An unshaven man wearing shorts and sandals with knee-high black socks tried to get in the front door of my workplace recently.
I pretended not to notice when he slammed into the glass door, and then, shaking his head and grinning at the "Pull" sign, made his way in.Without any regard to the quiet atmosphere of the office he shouted, "Hey!" at the surprised staff and, humming loudly, proceeded to the employees' bathroom. I exchanged wide-eyed looks with my work mates when, over the roar of the bathroom's fan, we heard him break into song—a Louis Armstrong-inspired "What a Wonderful World."
When he emerged 10 minutes later, I collected my purse and, acting like it was perfectly normal, left with him. I had to. The man is my husband.
At a recent dinner party this same husband exclaimed that he was "ravishing" instead of ravenous, chewed his food without once closing his mouth, and told our hostess how she could have improved the main course. In the car ride home he interrupted my fantasy of the car crashing with only one survivor by asking if something was wrong. Since a successful marriage is built on communication and compromise, I told him I was tired and refused to let him touch me.
Are these the harmless foibles of a long-term marriage or, as I sometimes fear, the portents of our souring 20-year union? When you start noticing and then dreading your husband's speech, fashion choices and public behavior, does it mean it's the beginning of the end?
Recently a French friend in an enviable marriage announced that she and her husband were splitting up. Shocked, I confessed that their union had seemed to be the romantic ideal. "Non, non, non," she replied. They'd been living like roommates for years. I nodded my head in sympathy but could no longer hear another word she said. I was too busy wondering how long my husband and I had been living like roommates. Maybe we should have separated years ago!
I called my friend Eloise to tell her our friend's news and share my suspicion that my own marriage was a sham. Another long-term married, Eloise wasted no time in mocking my fears. "He worships you, he's a fantastic father, he loves your mother and he cooks dinner every night!" I attributed her irritability to the fact that she was on another 1,200-calorie-a-day diet. Her husband, a tax auditor, is explicit about his need for her to be thin. If he were my husband I'd be explicit about my need for him to move to Mongolia.
While lying in bed the next morning, waiting for my husband to bring me my espresso, I decided to appraise my marriage more objectively. As I began my mental checklist, he walked into the bedroom, carrying my cup of coffee. After I took my first sip he asked how I liked it. I had to be honest. "It's perfect," I purred.