Thursday, August 14, 2008

Like a Horse and Carriage

Danielle Bean's talking Love and Marriage at the Faith and Family blog, asking people for three bits of advice they're about to give the soon-to-be married. Patrick Archbold does everything but hand you the grain of salt you're supposed to take his three things with, but still has a commenter ask, doubtfully, whether he's trying to be funny.

I have only one piece of advice for those teetering on the brink of matrimony:

Don't listen to anybody else's advice.

That's it. Really.

Before Mr. M. and I were married, we spent some time with a couple who'd just returned from their first vacation alone together in a good while. They had four or five children, I believe; but anyway, the advice they gave us, over and over, was to find time for ourselves, to make time for ourselves, to hire babysitters, to go away for weekends if family would watch our hypothetical future children, to do whatever we could to still do the romantic "date" things we liked to do (in our case, antique store browsing, used book hunting and things like that) without the kids. It would be crucial, they assured us.

Our girls were all born in the first four years of our marriage. When the oldest was 2 and a half I had our third. We had no idea they'd come so close together, or that we would then have such a long time without adding a new one.

But from the beginning we enjoyed their company. Oh, sure, there were times when they were *really* little when we wouldn't have minded an evening out, but at least one of them was still nursing at the time, and if I was going to have to nurse a baby anyway...And we did get a brief time where we lived in the same town with my mom and dad, during which we could leave the girls for a bit; but it always felt a little strange, and I was the typical over-concerned mom the whole time we'd be gone.

And as far as the antique/used book thing? We took them with us. We took them with us to estate sales, even. And for the little time we tried to sell antiques ourselves at a tiny space in a old, crumbling building in downtown Fort Worth, the girls came too, helping us at ages 5, 4, and 2 to fix price tags on interesting knickknacks and clustering close to us if a strange grownup came by.

They're much older, now; they enjoy the somewhat more occasional incursion to the antique stores, and the very regular trips we make, as a homeschooling family, to the local used book store as we relieve said store of a significant portion of their inventory (at least, it seems that way!). They sing in choir with us, and in general we'd still rather do things as a family than go out for an evening alone, though we've accepted the occasional offer from relatives for an evening of babysitting. I can't really imagine leaving them for a whole weekend, let alone a whole week, as the couple of long-ago assured us would be absolutely necessary to our sanity. The thing is, we like our kids, and would rather have them with us than not most of the time.

But would I tell other married couples that this is how it will go for them? Nah.

And the same is true for lots of other advice, like "Always go to bed together," or "Learn how to make your husband's favorite dish and make it often." For a morning person married to a night person, that first will never work, and for a man whose favorite dish is Lobster Newburgh the second may well not be affordable. Those who shiver at conflict may say, "Never raise your voices at each other!" but those who find a good argument clears the air may say, "Never give each other the silent treatment!" and mean it just as sincerely.

Young couples about to marry, you'll hear lots of advice from lots of people. Some of it may be good, general advice which common sense has already taught you during the course of your engagement, but the more specific the advice gets, the less helpful it may be to you. Why? Because you are two unique, special people coming together to form a unique, special family. And maybe in your family the toilet seat being left up won't matter, and socks on the floor will be your idea of a good stretching exercise first thing in the A.M. Maybe in your family your husband is the chatty one and you're the strong, silent type. Maybe in your family who prepares the meals, and what kind of food it is, is way less important than who loads the dishwasher.

It may take time to figure all of that out, and too many people telling you things have to be a certain way because that's how it works for them, or for your parents, or for Great Aunt Sophie whose marriage lasted 76 years owing to her clever way of keeping Great Uncle George healthy by sneaking cod liver oil into his morning orange juice--but the marriage story you're about to write is all your own. You'll fill up the blank pages with years and memories, joys and sorrow, hopes, dreams, and even failures, and so long as your commitment to each other and acceptance of God's presence in your marriage are as rock-solid as your love and devotion are today, you don't really need people telling you to "count 10" or "say you're sorry even if it's not your fault." Those things may work for some people, but not all; and in your story the unique things that make life better have yet to be revealed.


Patrick Archbold said...

Time to yourselves and by yourselves, what is that?

Oh, by the way, why are you giving that lazy good for nothing Matthew credit for my stupidity?

And the one thing I have learned in all my time blogging is that no matter how firmly your tongue is planted in your cheek, someone will take you seriously.

Red Cardigan said...

So sorry, Patrick! I fixed it.

(You're not going to go all "Patrick Madrid" on me for the misattribution, now, are you?)


Patrick Archbold said...

HA! Don't make me laugh! I am at work...

Anonymous said...

Love the advice, I'm going to share it with our 18 yo who is engaged to be married next April :-)

I know I didn't score well with not being pro-life enough on the Holy Card index and all ;-) but my oldest of 7 (so far) wants to get married and start a family. Her husband to be will be graduating from college in December with a degree he can use to get the job he wants. What a concept, huh?

As you can imagine, even though his family is Catholic and almost all of their friends are Catholic, there is much tsk, tsking about them getting married young. A woman who is very active in our parish actually told me that my daughter "has" to finish college first. Wow! Could you point me to where the teaching of the Church informs you of this?

I didn't mean to get so far from the point. Maybe we should all advocate for married people to simply have a better attitude about being married!

Mom of seven plus one in God's care

freddy said...

Dear Mom of seven plus,
I was married at 21 -- many thought that was too young. My parents were wise enough to know that my husband, at 8 years older, shouldn't have to "wait around" for me to do this or that. They encouraged us to marry.

Truly, I've never been happier. (and I had a great childhood!) I love being married. We love being in the midst of rearing our 7, and we love our Faith. We both had great parents who taught us that marriage is best viewed "as long as you both shall live."

God bless your family & tell your daughter she and her husband to be will be in my prayers. Marriage is wonderful!

Anonymous said...

Good advice, Red! Every couple is unique, and further both will change as time goes by (I know my husband and I have!)

I got married four days before my 21st birthday. I had a year and a half of college left. My husband however, did have an Associate's Degree and a good job. We both finished our bachelor's degrees and things worked out. My parents were concerned about me finishing my education, but they came around when they saw we were determined to marry. My husband and I had been dating since we were teenagers, and just wanted to be married as soon as we reasonably could. It's all worked out for us!

--Elizabeth B.

Deirdre Mundy said...

My husband and I got married at 23 and 24 and STILL got the "too young" comments. As far as I can tell, anyone under 30 is too young these days!

Re; vacation without kids -- I've always thought the idea sounded REALLY sad... we like our kids... And they like a lot of the same things we do... so if we say.. went to an Aquarium without them, I'd feel pretty lousy. =)

The worst marriage advice I got? Multiple people told me to 'wait at least 5 years before having kids!' If we'd done that, 2 of our 3 wouldn't BE here right now...

Anonymous said...

So very true.