Thursday, October 30, 2014

Marriage Isn't What You Expect

I have a lot of friends getting married, a state I expect will continue all the way through my 20s. I'm excited for them, and sometimes nervous too, but in general I have smart friends going about marriage the smart way: asking lots of questions.

When they ask questions about what to expect, my usual answer is that it won't be what you expect. That doesn't sound like much help, but it was the best advice I got before our wedding. Marriage is different from any other relationship, and possibly the most different from dating. If you (a) ask every question you can possibly think of (who is going to clean the bathroom? whose parents will you see at Thanksgiving?) and (b) expect to be surprised, you'll be able to cope with the changes.

I try to be careful about not giving our experiences of how life changed. It's going to be different for every couple. But if I had to pick one of the biggest changes, it might be our expectations about watching things together.

Nic and I really like conversing with each other (generally a good prerequisite for marriage). We talk about philosophical and theoretical ideas on a daily basis. Not wanting to lose that after marriage, we agreed to be careful about how often we watched TV shows or movies. We don't have cable, but we have Netflix, with thousands of shows at our fingertips. We didn't want to neglect our relationship.

After we got married, we started watching Stargate SG1--just an episode or two in the evenings. We both worked at home and thus saw plenty of each other. We had lunch and dinner together every day. Stargate simply filled up some of the evening hours.

Pretty soon, I was hooked, thanks to fantastic writers and lovable characters who change and develop over the course of the 10 seasons. Two-parters and seasons that ended on cliffhangers kept us watching three, four, or sometimes five episodes in one evening.

At first I worried. Were we losing touch with each other in our excitement over a sci-fi show? But we weren't. We went out together several times a week, chatted over lunch and dinner, and spent time together on walks and running errands. (Never underestimate the power of running errands. You learn a lot about a person when you join them on a Costco run.)

My expectation about how much TV shows would take away from our relationship was unfounded.

Nic now has a "real job" where he works somewhere other than home and has to commute. Nearly every evening, we still watch stuff together. When we turn on Netflix, we snuggle up and get excited about the show together. We argue about whether the writing this season has gone down. We talk about how the characters reflect real-world issues and hypothesize on where the plot is going.

Watching stuff together gets us talking. We both love stories, and computer technology, and analyzing stuff. By watching shows together, we end up having more conversation and connection than the stereotypical couple sitting in their separate arm chairs quietly reading books.

Yes, we need off-screen time. We take plenty of time to just chat. We get out of the house and do things together. But we spend our average night, like most people, in our home. We are together at home, interacting, sharing life. For us, that means watching Arrow on a Sunday night over Rocky Road ice cream.

My desire to preserve our conversational, connected relationship was a good one, but my expectation of what that would entail--severely limiting our screen time--was unrealistic. That's not something we could've known before we got married. It's only something we discovered after as we were figuring life out.

Perhaps that's the hardest and most beautiful thing about marriage: there is no right way to do it. That's why it's important to get advice from as many people as you can, take all of it with a grain of salt, and know that ultimately neither you nor anyone else has any idea what this will look like. You just have to hang on tight and figure it out--together.

Word count: 700.