You savor the repetitive, deliciously mundane rhythms of survival
February 15, 2016 7:12 AM   Subscribe

What Romance Really Means After 10 Years of Marriage "You are both screwed, everything will be exactly this unexciting until one of you dies, and it's the absolute greatest anyway."
posted by jillithd (52 comments total) 96 users marked this as a favorite
This is a very nice chaser to the mega-bummer "You should just stay single" article from yesterday. Thank you for this.
posted by Sokka shot first at 7:21 AM on February 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

I read it without looking at the author, and after a few paragraphs I knew it must be Heather Havrilesky -- she has such an excellent voice for these sort of painfully real but faintly optimistic takes of humanity.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:29 AM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

We just passed the 18-year mark, and man, the peacefulness is what it's all about these days, though we still have our moments. The wife came home from work the other day complaining that her back hurt because she'd been on her feet all day, so I offered to pick her up by the shoulders & give her a shake to see if I could pop it. I got her off her feet, but when I went to do the drop-tug thing, instead of her back popping, I ripped a huge fart. We both nearly fell on the floor laughing. THAT's romance.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:31 AM on February 15, 2016 [151 favorites]

"You want to muddle through the messiness of life together as long as you possibly can. That is the summit. Savor it. That is the very definition of romance."

Or as Huey Lewis and The News stated it: "Yes, it's true, I'm happy to be stuck with you."
posted by narancia at 7:32 AM on February 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

You can replay any romantic scene in the imagination and a tiny change of tone kills it: or you can imagine the most farcical episode and make it golden. Romance is like qualia, a thing that makes no measurable difference, but all the difference.
posted by Segundus at 7:48 AM on February 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Sure, but when your kid becomes a Sith Lord, happy quiet endings just aren't possible.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:49 AM on February 15, 2016 [18 favorites]

Can we make this link appear automatically to people on AskMe attempting to post relationship questions? I always feel bad for the steady flow of people who think relationships are characterized by hard work and fever-pitch emotion. Because this, folks, this is the goal line:
What you have instead — and what I would argue is the most deeply romantic thing of all — is this palpable, reassuring sense that it’s okay to be a human being.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:54 AM on February 15, 2016 [91 favorites]

Thanks for this. Sometimes I think the snarky backlash to Valentine's Day is louder than the day itself and it gets to be a bummer.

I've been married twice. The first time was for 9 years. We never sunk into the comfortable, peaceful part of it and I think that was part of what went wrong. Misterussell and I have been living together for almost 9 years and married for 3. We are all about peacefulness now and when I think about our mornings sipping coffee together while doing two separate thing my heart swells. I don't miss the chase and the evidences of proof at all. Even when the car dies in the parking lot or the dog spits out a tooth or we have yet another funeral to go to.
posted by kimberussell at 7:54 AM on February 15, 2016 [34 favorites]

This is rather lovely, thanks for posting. (I wasn’t familiar with the author and it makes me want to read more by her)
posted by bitteschoen at 7:59 AM on February 15, 2016

5 year anniversary coming in April and this article is spot-on.

I've always loved her writing ever since in the 90s.
posted by matildaben at 8:23 AM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

A few years back, we had a shit car. It broke down all the time, including twice at the same spot on the same highway coming back from a weekend seaside town.
The second time this happened, the tow truck guy who got there after about 2.5 hours, and was the same one we'd had the last time, commented on how it was the first time he'd arrived after something like this and found a couple smiling and laughing together.
That, my friend, is romance.
posted by signal at 8:42 AM on February 15, 2016 [46 favorites]

The notion of the word "ropmance" strikes me as a bit out of place. Perhaps it is me, but romance suggests the begging of a relationship that perhaps and with luck will turn into Love, and which over many years will be a nice friendship and love and togetherness trifecta. I know it has been such in my marriage, now going on 32 years, and that gets nicer and nicer each year.
posted by Postroad at 8:42 AM on February 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

I've been in my primary relationship for 6 years and this seems like a really resigned and powerless way of framing it. Yes, sure, LTRs are great in that we are ideally with someone who accepts our humanity with grace. But can't we also strive for cherishing each others humanity? Can't we revel in each other's imperfections and build each other up? Must we just lower our bar of what counts as connection with a sigh around the inevitability of our bodies decay?

