Married? Then do not read this column

I really have no time to do this column this morning. I'm headed to Los Angeles to receive an award for the World's Greatest Columnist. This is a prestigious prize given with less frequency, but much more sincerity, than either the Nobel or the Pulitzer. I plan on using the millions of dollars in prize money to establish a foundation for the eradication of scabies.

But I am inspired this morning, and I have found that if you ignore The Muse too often, she stops visiting. It's sort of like ignoring the word of God, only instead of being hit by a lightening bolt, the next time you sit down at your computer, you start to write like Anne Rice.

Due to circumstances beyond my control (mostly support groups and marriage counselors), I've been communicating with a lot of divorced people lately. I've read tons of books on the sociology, psychology, morality and religiosity of the process, and I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that nobody knows a goddamn thing. The reason for this is the concept "marriage" itself. It's sort of like the word "cancer," a single word most people take to indicate one thing, but that is in reality a malady of infinite varieties, most of them torturous and many of them terminal.

However, in the interest of helping others more fortunate than myself in nurturing and maintaining this sacred institution of marriage, here is a list of helpful hints. I'm not a guy. Nor am I gay or lesbian, so this list does not address relationships outside traditional marriage.

Don't say you weren't warned.

1) There is no word in the English language as loaded as "marriage." It is an inherently religious word. Even the most cut-and-dried civil ceremonies often include the word "God," as in, "those whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder." Even some atheists let this one slip through. In some states, it's simply on the books. I got married in Las Vegas in a five-minute ceremony for $150, with a wino for a witness and a shagged-out hooker as a flower girl, and this still slipped through. Since I was raised a Catholic, the implications of my own marriage decelerating required me to crucify myself in an inverted position and be shot with arrows for several weeks. The point is, many people have internalized religious values which render the actual vicissitudes of life nearly impossible to navigate.

Which is bad.

2) Except between a mother and her child, there is no such thing as unconditional love. Just because God and The State have approved something, that doesn't accord the participants the leisure to fall asleep at the switch. At first, any romantic relationship is full of fire, lust, attachment and a kind of tunnel vision akin to a couple of teenagers together on an acid trip resolved to "maintain" in front of their parents. Having kids prolongs a bond born of "nesting." But when the fireworks are over, and after the kids are old enough to change their own diapers, if individual members of the pair are not sufficiently compatible, the romance will go in the toilet. If one likes bluegrass, and the other heavy metal. If one prefers NASCAR to poetry readings. If one loves The Sopranos, and the other's enamored of Everyone Loves Raymond, the marriage is doomed. These kinds of things are often overlooked in the early stages of relationships when you're fucking each others' brains out, but they matter, big-time.

3) This one is a gift for guys, at least the ones who want to hold on to their wives: It's important to learn how to listen. Not pretend to listen, but to really listen. Most men are not good at this. Yet for most women, whether her man listens to her or not is a primary measure of love. It comes from being second-class citizens or, as John Lennon famously put it, "the niggers of the world." (And, no, he was not saying anything derogatory about black people.) If you always seem preoccupied with your legal briefs, your motorcycle, your computer, your football team, your novel or whatever thing it is, to the exclusion of your woman's concerns, she will wind up fucking somebody else.

This is only logical. If the only time she feels you're actually listening to her is when she's on all fours saying ooh baby ooh baby, she will grow to resent it and eventually give it to somebody else. Men may have their occasional drunken dalliances while away on business trips, but the real measure of a marriage in trouble is that the wife has an affair. Men generally commandeer the hurt. "That bitch done me wrong" makes such a good sound bite. But the truth is, marriage, like everything else, has nothing to do with headlines worthy of Fox News.

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