We had a bat in our bedroom night before last.The kitties were being weirdly active, and then we realized that a bat was just chilling on our window blinds. Really, I realized it, and I alerted Cute W, and then I basically stood back and fretfully micromanaged him as he implemented a Bat Evacuation Plan. It went surprisingly smoothly: he just slid the little guy down and out the window with zero chaotic flapping across the room at 3 am. So, yay.
And then instead of falling back asleep, I started thinking about a crucial Secret to Marriage I should share.
Am I in any way qualified to start explaining Secrets of Marriage? I’m going to go out on a limb and say yes. We have now logged 26 years and we still like each other very much. Also, I just attempted to read Three Women, a rather buzzy new nonfiction book focused on American women and “desire,” and I had to just abandon it because all the relationships were so freakin’ depressing. I feel pretty fortunate in our marriage. So, my advice:
The Golden Rule is often wrong. While in theory it seems like an excellent life practice to treat others as you would like to be treated; in fact, sometimes the best thing is to treat your beloved how you’ve learned that they’d prefer to be treated, which might be the opposite of what you’d want for yourself.
This can be a challenge because if you’re a thoughtful person, it goes against your instinct, which is to do unto your beloved as you would want done to you. It’s even tougher because you don’t always know what they actually want, especially if you’ve been married a long time, because then they evolve. So the whole reason I started thinking about this was because I was pondering how Cute W and I seem to like the opposite environment for sleeping in our room (I want window fan going high, sunlight streaming in, doors open so the household noises will gradually pull me out of my very deep sleep, and he prefers the overhead fan, minimal morning light, and the door shut against disturbances), but then when I talked to him in the morning, these preferences were a little out-of-date, apparently. Which is annoying because I have been carefully drawing the light-blocking blinds I purchased especially for him for years, but hey, it’s not the first time my intelligence has been out-of-date.
Which, okay, I’ll just go ahead and go off-track. Years and years and years ago, I had to go shopping for a dress for Cute W’s friend’s wedding. I went someplace with massive discounts and ended up buying two dresses because they were both cute and I couldn’t choose. So I got a short red polka dot dress and a long green striped dress. And I went home and asked Cute W which one he liked better and he told me he liked the red one. Preferred it by, like, a lot. And he said something polite about how he didn’t hate the green dress, but based on the tone in which he said it and the little wince he made, it seemed that he pretty much hated the green dress. So I wore the red dress to the wedding, but I kept the green dress, because I liked the green dress. I felt borderline defiant about it, every time I wore it, like, who cares if my husband thinks I look cute? I think I look cute! But for years (because I don’t shop that often), I would choose one of these dresses according to what I was doing. Date with Cute W? Short red dress. Outing with people from work without Cute W? Long green dress. And then literally years later when this somehow came up, Cute W said, “But I like that green dress so much better than the red dress!” And I was like, “No, you don’t!” But really, all I knew was that back in 1994 he’d liked the red dress better. Apparently he had evolved, and he had no recollection of the original conversation. Or maybe he had liked them equally when I first came home from the store, but he thought I wanted a decisive choice, so he over-acted a distinct preference even though he thought I looked fabulous in both of them! (Which, incidentally, of course I did, and likely that was the secret correct answer to the famous trick question of “Which one?” but I don’t really remember that part. But that would explain what to me was a studding dress loyalty turn-around. It is ridiculous how much I am remembering this and analyzing this years later. My poor husband! Have I mentioned that he is a Delight?) Both dresses are now long gone, and I attempted to sort through old photos so that you could see them both, but of course it was in the Olden Days when you didn’t take a jillion photos in a dressing room with your phone, so all I could find was one photo of me in the green dress, apparently chilly but it’s mostly covered by Cute W’s sport jacket.
And of course this was all one big digression, but the point is maybe we need an annual meeting on things like this? It’s possible.
But back to the Anti Golden Rule Rule: Another example of this treat-as-they’d-want-to-be-treated thing is when it comes to accidents. If someone falls down or drops a plate or something, Cute W’s instinct is to yell out in surprise and come running to see if everything’s okay. My instinct is to act completely nonchalant, because it’s probably okay and it seems rude to call attention to someone else’s mistake or clumsiness. Gradually, over the years, I’ve realized that my reaction–the way I’d want to be treated–was something Cute W interpreted as being possibly a little uncaring and neglectful. So now I do my best to yell, “Are you okay?” and trot over to whatever spill or stumble has occurred. And Cute W tries to act chill, but man, his startle reflex is strong. I feel like these attitudes of fearing imminent catastrophe vs. a certain casual optimism are deeply ingrained from childhood. In a closely related matter, it’s important after a flight that we confirm with Cute W’s family that we are, in fact, alive and safe at our destination, which is foreign to me, because I grew up in a family in which we assumed that all was well because if there were a plane crash it would be on the news.
I had more examples of this on my insomnia list, but I won’t subject you to them. Except that this same rule can sometimes be applied to parenting.
I’ll always remember one Christmas when M was very little and she had put a wrapped gift for me under the tress. On Christmas morning, when we’d gotten through about half of our present-opening, she burst into tears. She felt that I’d been ignoring her gift, that I didn’t even care! Of course, I was doing that Typical Mom thing of Saving The Best For Last, but that is not how a preschooler thinks. Of course you’d tear into the gift that you’re most excited about first. Ever since then, whenever I am fortunate enough to be sitting with a pile of gifts in front of me, I’ll ask the givers, “Which one should I open first?”
And I try to remember that even when we fail at the Anti Golden Rule Rule and we react with our own instinctive forms of thoughtfulness that don’t exactly align with our loved one’s wishes, these reactions are still gifts. They’re not the gifts we’d choose for ourselves maybe, but it’s the thought that counts, right?