Photo: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon CollectionBy Leigh Newman
What nobody says about marriage is that, even in the most ideal, peaceful pairings, it's a tumultuous relationship. You love each other madly; then you're annoyed with each other. You find each other hilarious or perhaps even extraordinary; then, after one long so-called discussion, you really, really can't stand each other. So you give up, hurt and defeated until...you love each other madly again. This is why--when all the atoms and gasses were roiling during the Big Bang, not just water and hydrogen were created, but so were golden moments: those few seconds of everyday blissification that remind you exactly why you decided to spend the rest of your life with somebody who, for example, doesn't wash out the little measuring cup that comes with liquid cold medicine before slapping it back on the top of the bottle upside down, ensuring that thick purple goo will drip down all of over the counter.
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The Nothing in Common Moment
You go to a romantic hotel for the weekend. The first morning, you both go to the pool. He sits down on a lounger and reads back issues of magazines. You try to do this too, because you have a vision in your mind of what couples are supposed to do: read together, go on hikes together, listen to records But...it's really hot and, quite frankly, you hate reading magazines. You dive into the pool and swim for 20 minutes. Next, you hit the gym and run two miles (watching him read through the window), and you take along hot steam shower (waving to him on the way to locker room). Then you come back and give him a big fat kiss because you feel amazing! You moved your body and got those endorphins going!
Sure, you maybe wish that he had moved his body too, just for the sake of his cardio. But sitting there reading made him feel just as amazing. He learned something about healthcare or the politics of the Cote d'Ivoire! At this particular wisp in time, you have not one thing in common--and you both know it--but neither of you faked interest in the other's passion, or tried to compel yourself into enjoying what really doesn't appeal. As a result, in your distance you ended up closer.
The Tooth-Brushing Moment
It happens one night. You go to a wedding. Both of you have slightly too much champagne. You stumble home. You throw your clothes on the floor. You each enter the bathroom in your underwear and begin to brush your teeth. You're standing right next to each, looking at your own separate selves as you brush, brush, brush (slight pause) brush, brush, brush (slight pause), brush, brush, brush-- when suddenly you both notice that you're both brushing your teeth to the same rhythm!!! Your eyes meet. You go on brushing to the beat, smiling at each other in the mirror which so obviously communicates the revelation you're both having: You were destined to be together. Finally, the toothbrushes proved it.
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The Blunderbuss Moment
If you don't mind admitting when you're wrong, skip this one. If not, think back to that grim night, when despite your spouse's protestations, you checked on the kids right before bed, causing them to wake up and howl for "just another huggie" until 3 a.m. Add to that the very long holiday, when despite your spouses' protestations, you bought his ever-dieting mother a cute, funny tea kettle shaped like a plump pink pig. As soon as she said tightly, "Is this your way of saying I'm fat?" you knew that not only had you been wrong (so very wrong) but that he had been right (so very, very right). You know what people in healthy relationships do, and you tried to imitate them. "I may haveuh ...been ...argh ...uh ...mistaken?" you said. Miraculously, he did not do the chicken dance of victory. He did not recite a bulleted list of related but different issues that might arise due to your error. Nor did he say in a totally patronizing voice: "I forgive you." He said what needs to be said when two people have to live with the consequences of one person's idiotic, misguided, oof-inducing and entirely avoidable bad choice, "Oh, crap. We'll survive."
The Minor, Yet Not Entirely Painless, Sacrifice Moment
Picture this kind of heaven: You're lying in bed with a Russell Stover four-piece chocolate sampler. Further, you are watching reruns of Law & Order: SVU. Meanwhile, your spouse is the living room, talking to his mother. A bright, ugly lightening bolt zips through you: He would never, ever know if you gobbled down the whole box without telling him, because he doesn't even know it exists! The receptionist at work gave it to you for helping her photocopy 50 expense reports.
You quickly tear open the box--but not so loudly that he might hear--and start with the least desirable choice: the coconut. 10 very long seconds pass, after which you stuff in the chocolate fluff and the almond cluster but stop-mournfully-short at the caramel.
When your spouse enters the bedroom, he spies the tiny exquisite box on the pillow-and looks at you hopefully. The surprise on his face at seeing that you not only saved him a candy but you saved him the crown jewel of sampler, which also happens to be his favorite sweet of all time...sure...that's gratifying. What's more rewarding, however, is realizing that though his joy is more than yours at this particular moment (he has the candy, you don't--it's ridiculous to pretend he isn't happier), you feel oddly joyful too. There are other times when you'll give and it'll hurt pretty bad (example: He's stuck at horrible job, and you take on a second job at a dry cleaning factory so he can start his own company). Yet at this small but crucial moment, he got to be celebrated, and you got to be generous.
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The Beautiful Not-Perfect-Sex Moment
You had sex and it wasn't fantastic. It wasn't even okay. It was too fast and punctuated by fears that your visiting father-in-law was going to wander in on his way to the fridge for a midnight glass of milk. Once again, your partner forgot that you like being kissed on the back of your neck, not your earlobe. Once again, you wanted to do that one dirty thing he likes, but you were just too tired and still too shy to do it. And yet, you had sex--not wild sex, fancy sex, perfect sex or movie sex--just the old-fashioned love-and-tenderness kind that people all over the world long for.
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