Tag Archives: marriage

Your Eyes in Safety Glasses Drive Me Wild…

It always surprises me — although, after nearly 24 years, less and less often — how little romance has to do with the real nuts and bolts of a marriage. Not that I’m an enemy of romance. Far from it. But the real structural steel and rebar that make a marriage strong are about as far from roses and poetry as…well, structural steel and rebar.

I cannot identify a moment, way back in the late 1980s, when I decided that my wife was the woman for me. I do know there was a day when I could verbalize that idea in my mind, and as I said it to myself, I had the distinct feeling that I had known it for some time. Later on that mind-saying day, I happened to be at my parents’ house. “I’m going to marry Teresa,” I told them matter-of-factly, sort of as if I were saying, “I have a business trip to Toledo next week.” I promised to tell them how the proposal went, whenever I made up my mind to do it. Then I borrowed one of their cars and left.

Not us. There is no stock photography of us. And I can guarantee you that in a minute, these two will be bickering.

Not us. There is no stock photography of us. And I can guarantee you that in a minute, these two will be bickering.

Some time in the weeks that followed, I shopped for a ring at a jeweler whose store was in a locally famous district for jewelry in Pittsburgh. After I made the deal, I passed a law school classmate as we crossed Liberty Avenue in opposite directions. “Only one thing it can mean when a young man is coming out of the Clark Building,” she chimed. I blushed in confirmation.

It was the beginning of a long and lovely season of wedding planning and festivity. But none of the regalia of romance that followed in the next 18 months confirmed for me the wisdom of my choice. No, it was something much more momentous.

My bride and I wallpapered a small bathroom together and emerged alive, still in love, and still married.

Notice I did not say immediately happy with each other. One does not come out of such an experience beaming. Tight quarters (it was a downstairs powder room), literally back to back, a 45-year-old house built with a relaxed approach to straightness and squareness…that’s a formula for disaster. It took a special kind of calculus to match the pattern she had chosen, work it around the corners that were really cosine-crazy curves, and get the paste on the paper instead of ourselves. Calculus indeed — I can understand why Newton never married.

I think we had been married less than a year when we tackled the wallpaper project — married, bought a townhouse, offered a new job, sold the townhouse, moved to Chicago, got into a temporary apartment, then another, found a house, bought it, started studying for the Illinois bar, got a job for me, and on and on. It was a test. It was marvelous and maddening to have each other, to learn each other, to soldier on and to hang on. I remember those early days with wonder and fondness.

“What did we do on Saturday nights when we lived in Chicago?” I sometimes say as we have a glass of wine and watch the moon rise over our back yard. Sometimes I really don’t recall.

“Well, we were downtown just about every other week,” she says. “Restaurants, bars. We loved the city.” And I remember.

“Yeah,” I say. “We did.”

I don’t mind forgetting all that little stuff. I like being reminded, like I’m discovering it all again. The part I never forget, though, is the day-by-day strengthening of that structure. There have been trying times since, and a great many more joyful times, all romance of a kind laid over that solid structure.

Today we drilled holes in cabinets and drawers to install new hardware. Templates. Measuring. Badly machined screws. A trip to Home Depot. Patience. Give. Take.


[The husband who wrote the above column would like to say that he is no stranger to traditional romance, and that those of you who think he would give his wife a new socket wrench set for their anniversary are sorely mistaken. Although she would like it. That is all.]

© 2014 Adam Barr

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Marital Political Science: Peace in the Valley

The longer a marriage lasts, the more its participants wonder what the central thread really is that keeps them together through the decades and the seasons of life (of which there are a great deal more than four per year). You will get all kinds of answers on this — the friendship, the mutual reliance, habit, laughter, touch, and on and on. You may even get different answers from members of the same marriage. (If this happens, take my advice: turn off the tape recorder and quietly leave the room.)

Whatever consternation may arise between my wife and me, I can tell you one thing it won’t be about: the division of marital labor. For some reason, we have never fought or even disagreed significantly about who should do what, when. I don’t think we’re any different than most couples in the marital skill department, but we definitely have this part down. (Also, I have a well-honed survival instinct.)

Us. That's not our house; if it were, she would be vacuuming it. But see how nice my shirt is?

Us. That’s not our house; if it were, she would be vacuuming it. But see how nice my shirt is?

Here’s how most things fall (or fell) out:

  • Laundry. She handles hers and Joseph’s. I do my own. Back in the Worsted Wool Age, I was particular about my shirts. So I did my own. It just never stopped. No biggie.
  • Cooking. I end up doing most of it because I like to. But if I say, “I’m crushed today; can you manage dinner?,” I never get an argument. Or we order Chinese. Either way, it works out.
  • Dusting. I may make an occasional feint at it, but she’s the maven here. I suspect there are particles from Biblical times reposed on some of the furniture in my office; who am I to disturb them?
  • Vacuuming. As some men are with their Lamborghinis, my wife is with her vacuum. It is hers. You can’t do it right. Get out of the way. I hate the noise anyway.
  • Kid to School. Me as often as possible. This is a holdover from the time when I was seldom home and wanted to maximize every minute with him. Now I get up early out of habit, and I like making breakfast for him. Besides, she likes to sleep.
  • Angus. She takes our dog to the park in the mornings, since I take the kid to school. I will occasionally fill in, but the dog says I don’t throw the ball like Mom.
  • Dishes. No clear rule, but often me while she walks Angus in the evenings.
  • Dealing with evil health insurance companies. Sorry; I was redundant. She does this. Thank the sweet Lord in heaven, she does this.
  • Decorating. I like her tastes. See note about survival instinct, above.
  • Travel planning. Her quote: “Tell me what the weather is going to be like there and where to be when it’s time to leave.” I got this.
  • Short game: She comes to me for putting advice. I try to hide my golf game under a rock, but she always finds it.
  • Lawn mowing. Me, of course. She’s no fool.

There’s more, but I can see you’re already calling your spouse on your maybe-I’m-not-so-smartphone. Kidding aside, we have seen some marriages nearly reach the cracking point on these issues. We feel fortunate that we never got onto those rocks.

In his excellent book Family Man, Calvin Trillin says that married couples doesn’t really have to share the same tastes, just the same values. Pitching in as a team is clearly one of those values. One of my single friends once heard me on the phone, wrapping up a conversation about scheduling kid pickup, groceries, and dinner. When I hung up, he deadpanned, “Hm. Running a household. Sounds so uplifting.”

Mister, you have no idea.♦

© Adam Barr

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