A Hostage Situation
I grew up being part of an obnoxiously happy family. If we weren't
such jokesters, we'd bore the crap out of everyone with our tales of
my parents' long and happy marriage, all of us getting along as a
family, helping each other out, and missing each other when we're not
together. We're such radicals! Even so, this warm and cozy scenario certainly did not stop me from having the fear of God instilled in me
about marriage. It was painfully clear to me, that if you didn't get
it right, the way my parents had, that marriage could be worse then any
hell an imagination could fathom.
Growing up in a very small town, I was terrified of falling into the usual small-town girl pattern of getting married almost directly out of high school, and not able to get drunk when I turned 21 due to my second pregnancy. I had bone-chilling images of marrying a man, who at first might have had a great name like Glen, Micah, or Keith, (and hi Glen, Micah and/or Keith, if you guys ever read this it will explain a lot about my 'flight-risk' relationship behavior), but at the end of the day his name takes a dramatic turn somehow to Floyd. In my day-mare of marriage, Floyd has made it his religion to nurse a cheap beer every night, on a hideous (perhaps tweed, someone get me a paper bag, I'm about to hyperventilate), couch, while he gets on me for 'readin' too many of 'em books.' Floyd is two years pregnant with a keg, and expecting any day. On our wedding day, he was Keith--smart, funny, and a joy to be around. But now that he's Floyd, he's completely unmotivated, demanding, charmless, and losing I.Q. points every evening. I want to leave, but I have one kid on the boob, and the other tossing cheerios across the room. Like any other hostage, I pray for the release that could never come soon enough...even if the release is death.
So that's where I was on the subject of marriage for my teens and early twenties, and on a trip home in January, I was talking to my brother about his buddy's upcoming divorce. We decided to run the 'what went wrong' numbers about the marriage. I was irritated by his friend's choice of partners. He had chosen a woman who was certainly nice, but had serious self-esteem issues, no skills of any kind (is being nice a skill?), no ability to fend for herself in any way in the world--in fact she didn't even have a driver's license. You'd almost think I was referring to a mail-order bride, but frankly, she was too under-qualified to be an illegal immigrant. Illegal immigrants have skills, and tend to be pretty darn driven. I was annoyed.
"Troy, he totally set that up. He hunted a girl without any confidence, convinced her to leave familiar surroundings, called her 'god-fearing,' for having no skills. That's just crazy. It''s...well, it's a..."
"It's a hostage situation," my brother responded flatly.
And on we went on the topic. Is no one else completely unnerved by the part of the ceremony where someone with authority makes the frightful command 'til death do you part?' Um, how does that sentence get slipped in there while everyone keeps a vacuous smile plastered on their faces? I haven't read the hostage handbook, but I'm fairly certain that the phrase, 'til death do us part' is in there, or at least it should be. Has anyone else noticed, that much like a runaway slave, you can't prove your freedom from a bad marriage without your papers? Isn't alimony just paying a ransom that never stops? How is this happening?
I believe that my marriage fears were deepened by the time I spent waitressing in my small town during college. I couldn't help but notice that for some couples, it was obvious that my asking 'what can I start you off with,' was about as much conversation--and foreplay--that they were going to have for the night. As silent as one couple was, my next couple would make them seem like lovebirds. The next couple scenario, let's place them in their early thirties with children, looked so irritated with each other they should've worn armor to dinner. This couple despises nearly everything about one another, from the way the other orders, to how the other eats. They literally can argue over paper napkin placement. For all the ways I may have disagreed with a boyfriend, I hadn't known this kind of animosity in my relationships. We were always able to disagree fairly, and we certainly could settle an issue like paper napkin placement out of court. But... would we still maintain this type of civility if we got married? And so the cloud of marital doubt was formed, and hovered overtly over my head. One guy I was with can tell you about the "don't freak out" post-it notes that I had everywhere about our coming engagement. He'd tell me about ring shopping, and I'd threaten him with the prospect of buying unflattering, unappealing outfits for myself--in polyester or flannel. I've been told that I don't play hard to get, I play impossible to get. But I maintain that my reservations are valid. As if I didn't have enough fear about the idea, I've had wives tell me in gloomy and cryptic voices, "the thing that scares me about you, Shannon, is that you'd make a really good wife..." Why the heck would they say that to a person with the nickname, 'Flight Risk'? They sounded like crypt-keepers. I shuddered. What was it about the words, "I do" that made so many people wish they hadn't?
The other day, I was at breakfast with a friend, and I overheard a middle-aged couple talking. I'm one who has a difficult time with small-talk, and empty chatter. I'll hang out with a girlfriend, and the minute the conversation lingers too long on nail polish, or insecurity, and my inner dude wants out of the room. This said, I could hear the wife portion of the couple going on relentlessly about curtains. She was very happy about these curtains, and couldn't say enough. I asked for the check, and started looking for the exits. The restaurant was crowded; it was a California Sunday morning, and leaving was the only manner of escape from this curtain chat. The husband, he was not fascinated by this conversation, nor these curtains (how could he be?). But when I caught a glimpse of his face, a face I thought would be drooping with boredom, I noticed that he was, however, fascinated by her. Even me, little miss "Marriage Flight Risk," had to smile at this. He truly was happy to see her happy, I guess. And it reminded me of my own parents. Clearly, for this couple either Stockholm syndrome had truly settled in, they were on the best anti-depressants in the world, or they had somehow managed to get it right. They were in a hostage situation--and didn't even mind.