Marriage: A Recommendation and Disclaimer
Upon rereading my post about how to be a man, I realized that it was, in many ways, a love letter to your father. He is a marvelous man and someone I am so very grateful to have in my life. I am a big believer in marriage. It’s not for everyone, but it was definitely for us, and something I truly wish for you. Finding someone that you want to share your life with is one of the greatest gifts you could ever have. Someone who’s lived your history and is part of your memories. Someone who, at the end, knows you were here. Someone for whom you truly mattered. But lest you think it’s all puppy dogs and rainbows, I want you to know that it’s not just get married, happily ever after, that’s it, the end.
I once MC-ed a friend’s wedding and in my speech I said that marriage is like picking the person you want to spend the rest of your life in a car with. You don’t road trip with just anyone. You have to really like a person to do that. The road will have it’s ups and downs, you’ll go through good weather and bad, you’ll be lost then find your way, you’d stay in some great places and some where the water doesn’t work, people will join you for a while and then they’ll be gone. To navigate that kind of trip properly you have to like the same things but not be the same person and you have to truly enjoy and accept the other’s company because after all the games are played, the magazines read and the radio’s off, it’s just the two of you forever, and that’s not something to be taken lightly. Lately, I feel like marriage in general, is up for debate. Should gay couples be given the same right to marry as straight ones? My answer is yes. Should it be harder to get out of a marriage so people take getting into it more seriously? I’d answer a provisional yes. Should you be able to be married to more than one person at the same time? I’d go with no. And are same sex marriages undermining the state of marriage? No, straight celebrity marriages are. I’m talking to you Kim Kardashian/Britney Spears/Renee Zellwiger…
If you find someone you want to marry – truly spend your life with, not, we’ll see how it goes – then treat it with respect. It’s not about the wedding. A beautiful wedding does not a beautiful marriage make. Don’t get me wrong, a fabulous day that celebrates you as a couple is a wonderful way to spend your money, but you still have to work on the marriage itself. When Dad and I got married (June 22, 2005) lots of people asked us why not just take the money we would spend on one day and use it for something more practical like the down payment on a house. That never occurred to us. We really wanted that day. Our day. And we never regretted it. To be able to make those promises to each other in front of our family and friends was so special for us. On my death bed, whenever that may be, I won’t be patting myself on the back for my practicality but reliving my most wonderful memories, and my wedding (and subsequent honeymoon) is right up there on that list.
It’s that memory. That day. That look you see on bride and groom’s faces that says “Oh my God we’re really doing this…” The way your relationship feels different after, no matter how long you’d been together before. It’s that legal and, if you believe it, spiritual bind that makes you truly family, truly an “Us” that makes marriage so special. Subsequently it’s that same feeling that makes same sex marriage a no brainer to me. Someone Granny’s age once said to me, “But why do they have to get married? They have all the same rights…” I responded with, “Why did I have to get married? Why did you?”. It’s different to be married. It means something different. It’s the ultimate statement of love and commitment and if you feel that way and are really willing to put your hands in and do the work you should be allowed to. No matter who it is you want to marry.
The thing is being married is no joke. It’s hard bloody work. It’s changing your pronoun from me to we. And though I’d advocate retaining your own identity within your marriage, you can no longer make decisions just for yourself and that’s hard adjustment to make. Your choices directly affect one another. You can’t just do what’s best for you. I’d hazard to say that’s why so many celebrity marriages fail.
When you’re a celebrity or married to your job, you live in a world where you are #1. In a celebrity’s case you have a team of people behind you who’s livelihood depends on your success. People who put their jobs first find they can’t just scrap it all based on what’s best for the marriage. They have to stay on their game. Do what the job asks of them and not what the marriage needs from them. Subsequently the marriage falters. Living in a different city than your spouse? Never going to work. Both people trying to be #1? Never going to work. For a marriage to succeed there has to be give and take. And that means one person has to give. It doesn’t always have to be the same person but it always has to be someone. You can’t be both looking out for yourself. It just doesn’t work that way.
