've grown however) over the last few years. Thank you for your beautiful words. Again, so comforting not to feel alone, even in our relationship dynamics.

    ReplyDelete
  14. A girl needs 2 TalkNovember 25, 2010 at 4:39 PM

    This story made the movies real somehow. Happy Anniversary, Ellie!! Cheers to wavy! I'll remember it's the new "cool"!

    ReplyDelete