Obligation is the sole reason to play a game that you know you will lose. While spending my first Christmas at my new boyfriend’s mom’s house, the smarty pants college educator got out her favorite game, Scrabble. His entire family is good at it. I explained to the family that I never really played before. “What do you usually do for Christmas, Cammi?” the brother asked me, shocked.
“Oh!” I answered, “Usually, after opening gifts, me, my sisters, and all the kids sit around the room and make fun of whoever is fattest.” It’s a family favorite and also very competitive.
It was clear by the Scrabble scores that I wasn’t like them. So clear that a longtime friend during drinks one night commented, “You married up. Huh?” At the time, I laughed; he knew all about me and my family; my dad worked in a factory, I was the first person to go to college, when we fight there’s a lot of screaming and breaking shit. Sometimes the police show up. I learned how to play bocce and bet on horses. Later, after thinking about my friend’s comment for a while, I became insulted and horrified—that’s what people thought of me? Gold-digger? But, “gold-digger” only fits when there’s gold to dig.
Meeting my husband, Warren, was the best thing that ever happened to my father. When I went to college my dad decided I should be a nurse because I could definitely get a job and those are the only jobs women get. In his defense, he was born in the early Thirties and there happen to be a million hospitals in Cleveland. He never took into account the fact that when I walked into a hospital I would automatically fill with dread and start uncontrollably crying because people “get sick.” People in my family describe me as “sensitive.” I decided to get a degree in art because who wants money and being sensitive is an attribute. My dad, naturally, was terrified I would pregnantly drag home some degenerate artist that would lead to years of me moving in and out of the house, borrowing money from him—and possibly to a Lifetime movie. When I brought Warren home, I could see his inner monologue whistling the song “I’m In The Money.” Warren had “potential earner” written all over him. To this day the first thing my dad says to me on the phone is “How’s Warren doing?” Which, in translation means, “Who cares about you, is Warren making money?”
The last thing I fantasized about, as a girl, was my wedding day. I never thought about what my wedding dress would be like. I never thought about bridesmaids, party favors, chicken or filet mignon. In retrospect, it probably would have helped if I had, because it took five years for my husband and me just to agree on a location. At 27, I never wanted to get married. I thought: married people are kidding themselves; monogamy is totally unreasonable; and everyone gets divorced. And even after being married for sixteen years, I still think that. In fact, I’m pretty sure that denial of being married is how we’ve managed to stay married. We don’t wear wedding rings.
When I met Warren, I knew I wanted to be with him forever. He was the smartest person I had ever met, he wouldn’t have sex on the first date (which, honestly, I thought was weird) and, mostly, I liked his style. He has great taste in eyeglasses and a moral and ethical compass that could cut a bitch. It was refreshing. Especially after dating a string of men that would steal pills out of anyone’s mom’s bathroom cabinet (“This one’s a blood thinner for cancer patients, it’ll get you drunk faster!”).
My parents, really old-fashioned, made it known that Warren and I were “living in sin” and wouldn’t let us sleep in the same bedroom any time we came to visit them. We got engaged after 9/11 and married five years later. I had to get that marriage thing rolling if my parents weren’t going to die disappointed. It was the happiest day of their lives. All those years imagining us in the same bed together, fornicating. Gross! Now since we’ve been married the last thing we want to do when we visit them is sleep in the same tiny beds. When he says, “Can’t you move over a little bit?” it means: “You dragged me to your family’s house, now isn’t there anywhere else you can go sleep?”
Warren and I fight. A lot. I know the difference between right and wrong, but it does get dark and soupy in places. During one of our first big arguments—I believe it was about who was in charge (me) of taking the laundry to the laundromat, sitting there for two hours, folding it, bringing it home and putting it all away—I threw a bottle of Tide at him. Near him, to be clear. He calmly stated that if I ever threw anything at him again, we were over. It led me to reevaluate my problem-solving techniques.
I’ve found that during our time together, my arguing style goes through cycles. After the Tide incident, I would employ “silence” as a fighting strategy. That stopped working after two or three arguments with his simple, “If you’ve got a problem, say something, I can’t read your mind.”
