My wife has (temporarily) left me. She’s gone to visit her folks in the South, while I stay and work, etc. Ah, how I already miss having spring breaks.
I immediately got down to business. On Monday night, just a few hours after she’d left, I secured the public library card I’ve been meaning to get for weeks now, then checked out Millhauser’s Martin Dressler (my unread copy is in storage) and Pullman’s The Golden Compass (for a re-read). I was hoping to get Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove (even though I’ve lately sworn off short stories), but I’ll have to wait for a copy to come in. I made Annie’s taco-seasoned mac-n-cheese with some Quorn meatballs for dinner(enough for two), and I laid on the couch with Martin Dressler for the next few hours.
Reading is a solitary activity, so it’s not really marriage’s best friend. I’d like to spend all my waking hours with my wife, and I’d also like to spend all my waking hours with my nose in a book (and all my waking hours writing, of course). Perhaps that’s even the reason (coupled with The End of School) that I watched more television (on dvd and netflix) over the past three years than in the entire the previous decade: my wife and I share a tv experience, can even talk during the show or take a break together. The tv has brought us together in the way a book cannot.
(This was not always the case. I’m envious that families used to gather together around the hearth to listen to each other read aloud. My family even did that in one of the most memorable spring breaks of my life when they had me be the “book on tape” while we drove through Canada. I read The Hobbit aloud, and though I was only a sixth grader at the time, I still recognized the importance of doing all the voices, and so learned how hard that is to do when you’ve not read the book in advance.)
Another perk of my wife being gone is that I still cook for two. Few recipes, either from scratch or from a box, will make one serving—and now that I’m tracking my food intake, I try to eat only one real serving. The extra serving, of course, becomes tomorrow’s lunch, so I eliminate extra labor. This particular efficiency of the bachelor’s life has much to recommend it. In fact, when I finally overcome my laziness, I should start cooking family size portions for my wife and I so that we’ll always have leftovers.
In other words, there are a lot of benefits to single life, all of which could be summed up in one statement: Marriage Is Hard. My wife has said this to me a lot, and, ever the optimist, I’ve resisted her. It’s not that I think she’s wrong, but our really good times watching Terriers or LOST together come more quickly to mind than the difficulty of coordinating simultaneous breakfast schedules, and those fun shared experiences are so much better as a couple than they would be alone. The solitary pleasures of reading are nice, and I don’t want to lose those, but then the book is over and I want to talk about what I just read. And, of course, I can’t praise enough the fact that my wife has heroically taken on the laundry. The list could go on and on.
Still, marriage is hard. Maybe we forget this aspect because there are few depictions of “difficult” marriages that work (the film Hope Springs is a poignant counterexample), whereas we’re more likely to see marriage as the rom-com happy ending, the backdrop for a too-sweet Steve Martin–esque family fairy tale, or the all-out war of impending “high art” relationship disaster. If married characters in a story are having any difficulties whatsoever, we are trained to assume the worst—even if the worst doesn’t happen—and in this way, through the same sideways form of logic that underpins so many cultural developments, marriage has become, in addition to being an inevitable life event, an end-all solution to all life’s problems, guaranteed to make you 100% happy (but only if you were destined to be together from the start!): All your laundry will be done instantaneously! Meals will appear on the table from nowhere! The bills will be magically paid! But none of these solutions are actually found in marriage. Instead, dirty clothes pile up in half the time, your hunger-crankiness is magnified by two, etc.
So it’s nice to be alone, AND I can’t wait for my wife to return. No one solution gets me through life easier than the other, even as both sets of directions take me down very different routes.
P.S. Martin Dressler was an interesting read in this context, being a fairy tale about ambition and the American Dream that depends dramatically on the ups and downs of its protagonist’s love life for its ultimate effect. As the story goes along, the main character dreams bigger and bigger dreams, and the public supports him, loves him—and so do the women in his life. But then he goes too far, does something too new, and the public reacts accordingly. Likewise, the women in his life mirror his public success in how they connect or disconnect with him. I’m not sure I grasped everything in the book, as it’s a story with a very light touch. But I enjoyed the chance to read through the entire novel in just two sittings.