Yesterday we had Lynn Toler (AKA the Judge from Divorce Court) on to discuss her new book, “Making Marriage Work.”
Now I can’t lie - if ever there was a woman to give you the hard truth, it’s Lynn Toler. Have you seen the show? I called her ma’am and “Your Honor” when talking into her earpiece, for fear of being held in contempt.
But my strong fear of her aside, she came on the show to hammer home a few basic values for all the married (and even unmarried) people out there. Paramount of which was this: Love is not enough. That spark, that heat you initially feel is great, and exciting, and intoxicating - but it doesn’t sustain a successful marriage. It’s the starting line.
And I believe it. Not just because it’s logical - but because I’ve experienced it. I grew up in a house, oldest of three boys. My brothers are a year and a half apart, and I’m the oldest by four years.. which means our parents got 12 years of teenagers. And when I was 7, Mikey was 3, and Vincent was one and a half, it must have been hell on earth. Vincent spoke broken English until he was roughly thirteen, and for years Mikey’s only viable skill was his ability to escape. Everything.
He broke out of cribs, and jumped out of windows 3-4 feet off the ground in order to go visit the neighbors, naked. Vincent would wear the same wolverine costumes for 10 days in a row. I never stopped talking, never stopped plotting, and was pretty much unbearable whenever I was in earshot - and there are hours of family video to back that up. We sent babysitters home crying. Literally, crying in my father’s pickup truck as he dropped them off. We broke into any candy stash within a 2.5 mile radius. We fought over the remote control, we spilled everything on everything, we chewed our shirts, we ruined shoes, we fought with the kids in the neighborhood… and whenever life in our house finally seemed to calm down - I’d torture one of my brothers in to complete and total hysterics.
It could not have been easy for my parents, Mike and Patti. In fact, I know it wasn’t - because they’ve told me. They work on their marriage. They’ve gone through periods where they’re frustrated with each other, where they don’t want to talk, where they want to talk way too much… they struggle. I knew it then, and I know it now.
Their marriage is imperfect, and in flux, it has highs, it has lows, there are times where it’s picturesque, and times where it’s a minefield.
It’s like every marriage that survives. These aren’t criticisms, or concerns… they are testaments. Testaments to effort, testaments to dedication, testaments to each of them. Lasting relationships aren’t powered by sunshine. It’s not pretty green solar energy, or wind, or the tides that move them forward. No, no, no. They’re powered by coal, baby. It’s dirty, sometimes ugly work, and not everyone survives. And it burns, and it shudders, and it smokes, and you have to dig deep - dangerously deep - if you want to keep it going.
And I know, because I’m in one now. It’s funny, everyone that “loves” you, tells you to go out and meet a nice girl. Well, not everyone. Your college buddies don’t tell you that. In fact, they hate you for it. But all of the humans you know tell you to go meet a nice girl. However, nobody tells you what it takes to hold on to that nice girl.
They don’t tell you that you have to change. They don’t tell you that you have to get better, at everything. That you need to be accountable. That you need to make plans, and then show up to them. That you have to do you laundry more than bi-monthly. That “I’m on my way” now has to mean “I’m physically en route to your location” and not just, “I’m about to take a shower.” That “I don’t feel like it” necessitates a follow-up question. That you’ll have to meet her parents, and it’s important that they like you. That she needs a drawer in your apartment. That mattress pads actually get washed.
They don’t tell you, that in order for her to fit into your life - you have to constantly be chipping parts of yourself away - creating the grooves. And they don’t tell you it’s going to be good for you, so you shouldn’t bitch and moan the whole way through it.
No, they don’t tell you any of that. So you watch your parents, and you swear on you’re life that you’ll never be anything like them. Because you’re young and stupid, and you’re so focused on the struggle, you fail to see that they’re still holding on. Together.
So you choose the highway over “her” way, over and over. You avoid the effort it takes to hoe that road, because you’ve seen the toll it takes, and you’re afraid of it. Then one day you’re with somebody that you don’t want to cut ‘n run from. And you can see the escape route, you know you can send her away crying, or leave like a thief in the night… but you don’t want to. And you’re staring at all of the changes you’ll have to make, all of the compromise you’ll be forced into, all of the razing and building you’ll have to do in order to fit your lives together - all of the work it would take. And you think of your parents. And you look at the exit, and back at her, and back at the exit, and back at her…
And you grab a shovel.
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