Marriages don't fit easily into a neat narrative arc. I think Anna Quindlen mentions this in her new book. You want a life, not a story. You don't want the dénoument of your marriage to come in the middle. That's less than ideal when you're trying to, you know, stay married. Even though there can be moments that present themselves as challenges or obstacles and those can be overcome or resolved, ultimately what you don't want in a marriage is for it to have a conclusion, a neatly packaged resolution with a Tiffany bow.
Par example: The other day I was looking back through my archives on this blog, especially at 2009. 2009 was a good year. Really good. 2008 had been so bad and painful and numbing that when E and I decided to renew our vows and move forward, reunited, I resolved to make family and marriage my priority. I was saying no to things I didn't want to do at work. E and I were communicating better than we ever had before as a result of the extensive work we'd done in Retrouvaille to repair our broken relationship. In 2009 I slept great. I was so happy. My posts reflect an overwhelming positivity and gratitude for home, family, and stability. This is true even though in 2009 we struggled financially and in terms of work. E fought hard to get a job, at one point even taking a non-paying internship in Lake Tahoe, a good two-ish hours drive from our house, just so he could get his foot back in the door of the working world. I fed our family of four on pennies a month. But with the positive outlook we had, even those struggles seemed manageable.
2012 is the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of stability. E is two years in to a secure, paying position as an attorney. He's two years in to his ten years of state service that will earn him loan forgiveness. I've been at the same school for twelve years, and I'm confident in my strengths as a teacher. When my pay was unfrozen this summer, I was finally able to receive the raise I'd earned by taking extra units over the past few years. I'm pursuing my MFA--and fulfilling a deep desire to work at writing as a career. We can't move--we're stuck in a house that's worth a ridiculous amount compared to what we owe--a fault of poor timing--but we can basically afford ourselves. Our kids have always been easy. Now they're older and easy and pretty self sufficient. We're so lucky.
By all tangible definitions, life is stable. Yet, as hard as this is to admit, being married is so hard. I'm not as happy as I was in 2009. In fact, I'm in a period of kinda-unhappy. I question how much to write about it since I wrote so thoroughly about my joy when it felt like getting along was something we could continue to do, always. Ever-fearful of letting people down, I've been worried that by admitting the struggle again, I belie the good work we did before, or people's support when we were there. I have so much guilt related to my inability to fix, pray away, or single-handedly improve our marriage for eternity.
As I look back on my old posts, I feel a little like I betray my old self by not having this figured out yet. I feel like by reopening and unraveling this narrative thread--by admitting that it's still hard for us to navigate the seas of this relationship--it might somehow cheapen the sense of happy resolution I felt then. Is this story like the sitcom that's run too long? Do I have to jump the shark for it to continue? I have to remind myself of what I hear the nonfiction writers say when they visit residency: even when the "I" in the narrative is you, it's not you-you. It's book-you. Just writing it down, separating yourself from it by one degree, means it's not going to be 100% of your true human experience. (Of course no one says it exactly like that--that's Heather-speak for what they say.) And in my heart I know I don't owe anything to this idea of the narrative, of things being neat and tidy.
Lives aren't black and white, and even in my earnest happiness of 2009, I knew I'd keep growing and changing, and things don't stay happy forever. I heard one author, James Brown, speak in December about writing his addiction memoir, The L.A. Diaries. How after it was published, he relapsed. How in the genre there's this notion that you write the story where you get clean and there's guilt about failure if you're going back on the good work you did. I get that. The minute you write something, you're more accountable to it as a definite thing, while you're still a changing, growing, imperfect being.
I think we're all struggling to maintain the story we think we should be living.