Trouble with Men in Paradise
By: Judith Toy
What gets us in to trouble with men? That we were raised with the dumb and dumber ethic of someday-my-prince-will-come? That we expect him to be our perfected Adam? That we are searching for Johnny Depp and he will never measure up —or down? That we take hostages instead of entering relationships? That we expect them to tell us the truth (except on those notable occasions when we ask, “Honey, do these pants make my . . .” Do we want someone, anyone, to wonder where we are when we don’t come home at night? Do we smother each other with expectations? Does their silence/loquaciousness break our hearts? Are they as tight/loose with their money as they are with their love? Do we want someone to adore us and someone to adore, no matter how much weight we/they gain/lose or how many stupid mistakes we/they make? By the way, doesn’t signing a pre-nuptial agreement beg the question? Isn’t that like getting married in your burial shroud, which is what the Classical Greek woman was expected to do?
I’m just saying . . .
There is as much trouble as there are men. Yet I’ve been exclusively with one of the gender for over 35 years, through the (hair)raising of Philip’s children and mine, the tragic death of one of his, and the peaks and valleys of our lives and careers, along with ample marital aches and bliss. He is not the Johnny Depp. He’s my Johnny Depp and my Adam, because wherever he is, I’m in a sort of paradise. This no longer equates to our sex life, though, which, back in the day, was tres importante. Crucial even. The novelist Jerzy Kosinski said that while he was inspired by human sexuality, he found the act itself mechanical. Sex held little interest for him. I get that now; sex dissipates our energy. But then I wanted, no, needed, a plethora of physical passion. I was in that ultimate altered state of blind love. I swear that my feet did not hit the ground for three-and-a-half years into our partnership.
Among our friends, eight couples married the same year we did. Five years hence, we were the only couple left standing. I do not need to list the elements of our culture legislating against a solid, stable, long-term relationship. Second and third marriages with his and her kids place a huge and complicated toll on relationships, as do difficult finances, additional in-laws, chemical and digital addictions.
Philip and I were blessed to begin with more than the usual synchronicities: we sang solos in our churches as kids; played the piano and were poets with an early interest in Alan Watts and Zen. We were bean sprout and tofu types. The brats of our families, we were volatile and overly sensitive. And we walked the same spiritual path. When we combined our libraries, we had plenty of doubles. Our nascent lives even intertwined in the foothills of the Appalachians—his in Pittsburgh, mine in Cleveland—when I stayed on the green Ohio River with my fraternal grandfather. After dark, behind the big plate glass windows overlooking the water below, I doused all the lights except one and signaled to passing boats by turning a lamp on and off. Philip’s father was one of the riverboat captains who always signaled back.
In partnerships, our signals are easily crossed. I notice that couples get caught up in bickering. Not that Philip and I don’t bicker. And not that we don’t finish each other’s sentences, or say, “Honey, it did not happen that way. Let me tell it.” In our younger days, we had epic fights. He broke his finger punching an upholstered chair, and I broke my toe kicking one of his boots. And yell? One time he threw a phone book at me, but I’m certain he purposely missed. Is it possible that the other seven couples did not fight well enough? American folk sage Ann Landers said that all married couples should learn the art of battle as well as the art of making love. But isn’t that the origin of war? Now, one of us takes a walk; you know, mindful walking? “Breathing in, I am angry. Breathing out, I am livid…” And it works.
That my husband and I were raised by devoted married couples helps. Our parents’ marriages were never in question. Half of our young adults have no role models for intimacy. A method Philip and I discovered to amp up our intimacy and melt into the day is our Precious Time. These sacrosanct moments happen in bed before first light and involve cuddling and tea.
We also practice Listening whenever one of us voices the need; one speaks, the other listens. We make eye contact. The rules are: no reacting, responding, body language, changes in facial expression, nor comments by the listener. Afterwards, we do not discuss what the speaker said. This is a time, maybe 20 or 30 minutes, for venting or even dreaming, certain that our partner will clearly hear us. We mine the un-mined places of our couple hood. Looking into his eyes, intently listening, I find inside the man I married untold mysteries to plumb.
Frederick Nietzsche claimed that marriages end not for lack of love, but for lack of friendship. “Marry a good conversationalist,” he advised. Philip and I yak endlessly about the mundane, including the price of cheese; both of us like to philosophize. When we run out of talk, we read aloud. I cannot count the times I have fallen asleep to the sound of his fuzzy voice, familiar and dear. We often sit in the same room or on the same rock by the creek, not talking. The sound of the water holds everything. After all, silence is one argument impossible to refute.
Besides writing, Judith Toy practices yoga and mountain hiking with her dogs. She is author of Murder as a Call to Love, A True Story of Transformation and Healing, available at www.murderasacalltolove.com. Toy and her husband lead mindfulness and meditation at Cloud Cottage Sangha in Black Mountain. Call 828-669-0920 or write firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.