Your father’s dream is to be a successful actor. When we met I was also an actor. Watching him go in and out of auditions with such confidence and success is one of the reasons I changed paths. He was loving it and I was becoming a neurotic mess worried about my hair and age and wrinkles. And when we decided to get married there just seemed like one too many actors in the family. At the time I likened it to being in Vegas where one of you is on a hot streak and the other is losing all their money. It just made sense for me to cash in my chips and give them to Sean. He had a better chance of winning for the both of us.
The trouble is, that was 8 years ago and though your father continues to earn a living as an actor, he still hasn’t “made it” and we struggle. We struggle to pay our bills. We struggle with my A type ambition and lack of “career”. We struggle with my realism vs. his “it’ll all work out” optimism. We struggle with my being sick and his having to earn almost all our income alone. We struggle when he’s away working one of his 3 jobs (on top of acting) and not seeing him enough. We struggle when he is home and working on one of the projects he hopes will take over from the side jobs, and we don’t see him enough. We struggle with the lack of time left in the day for me to get my dreams off the ground. We struggle with our fiery personalities and the fact that with 2 actors in the household someone always has the ability to get a little dramatic…
Baby, for all the great love your dad and I share, tying your life to another’s is a struggle. It’s worth it in our case, but it’s NOT EASY. When you were very little and we’d fight you’d scream. It upset us so much. We said we shouldn’t fight in front of you, but we weren’t so good at that. Now that you’re older you act like a little referee. You come into the room and if we’re raising our voices (which, despite our best efforts, we do often) you tell us to take a “Time Out”. I told you you could do that. I thought it might give you a sense of control when you might be feeling nervous about Daddy and me. It works. You like bossing us around and it gives us a chance to cool down. Your dad and I have a tendency to get on a bit of a train that neither of us can stop and our fights often escalate because of it. Having a period away from each other can help keep things in perspective. Sometimes, however, we don’t heed your advice and we keep at each other until we are both exhausted. That’s the thing, fighting is exhausting. I also think it can be healthy. We stopped trying to hide our disagreements from you for that reason. Is it pleasant? No. Does show you the truth of life? Yes. If you believed your parents never fought and then you got into a relationship and inevitably ended up fighting, you might say, “Well, this isn’t working. My parents never argued. This obviously isn’t the right person for me.” But if you see us fighting, then compromising, then understanding and then finally hearing and accepting each other you learn something much different. If we were parents that fought dirty, undermined each other and called each other names then perhaps you would just be learning nothing more than how to be cruel. But, for all your father and my bluster, we always work it through. We always come back to the table. We always end with love and that, in all it’s imperfection, is worth knowing.
And the things you fight about in a relationship are not all big things. More often than not is about dumb, everyday things like how you load the dishwasher. Sure, money, or our lack there of, is our biggest source of tension, but our most recent fight was about our cable provider. Dad wanted to switch and I didn’t. Everytime we switch something always goes wrong and we end up switching back. I wanted to avoid the anxiety and quite frankly I liked it all the way it was. I understood and could use it – and we have like 6 remote controls so that’s saying something. But the savings was $100/m, and I couldn’t in all good conscience say no, even though I really, really wanted to. The TV is my domain (your Dad’s more of a video gaming computer relaxer) so I’m a little testy about anything to do with it anyway.
So… we switched, and it broke down like this: Cable guy shows up and it’s not what they promised on the phone. We aren’t getting what we thought but are assured it’ll be “just as good”. The modem they install is faulty so they have to send us another one. The one they send us is different and doesn’t fit with the parts they’d installed. They have to send a technician to fix it. We go without cable, internet and phone service for 3 days. (Our cell phones don’t work in our house without our modem so we were really SOL). I stayed home from 8-12 to wait for a technician who never shows and when we call, they tell us that when they said “tomorrow” on Monday the person we spoke to was in INDIA and “tomorrow” actually meant Wednesday. I wait again the next day from 8-12. By the time I could actually turn on the TV, I found that my shows were now being broadcast with black bars on either side like I had a TV from 1987. When your Dad told me that was an SD channel and I had to find the HD channel to watch my show without the bars, I lost it. I told him I didn’t want to find it. I didn’t want to think this hard or try and relearn a whole new system that made me feel as technologically inept as my mother. I told him I was infuriated that I could no longer work the DVD player which was now his X-BOX and who’s controller felt like an alien in my hand. I went crazy and he was defensive and we subsequently lost it on each other. Terrible. Hideous. Behavior. 4 hours and multiple texts and phone calls later we realized that all he needed to say was, “I’ll fix it” and all I needed to say was, “Great, thank you” and the rest was just noise. But that’s the kind of noise you deal with when you tie your life to someone else. If I was single I’d just get the TV I liked and be done with it. But I’m not, so now I have to play You’ve Got Mail like I’m setting up for Modern Warfare 3 and do it with a smile on my face.