And my quiet passive-aggressive response, “I just wish you would shut the drawer.”
When that became a bore, I began to critically reason out my concerns and issues. “If you could please shut the drawer, I would really appreciate it. The knob is leaving a bruise on my hip.” It seemed to work, but after time it became ineffective. That led to screaming and yelling, “SHUT THE FUCKING DRAWER!” That got some attention for a while, but … he eventually became numb to it, as one does. When you reach a fever pitch, there’s only one way to go, without reverting to throwing things of course, and that is back to silence. It becomes effective again. The system works and takes years. I believe, in the sixteen years we’ve been together, we are currently in the middle of the fourth cycle. Warren has his own style that works for him as well, the Bruce Lee style of “fighting without fighting.” I can appreciate it. But it’s not a fight about the drawer at all. It’s about money.
Even though we are both artists, our careers are completely different. As a graphic designer, he does what he loves, is good at it and gets rewarded for it financially. For me, having gotten an MFA in sculpting, I’m essentially qualified for lottery winner, mediocre karaoke singer, and pierogi maker. He makes and has always made more money than I do. Because of this, we have shared a bank account since we first met. But even though Warren has been exceedingly generous with it, I don’t feel like it’s not “our” money but his money, especially when I’m spending it on cute socks from T.J. Maxx. Whether true or not, I feel like we’re always doing what he wants to do, from dinner to vacation, to what we’re going to watch on the TV. I call it the “Warrenocracy”—a line stolen from the movie Bring It On. He loves it! (Just kidding.) Big deal, right? Money is what every couple fights about the most. That, and finding lube under the bed. If it’s not your lube, then whose is it?
That only happened once, a few years ago.
Neither of us has cheated on the other. However, the lube incident did lead us down a dark path. I texted Warren, “I found your tube of lube under the bed when I was cleaning.”
He called me immediately. I didn’t pick up, left before he got home from work and stayed out at the bars until 4 a.m. He was so upset I didn’t call back that he took a drill and screwed the door closed. (Also screwing himself in, but no matter, it’s the gesture.) When I got home, he was awake and the door was already unscrewed (the drill holes remained). We just stood there looking at each other. He said it wasn’t his lube and I said okay. We hugged then went to sleep.
Even though I believed him, (we determined it was left over from some houseguests who will remain nameless) I painted our bedroom bubblegum pink while he was at work one day. He hates coming home to an apartment that’s a totally different color. But the bedroom was so bright and jarring, I had to start sleeping on the couch. Do you see what I mean now about denial? Monogamy? Bad decisions? Backfiring color revenge?
It’s hard to believe that anyone would want this—gays, straights, penguins. But alas, we do (well, not the penguins), even against what we know is medieval, nonsensical. The pressure of not getting married is too overwhelming. It’s also too weird. I asked one of my students, a twenty-year-old aspiring artist from California, if she wanted to get married, and she said, “Absolutely.” When I pressed her on why, she said, “I just want to be normal.” I told her she was out of her mind, but sure. I’m no dream crusher.
Even though we refuse to wear matching outfits, I still really like Warren and I continue to live my life as a married person. It’s got its benefits, aside from tax breaks. I call him five times a day to see what’s for dinner and he understood when I listlessly laid on the couch for two weeks when my mom died. We celebrate each other’s success and sympathize with each other when we fail.
Instead of sex fantasies like a normal person, I fantasize about the day when I come home with a check for $1,000,000 and say something like, “How do you like me now? We are going to do whatever I want for the rest of our lives and if you don’t like it I’ll divorce you and buy someone that does.” We’ll laugh really hard and I’ll say, “I’m serious.” Then, we’ll get a three-bedroom apartment, I’ll have my dad move in, he’ll finally get that unlimited time with Warren and we can host Warren’s family for Scrabble night. It’s unlikely, yes. Quixotic, perhaps (26 Scrabble points) … but aren’t all marriages?
Art credit: Sir William Quiller Orchardson, Marriage of Convenience, 1883