I rarely ever listen to KPCC, a radio station out of Pasadena, because it’s mostly talk, but I happened onto it the other day when I heard a comedic duo, Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn, who’ve been married to each other for thirteen years. They were on the air talking about what it takes to be married and stay together, and they wrote about it in their book, You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up: A Love Story (Crown)
One of Annabelle’s ideas is that because she didn’t ever want to marry, she had low expectations of marriage. Thus, as she says, she’s happier than expected. “Low expectations equals happiness.”
They also point out how many people think that getting married will solve all their problems. “No,” says Jeff, “it’s the beginning of new problems.”
They said their marriage was floundering until they wrote this book, and they do a comedy act together now. “Performing with Annabelle is better than therapy,” said Jeff. “Therapy is having one long argument in some stranger’s living room.”
I listened, laughed, and felt their truths. When marriages don’t work (I’d been there once), then you fight over the silliest things. Is it better to put clean coffee cups right side up in the cupboard or upside down? “There’s dust that will settle if you keep it up,” she says. “What about the dust already on the cupboard if you put it upside down?” I say.
You argue about when to leave for a friend’s house for dinner until you’re an hour late. You argue over where the new plum tree goes when you really wanted an orange tree. The arguments are about everything except what’s really at the core: your own heart. It might even be reduced to, “You don’t respect me; you don’t love me.”
Except you can’t say that. You probably don’t let yourself think it. Yet you feel it.
Sex, of course, plays a part of happiness, and Jeff feels he’s always trying to get into his wife’s pants. He says, “I want to have sex every day, but Annabelle only wants to do it once a week. So we compromise: we have sex once a week.”
This is one area where women truly may not get guys. Men think of sex the way the dog next door barks. The dog always barks. As my father once said—and he’s a scientific guy—thoughts of sex happen about every nine minutes. Men are the sonar on the sub under the water: donk… donk… donk. We are the frog’s leg in the biology lab, ready to leap at the slightest stimulation. We are water boiling in a pressure cooker. There better be a valve there, or something will explode.
The evidence is all around us: all the affairs, all the politicians’ sexual scandals, the billions of dollars a year spent on porn. You can’t figure women are spending much on porn. Men are. It’s the relief valve. The pressure, after all, is what causes the human race to go on; the programming is strong. In 1950, the world population was just over 2.5 billion. Now it’s 6.8 billion—two and a half times larger in just sixty years. How many people can the earth support? Donk… donk… donk.
But the big picture nor population size is what drives people into marriage. In America, it’s love and happiness. Weddings are fun. It’s supposed to be the start of a lifetime of fun--until you learn how differently your spouse thinks. Now that’s funny.
That said, my wife Ann seems to get me. She’d probably say that I don’t think I get her at all. I probably don’t. If I learned one thing, women are perceptive. Still, I know she sees most of life is about responsibility. There are always shoes to pick up and cat boxes to clean. Somewhere between work and wrangling with four cats, two dogs, an eleven-year-old daughter, and a twenty-two-year-old son, we have 3.4 minutes of free time every two weeks. That’s enough time for sex, right?
Annabelle at one point wanted to talk to Jeff about the future, and Jeff said what’s to talk about? “We’ll get old and sick and go in the hospital. Then we’ll get out and get sick again and do that until we die.” She didn’t want to go that far into the future.
The way I look at it, that’s our destiny, so why argue? Enjoy each other for what you are now. Enjoy each other as you gray. Somewhere in the course of each day, let yourself laugh.
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