This seems like no particular kind of life, to me. Yes, the spark of uncertainty and the hormonal explosion of New Relationship Energy is not built to last, but for those who think that the inevitable result is killing time before death, prioritizing the dogs and farting in front of each other with bemused acknowledgment of the human condition, well... No thanks.
posted by softlord at 8:45 AM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I beg to differ. While this article is a good one, for the reasons you all have pointed out here, what she's describing here is love, which is different from romance.
posted by lyssabee at 8:46 AM on February 15, 2016 [12 favorites]

My parents have been married for over 50 years. They have never been a romantically-demonstrative couple -- not a lot of smooching or cuddling or anything. But they have been together for so long, and have been supportive of each other for so long, and have their individual interests but also their shared activities... Truly as I move toward 25 years with my partner, I look upon them as a model for what long relationships are truly like. I love the "falling in love" rush of a crush, but the simple fact of someone else being in my life across decades is worth much more than that to me at this point in my life.
posted by hippybear at 8:53 AM on February 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

One thing that I think is oddly missing from this piece is that, if you've been together with somebody for ten years, you've almost certainly been through some big bad stuff together. And maybe that's because this piece is explicitly about the quotidian.

But one of the things that will always be unique about my relationship with my wife is that we went through that horrible thing together. Or that other unbelievable nightmare. Not just "we knew each other at the time", but right then, in the thick of it, when I was forming the heightened memories that will be seared onto my brain until I die, we were getting through it together. She's the only person to whom important parts of my internal life make any sense at all.
posted by gurple at 9:09 AM on February 15, 2016 [33 favorites]

The second marriage for both of us, almost a quarter of a century, and it's not what I dreamed of in the early days before marriage. But, then, I wasn't thinking ahead, then. We have all seen elderly couples dreamily cuddling and elderly couples dining with stony faces in restaurants, with nothing to discuss.

A life-long commitment to being a couple doesn't have much to do with romance, as we all know, and love is a word too well-worn to mean much. It's complicated. We share exactly the same preference for visual aesthetics: we each rummage through a bin of sixty prints by the same artist and have already picked the same one. Our musical tastes overlap well enough. Our politics are pretty similar. Our preferences in cinema match extraordinarily well (I used to know a couple where if the woman loved a movie, the man knew he would hate it.) I could go on.

Some differences, though, exist, and at this point I suppose it's possible they always will. One of us came from an abusive family, one from a loving--if overly WASPish--family. Who you are is partially/largely a result of how you grew up.

So emotional complications ensue. Misunderstandings of motives are confounding sometimes. There are more good days than bad days, though.

To paraphrase, complicate and elaborate on Tolstoy's famous quote: most happy marriages are happy in the same general way; most unhappy marriages are unhappy in very different ways; whereas the majority of marriages are neither entirely happy nor unhappy so exist in a realm of eternal complication not unlike a person's relationship to the universe on any given day.

Luckily, my wife and I agree on one thing: our twenty-something daughter is somehow more wonderful than either of us in every single way.
posted by kozad at 9:10 AM on February 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

My ass hurts.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 9:14 AM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

10 years, rookies...
posted by humboldt32 at 9:15 AM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

But one of the things that will always be unique about my relationship with my wife is that we went through that horrible thing together. Or that other unbelievable nightmare.

Absolutely. Going through these things together instead of alone is absolutely the foundational reason for a long-term relationship. When I had a kidney stone 3 years ago, I was lying on an emergency room gurney, writhing in pain & crying like a baby while my wife steadily held my hand & conducted business with the doctors & nurses. I croaked out a feeble "thank you for being here" & she said "I was meant to be here, this is my place."

A year later, she had a pretty major operation -- 3 hour surgery, where they discovered things they didn't know until they were in there, & it was fluid. She was out cold & I was the guy in the waiting room looking at xrays with the surgeon. I was meant to be there -- it was my place.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:22 AM on February 15, 2016 [51 favorites]

Love can either burn or last, it can't do both
posted by any major dude at 9:25 AM on February 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

Just vow to wait until your tenth anniversary to start having weird sex. bingo!
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 9:37 AM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

15 years with a woman who by all objective standards is perfect. Brilliant, 10/10 physically, 15/10 emotionally, generous, amazing mother, stood by each other through miserable shit.

