Discretion Is the Better Part of Marriage

Discretion Is the Better Part of Marriage

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Discretion Is the Better Part of Marriage

Seventeen years ago on a cold and blustery Saturday, I stood in the arch of a sanctuary with baby’s breath in my hair and a foolish grin on my face, too big of a ninny to realize that I ought to be scared to death.

As a swell of Mozart filled air that was thick with my great aunt’s Chantilly, my nervous, tuxedo-clad father bent down to whisper what I thought would be words of paternal wisdom. “It’s not too late,” he hissed, waving a wad of bills. “If you want to weasel out of this, I’ll give you five hundred bucks and a Greyhound ticket any place you want to go.”

I didn’t tell my soon-to-be husband, Jeff, this story for several years. It wasn’t that Dad didn’t like “that tall kid”—he did—but the combination of watching my sister’s impulsive first marriage unravel and knowing that Jeff and I had met less than five months before was making him a little gun shy.

That problem was soon remedied. As some wit said, marriage remains the most efficient way to get acquainted. We met over Labor Day, got engaged at Thanksgiving and married in the windiest January on record. Between immediately moving out east where neither of us knew a soul and then having a child before our second anniversary, we got to know each other (as my southern Missouri relatives would say) right soon.

Though seventeen years hardly qualifies us for one of those fatuous anniversary greetings from Willard Scott, we’ve been married long enough to know a thing or two. Before the honeymoon was over, we were certain that the bozo who wrote “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” had obviously never been married. While having the last word might be intellectually satisfying, it’s mighty chilly on your own side of the bed. We’ve also been married long enough to know how much fun it is to have private jokes that drive our children crazy. It would take us a very long time to explain to them why the terms “garlic milk shakes” and “bluebird watching society” set us off, and besides, you had to be there.

We were relieved to discover that we don’t have to enjoy the same things to enjoy each other. We both like long road trips on blue highways, old houses and junk shops. After that, we part company. I like Victor Borge; he likes Jimi Hendrix. I love exotic travel; he has never had a passport. He loves musicals where the ruddy villagers burst inexplicably into song; I like Ingmar Bergman dramas in which pale, suicidal sisters communicate in cryptic whispers. He likes to dance; I have two left feet.

Over the years, we’ve discovered that discretion is the better part of matrimony. He has not once pointed out that I am routinely responsible for 75 percent of the long-distance calls on the phone bill. When I see the telltale yellow of a parking ticket on his chest of drawers, I permit myself no more than a raised eyebrow. He doesn’t comment when I stay up until 2 A. M. reading a mystery even though I’ve been whining about how much I have to do the next day; I pretend I don’t know he blows a half an hour and a few bucks at the video arcade each time he takes the boys to the mall. I nod in agreement when, with ambition born of a Saturday morning, he says he’s going to patch, sand and paint the bedroom after going into the office in the morning and before running errands in the afternoon (even though I know he’ll be “resting his eyes” in his favorite chair before the first dribble of paint hits the dropcloth).

And perhaps most astonishingly, of all the innumerable times over the last seventeen years I have put something on and asked if it makes me look fat, he has always feigned astonished denial. Not once has he said, “What do you mean? You are fat.”

We have learned that, “How can I help?” works better than “I told you so,” and that “I love you” works better than “What’s your problem?”

Still, if I had it to do over, I’d take the bus ticket and the money my dad offered instead of the dyed-to-match shoes, the sterling flatware and the obligatory feeding-each-other-cake shot in the deluxe portrait package. But wherever I went, I’d take Jeff with me.

Rebecca Christian

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