Arkansas Is Known As The Natural State; Marriage Is Not

One of the most interesting comments my mother-in-law ever made to me was many years ago, when I had recently married her son and was still in that “starry-eyed phase.” If you’re married, you remember that phase. It was when you thought it was cute, as you patiently waited at the sink for the water to get warm, for him to come up behind you and just turn the faucet off because you were, as he put it, “wasting water.

Yeah, that one. Remember it? So cute… (teeth gritted).

Anyway, one day I heard her say,

“Marriage is not a natural state.”

I remember thinking at the time that she, having had two husbands in her lifetime, might have just had a different or more challenging experience than some married people, but that surely marriage was indeed a most natural state.

It was for me! I mean, look here, I had just married a man who was allergic to chicken (chicken, not chickens. There’s a big difference). So I was willing to give up fried chicken for him, and those of you who know me, well you know—that’s real love right there. Catholic nuns and priests give up marriage for God. I gave up fried chicken for marriage–same exact thing in my head.

Early on, marriage is pretty easy. Luckily, nature gives you blinders to the crappy parts, and you’re both just so in love and excited about your new life together that you can’t image anything ever changing.

Then you start to pay bills with this person, decorate a house with this person, share a closet with this person, and rely on this person to nurse you through the flu.

This person.

This person, who you stood before God and a room full of people your mother made you invite, and promised to love forever, will start to show little shortcomings here and there. They won’t jump out all at once like a jack-in-the-box, but rather they will ooze out like a tube of toothpaste that someone left the lid off of—and I go on record here, that if your toothpaste lid needs to be screwed on with a lug wrench then you are buying the wrong brand of toothpaste. Putting the cap back on with a half turn is enough to do the job.

no matter what he says.

I’ll continue–the shortcomings will show themselves subtly at first. So subtle that you will be able to talk yourself into denying that they are even there. But eventually, like a burr under a saddle, they will wear on you until you explode and kick the trash can around the kitchen, because for the 814th time, someone didn’t put a clean trash bag back in it, and you just dumped a pound of shrimp shells in there.

All of these little annoyances could probably be withstood fairly simply by some calm discussions and some compromising, but no. Unfortunately after years of letting the resentment grow into a healthy fervor, this seems to be just about the time you decide to add a bouncing six pound terrorizing manipulator with the nocturnal biorhythms of a hamster to the mix. Born out of love of course…

Uh-huh. Love. Believe me, there were times at 3 a.m. I would have “loved” to have left her in a dumpster (I love you Rachel).

So now, you’ve got a little selfish, screaming,  “pot-roast” of a person thrown in whose only purpose in the universe is to deny you anything you want at anytime you want it, including showers, sleep, privacy, conversations at restaurants (conversations period), meals at restaurants, (meals period), sex, television, coffee table knick-knacks, working out, pee-ing, naps, time with friends, (friends period)…and for this stage, just to survive, you play a delicate game of sometimes banding together against “Enfant Terrible,” and at other times just wanting to shank each other.

Marriage is not a natural state.”

Right about here you feel that comment down to your core. You could wear a “marriage is not a natural state” t-shirt.

Oh hell, you could get it tattooed on your neck.

Everything that your spouse does you could swear he or she is doing out of spite now. Exhaustion has set in and you are too tired to explain why you dumped the dirty dishes on his side of the bed. So when he drops his naked ass into bed on top of a pile of cold greasy dishes at midnight, he just understands.

And in case you’re unsure… “Don’t leave me at home with a baby and a sink full of dirty dinner dishes and then go out to meet your friends at the bar,” is clearly what that says.

But now the little things are all there, and they’re all fair game. Nothing is overlooked at this stage. And this stage lasts for YEARS.

He will put the pillow cases on the pillows inside out.

He will hang his coat on the antique hall tree that is CLEARLY not really for coats.

He will clip his toenails while you are sleeping six feet away.

He will chew his mashed potatoes loudly.

He will cancel your satellite radio in your car and not tell you, but he will say he did tell you.

He will wrap your birthday present in paper that the stray dog you took in for one afternoon, peed on (the cat will take one whiff and let you know).

He will use your fancy new linen tablecloth as a drop cloth in the garage.

He will order “just prime rib” at a restaurant. No baked potato. No salad. Just. Prime. Rib. (Is he a werewolf? Eat a vegetable.)

He will never, ever, bring home the right item from the grocery store.

He will snore….Oh boy, will he snore….and you’ll be having thoughts of that dumpster again.

This will go on for years and years…this burr in the saddle stage. And you will be doing the same types of annoying things to him—for sure! “Marriage is not a natural state” will never be more apparent as you exercise daily restraint and take lots of deep, cleansing, anti-homicidal breaths.

But then, as the years continue through this unnatural state, and Travelzoo continues to send “runaway” offers to your inbox, and some days you think you’ll surely lose your mind, you start to notice more aspects about that person. Little patterns will start to reveal themselves, but at this time in your marriage you’ll pay attention.

You’ll realize that he brings you coffee every morning without you having to even think about it. Or how he rushed right home when you called him at work to tell him that your grandfather had died. And how he sat up in a hard plastic chair all night in the hospital while you slept comfortably in your Demerol haze with a kidney stone. Or how, after you celebrated too much for your 50th birthday party and pretty much made your bathroom uninhabitable, he took care of you AND the bathroom—and never mentioned it to you. He will turn the car around, without even being asked, because he knows you will worry about that damn turtle crossing the road all the way to Alabama. And those little burrs in the saddle that you’ve always had will eventually start to fade some. They will be more like background music, because you will stop letting them sing the lead.

Maybe it’s age, and you are both mellowing. Maybe it’s because the little freeloading, emotional extortionists have grown up and gone off to college and your brain fog from eating all those Go-Gurts and oatmeal cream pies over the years starts to clear up. Or maybe you’re too tired to care about squeaky toenail clippers anymore. I don’t know, but I do know if you let them, if you wait for them, those old fond, familiar feelings will come back around.

Thirty years later you will just see him getting out of the lake one day and you will notice how handsome he still is after all these years, and you will be consumed with that feeling that only teenagers are supposed to feel. Or you will feel his arm in the middle of the night—clearly overstepping its boundary and on YOUR side of the bed—and instead of shoving it back because he’s snoring again and you’ve had two hours of sleep in a week, you will catch yourself running your hand over it in the dark. You will feel the little smooth hairs and weathered strength in his arm and find a comfort in its existence in “your space.” And one night at 3 a.m. , as you lay there listening to him snore for the third agonizing hour, in that moment, in that most unnatural state of marriage, you will pat that intruding hairy arm and be overwhelmed by how natural marriage feels.

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