Yet I struggle. I miss the excitement of uncertainty and the chase. I was ok as a human before I met her. I miss the getting to know someone and being surprised. I still have faith in the relationship and I chalk up a lot of ambivalence I have to a bitch of a midlife crisis. But early romance *is* all its chalked up to be and the stability of marriage seems at times to be oversold. Ask me again when I need her to wipe my ass after my brain tumor surgery.

Also, +1 for the Bongwater reference.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:42 AM on February 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

>10 years, rookies...<

That's exactly what I was thinking.
posted by twidget at 9:44 AM on February 15, 2016

Hell I've been around here over 10 years - perhaps it's time I got espousing and talking to the dogs. Then we can decide to make some metafilter romance Heather Havrilesky/True Romance style with our posse of deluded, lazy people together facing a bewildering sea of filth and blood and gore together, but we make it through somehow, some way, without losing our minds completely.

Sounds like marriage to me.
posted by zenon at 10:00 AM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

the reality of it is true enough, but I think the label is wrong. it's not 'romance'. if it were, there'd be no confusion.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:07 AM on February 15, 2016

Here's Margaret Atwood's take on it: habitation. I have always found it to be reminiscent of reality if not spot-on.

As a personal anecdote, my wife has proclaimed for 18 years that I'm not romantic and also the five years before we got married.

I am neither wealthy, nor handsome, so either my wife is really, really stubborn, or romance is not as necessary as society would have you believe.
posted by BeReasonable at 10:16 AM on February 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Well, of course you aren't romantic. You are reasonable.
posted by hippybear at 10:19 AM on February 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

10 years is "getting to know you" time. Try 36 years, kids.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:22 AM on February 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

That was wonderful. It perfectly articulated the things I value about being in a long-term relationship (my wife and I will celebrate our 13 year wedding anniversary in May, together for about 15 years total) much better than I would ever be able to on my own. This part in particular resonated: "After a decade of marriage, if things go well, you don’t need any more proof". This concept is why my wife and I can be content having a night at home where I'm sitting in the living room binge-watching "The Wire" on Amazon while she is lying in bed catching up on "General Hospital" without either of us freaking out that our tastes in entertainment are not perfectly aligned or that we aren't spending every free moment together so therefore we must be insufficiently compatible.

(At the same time, some proof now and again doesn't exactly hurt. For example, I can tell you the "I love my wife 365 days a year, I don't need a Hallmark holiday to prove to my wife how I feel about her" concept would never fly in this house. Overpriced red roses or GTFO).
posted by The Gooch at 10:33 AM on February 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

(I meant if my future husband ever said he felt ambivalent about his commitment after a long marriage. Not worth it. Loyalty is so important and I wouldn't take the risk with someone who didn't have the capacity, I'd just settle it and leave. He can take his flatulent self to Tinder to try to sell himself to some poor 23 year old who doesn't think she can do better.)

At the same time, some proof now and again doesn't exactly hurt. For example, I can tell you the "I love my wife 365 days a year, I don't need a Hallmark holiday to prove to my wife how I feel about her" concept would never fly in this house. Overpriced red roses or GTFO).

I like this.
posted by discopolo at 10:35 AM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mod note: One comment removed; let's not take this in a speculating-about-people's-spouses'-state-of-mind direction.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:41 AM on February 15, 2016

Upthread, I was probably oversharing in describing our relatively unromantic marriage. But it is the day after Valentine's day. Part of the confusion here may be that most of us seem to look at romance as synonymous with infatuation, a neurochemical state that would be overtaxing were it to continue for decades.

In the early days of the novel, a romance was a tale of great adventure. In that sense, our marriages--I'm including every human marriage here--are all romances.

I suppose there must be some boring marriages out there, but if so, I'd prefer not to know about them. That is a depressing image. Hot sex and crockery-pitching fury are what I'd like to imagine as the stuff of marriage. Or "Habitation," as Margaret Atwood put it in the poem linked to above, in a more moderate version of my vision.
posted by kozad at 10:58 AM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

> Hot sex and crockery-pitching fury

That's hard on the floors!
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:35 PM on February 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Spot-on. Nearly 40 years married. He talks to the cats and feeds them until they blow up. I am cranky and solitary, he is an extrovert. But yesterday we took a nap together, and then went to a fancy wedding and danced one dance, and when my feet hurt too much I told him I wanted to go home and we DID. That's romance.
posted by Peach at 12:54 PM on February 15, 2016 [13 favorites]

Have absolutely no idea why it worked and yet we have been at it over 35 years. Still manage to make each other giggle, snort and blow milk out our nose so maybe that's it...
posted by jim in austin at 2:02 PM on February 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

That is a depressing image

Most people probably have marriages you - and Hollywood, TV, etc - would think are boring marriages. So it's nice to have some reinforcement that there's nothing wrong with being boring (and affirming just how fucking committed you have to be for a "boring" relationship).
posted by jpe at 2:04 PM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Enjoyable article, though rather painful reading about how I wish it would have been rather than how it actually turned out.