I think if we fought about major things like the way we treated each other or how to raise you it would be different, but for the most part we fight about ridiculous things like emptying the garbages (this never gets done) or opening the curtains (which is a must for me in the morning and for your father is a, justifiably, obscure and irrelevant issue). At the end of the day you have to put the relationship first. Is it more important to be right or to be happy? Does it really matter that I have to open the curtains? No. Shouldn’t I just be happy he makes the bed? Probably. This is not to say you should just roll over in a marriage, you should just ask yourself what’s best for it and try and make your decisions accordingly.
Your Dad and I talk about everything. Years ago when I was maybe 14 or 15, I was eating with Granny and Granddad in the dining room table and Granddad finished, thanked Granny for dinner and got up to leave. I told him (in the cheeky way that only a child can) that if he was going to leave the table first it would be great if he cleared. He didn’t even bat an eyelash. He was like, ok, sure. And he took our plates so Granny and I could keep talking. You could have knocked Granny over with a feather. After, she expressed how she couldn’t believe I’d said what I’d said, and more so, she couldn’t believe how easily Granddad had complied. I told her at the time – and have told her many times since about my own marriage – if you don’t ask for it, how will you ever get it? You have to say what you want. Don’t secretly seethe for 30 years that someone doesn’t do what you think they should. Everything is a compromise but most things are much simpler than we give them credit for. If the compromises are too big then maybe that’s not the right person for you anyway.
For all the difficulties that come with marriage there are also so many amazing things. To truly feel like part of a team. To have that kind of trust. It’s priceless. I read an article in Vanity Fair a couple of years ago about a classic old Hollywood star, her husband, her lover and her husband’s lover all vacationing together in the 1940’s. Sean and I discussed it. Affairs vs. Open Marriages. What works. What doesn’t. And what it came down to – after a very lively “what if” discussion – is that we wouldn’t want to mess with what we have. That any short term pleasure could never compare with the long term security and unity we have with each other. That even knowingly accepting that breech of trust would be like poisoning the well and it wasn’t worth it. Committing yourself to one person for the rest of your life is hard but it makes it so much easier to know that all your feelings, and all you are, are accepted within that relationship. Nothing is taboo. Nothing is off the table. Anything is possible but everything is not necessary. We also discovered we wanted to take more vacations together.
Your Dad and I have made a pact to get remarried every 5 years. It’s fun. We get to have a different kind of wedding and re-commit to each other and remind ourselves of why we got married in the first place. It’s not for other people. It’s just for us. On our 5th Anniversary we renewed our vows in Vegas. Elvis did the ceremony in a total of 4 and a half minutes (no joke, we have a DVD) and though we laughed through the whole thing saying the vows again meant something totally different 5 years later just as it will 10, 15, 40 years later. When you first start out you think everything is going to be perfect. Life isn’t perfect. For richer for poorer means more now. So does in sickness and in health.
Marriage is a journey and you have to celebrate your triumphs because not everyday is good. A couple that had been married for 60 some odd years was asked the secret of a lasting marriage and they said that neither had fallen out of love at the same time. That’s the thing. There’s ebbs and flows. You just have to keep growing and changing together. Encourage and help each other to become the best possible version of yourselves. Don’t swallow your feelings and be willing to trench it out to get to the other side of an issue. Keep working and keep finding new ways to respect and love the other. There are times when, at the end of the day your dad sits beside me on the bed and we just look at each other. As corny as it sounds, there is a stillness in his eyes. A calm I don’t have on my own and one I absolutely couldn’t live without. I’m safe with him. I’m happy. I’m cherished. I’m not alone. And that is worth everything.
Find it for yourself angel. Find it and don’t let go.
xo Mrs. McGowan (your mom)