What you have instead — and what I would argue is the most deeply romantic thing of all — is this palpable, reassuring sense that it’s okay to be a human being. Because until you feel absolutely sure that you won’t eventually be abandoned, it’s maybe not 100 percent clear that any other human mortal can tolerate another human mortal.

Yeah, never got that, never was going to get that, had to call it quits. Too bad, so sad.
posted by Sublimity at 3:13 PM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm not even married and we've got years to go before it's a long relationship by the standard of this thread, but "boring" seems like the wrong word to apply. I know the absolute foundation of my relationship - and more significantly I think of my parents' 35+ year one - is that we never get bored just talking to each other.
posted by atoxyl at 3:22 PM on February 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

The relationship can be hum-drum as all get-out, but that doesn't mean the partners or their lives are boring. In fact, it frees you up to be creative - if that's what you want out of your life.
posted by Peach at 4:30 PM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sometimes it's fine and boring and kinda pleasant. Sometimes it's so miserable you wish you had chosen to be a hermit atop a nicely appointed pillar. Such is life.
posted by honestcoyote at 6:07 PM on February 15, 2016

One of the fun things about this kind of thread is seeing all the people about whom I have been totally wrong in my assumptions about age, gender, and/or sexuality. You are married to a woman? And you are old enough to have been married for that many decades?

I've been married longer than the author but I don't relate to her depiction of a relationship at all. Maybe it's that I don't have kids? But they sound happy and loving, so I am smiling for them and I wish them all the future happiness.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:08 PM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

For Valentine's Day I got our almost-four-year-old out of the house for a couple of hours, gave my wife some earrings that I forgot I had also given her for Christmas, and gave her a card that said, "I'll watch the luggage while you pee." Out. Of. The. Park.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:29 PM on February 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

FWIW, 16 years in and without kids (though we are by choice shacked-up rather than married), a lot of the article rings true for me. But then, my partner and I have been through Some Shit that most couples our age have not been through, so perhaps there's a sort of similar end result of having Been Through The Wars together.

You couldn't pay me enough to be in a new relationship ever again - please, take all the new relationship energy or thrill of the chase or whatever and give it to someone else who enjoys it. I never did. If I find myself single again I think I would skip dating altogether and be a spinster cat lady until/unless someone invents some magical machine to jump me to maybe the five-year point of my next relationship. That's where things start to get good, in my book.
posted by Stacey at 3:44 AM on February 16, 2016 [6 favorites]

I only got married last month, but we've been together for something like 16 years, and it's nice seeing the comfortable pattern of longer-term romance described in this article and I look and say "yep".

Also, bonus points for referencing Bongwater's "Folk Song".
posted by rmd1023 at 5:36 AM on February 16, 2016

We're coming up on our 20th anniversary, and I think the reason we've had such a successful relationship is that my husband is my best friend. (With a penis, to be fair. My best friend without a penis has been around for 35 years, I should get her something nice for our anniversary...)

But, even after all these years; after kid, and moves, and career upsets, and business launches and failures, and the universe trying it's damnest to be insane, still even thinking about him still gives me butterflies.

I picture his eyes, so blue and filled with laughter and it makes me happy. I think of his crazy hair, which on any given day would make Giorgio Tsoukalos weep with envy, and it makes me smile. He makes it his goal, every single day, to hear me laugh. Do you have any idea how awesome it is to laugh every day? Like, honestly laugh. Not polite, "oh, ha! dear." laugh, but literally crying and holding your stomach laughing? I've spent twenty years laughing. It's an awesome romance.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 6:52 AM on February 16, 2016 [8 favorites]

This thread made me cry. The good kind of tears, overwhelmed with happiness for what I have, but also weeping for those that somehow missed it. Im crying for the happiness I found in mrcontour; we have known each other since 1982, moved in on our first date in 1999, married happily now for almost 12 years with our three cats, one of whom we adopted off our doorstep within a month of getting together. And Im crying for my mom, who has been married four times, never happily, always searching for the one that could fulfill her the way mrcontour completes me.

We never, ever part company without saying "I love you", because we mean it, and just in case its the last time.
posted by Illusory contour at 6:52 AM on February 16, 2016 [8 favorites]

At almost 12 years together, and almost 10 of them married, I needed to hear this. So much media is about the falling in love part. Then there's the "fat husband skinny wife yelling at each other" stuff every where else. I'm not in either of those camps. (Well, most days.) So I really needed to see some other kind of version of marital bliss. And this seems to be a lot of what my married life is like. (Minus the dysentery, thank goodness!) Acceptance and enjoyment of each other for what we are now, and the shared years of life and history of what we were.
posted by jillithd at 7:27 AM on February 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Our church is generally young professionals and middle-aged folks with young kids. There is one very elderly couple, and I am pretty certain they are the only very elderly couple that attends our church. The husband has trouble getting down into and up out of his chair, but still walks with a cane and some assistance. So his wife always goes up and gets communion for the two of them, and brings it back to him.

Mrs. allkindsoftime regularly reminds me with a smile of how she'll have to do this for me some day what with all the physical toll I've taken on my body in it's younger years, and we smile because it's probably true.

One Sunday a couple months back, one of them had an accident during the service. They made their way out of the service, but some of the accident got trailed behind on the floor. The Mrs. and I were ushering and someone pointed it out to us, and so it pretty much fell to us to paper towel it up. It wasn't fun, but I suppose it was the definition of service.

Anyway, the Mrs. later made a joke about how maybe that's what we'll be having to do for each other in addition to fetching communion.

I said "Hell no! There will be some poor schmuck half our age ushering and it will be their turn to clean the floor."
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:48 PM on February 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

My parents haven't ever been hand-holdy, flirty people. I have only ever seen the quickest of peck type kisses when my dad would come home from work. My mom could be called "difficult" and my father was born cranky. They met in the Navy, when my mom was the only woman in her xray class and my father was the only guy who didn't ask her out. So, he was the one for her. There have been slammed phones, pitched coffee cups and one time my dad called to say he was 4 states away and was moving (he'd left for work that morning just like normal).

50 years later, I've watched silently as my dad puts my mom's wedding ring back on her finger while she's still coming out of anesthesia, it's the only time I've ever seen him cry. When her chemo caused paralysis and he wasn't strong enough to take care of her, he built the strongest, longest wheelchair ramp by hand. He kept his O2 cannula on the entire time he cut and sanded and nailed boards. He changes and manages her colostomy for her while distracting her by talking about their cats and model trains. They're still so different, but exactly alike now.

I asked him when I was a snotty teenager if my mom was so weird when he met her. He said she was. I was astounded and asked him why in the hell would he marry someone who was loud and made dumb jokes and stubbornly misprounounced the word "frustrated". He said that all those reasons were exactly why he married her. A farm boy from Ohio met a rural Florida girl in Bethesda, Maryland in the 60's, and they decided to live a beautiful and honest love story.
posted by hollygoheavy at 6:33 PM on February 16, 2016 [14 favorites]

The article reminded me a lot of my late husband (Mr. Nerd) and I. We were together 18 years, married for 14, and lived and worked together through most of it. It was 19 months this past Sunday since I lost him. I don't miss the caregiving I did for the last 6 years we were together. I do, however, miss playing poker with him while he was taking a bath. We had our own jokes and our own shorthand--and it's bittersweet to have to explain myself when I say one of our old phrases.

NRE is pretty nice, though this time around it's much different. :)
posted by luckynerd at 10:59 PM on February 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

I have to say I disagree on the author's definition of romance, but I think she's trying to say that these things in her definition are the most important parts of marriage. I'd call them love, loyalty, steadiness, or happiness together. I've been married a bit longer, but I still think some romance is fun. I prefer to define it as things like going to bed early for fun, watching the same tv show just to snuggle together, finding some sans-kids time to spend together in bed during the day, or giving each other love notes every now and then. I don't need to be surprised or unsure if my spouse loves me to enjoy being romantic together.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:07 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

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