It took me almost two years to say “we” instead of “I” after I got married. It wasn’t that I didn’t think of myself as part of a couple; it was that I’d been single for so long, living blissfully in bachelorette apartments and eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, listening to whatever music I fancied, going out whenever I pleased, and decorating with a personal flair that took no one else’s tastes into consideration. I had no concept of “share.”
Worse, I’d been an only child. I’d had no siblings vying for scarce resources. My parents only had to clothe, feed and educate one ankle biter. That is, until I was 13, and my brother came along, much to my horror. I found that the full-on attention and cooing I’d been accustomed to my entire life was now diluted by an interloper. Still, I was about to enter high school, and the arrival of this caboose meant that I would have a certain amount of independence, and diminished scrutiny that most teenagers would envy. So in truth, not much changed for me.
[pullquote]When he turns to you in that too-tight, corny vintage smoking jacket and asks, “How do I look?” Say, “Fine.”[/pullquote]
Fast forward to my early 30s, when I met my husband-to-be. Did I mention that he wasn’t the first? Or even the second? (I’d been busy when I was younger.) And I had a daughter, also an only child and just as equally inward and self-absorbed as I was. It’s a good thing that Paul was (and is) a kind, gentle soul with a natural tendency toward deferring first to others. Maybe it’s because he’s English, maybe it’s because his parents are polite, generous people, or maybe it’s because his own little brother arrived when he was just six. At any rate, he was a natural complement to my headstrong, willful ways and my daughter’s demanding Taurus nature, because he almost never disagreed with us. Whatever we wanted was fine with him, and from our wedding plans to where we would live, I was in charge and in control.
If Paul hadn’t been such an easy guy, there would have been trouble from the start — perhaps even a divorce. But his slow-to-anger, easy nature was just the thing I needed to help me evolve into a better, more aware person who actually considers the needs of others. I also learned that “sharing” is a far more nuanced concept than splitting the sandwich in two, grudgingly giving over the remote, or giving in to the whims of others at the dim sum table (even when it involves chicken feet). It’s also about how you spend time together (and with whom); it’s about making decisions together, rather than alone; and it’s about extending a kindness or making an exception when all you really want to do is close the door and be with your bon-bons and your trashy novel. Sharing is about time and adjusting your headspace, as much as anything else. After 23 years in a very happy marriage, with the expected but never shattering bumps along the way, here are 11 things I learned about sharing that I wish I’d learned a whole lot sooner than I did.
1. When your gay BFF is jealous of your new husband because he’s losing his regular Saturday night dance club buddy, think twice about taking your man along for the ride.
2. Before inviting your six besties over for drinks, pizza and a tarot reading after work, ask your guy first. Or at the very least, give him some advance warning.
3. When cutting your teeth on the whole sharing idea, focus on the right things. Not everyone likes to share towels. Or toothbrushes. Or underwear. It’s not always about things. Instead of saying, “That’s nice, dear” when he wants you to croon over the grimy lug nuts he skillfully wrenched from the car, or that dandy Excel spreadsheet with the multi-variate formulas, give him some mindshare.
4. I know your mother always used to bring you chicken soup and tea when you had the flu. When your husband gets sick, think about that before you flounce out the door to see The Ramones after you’ve given his ticket to your bestest.
5. If you are fortunate enough to have a husband or partner who will accompany you to the ballet, the opera, museums and live theater, a few weeks of World Cup games isn’t going to kill you. Besides, two matches are typically shorter than a single American football game.
6. When he turns to you in that too-tight, corny vintage smoking jacket and asks, “How do I look?” Say, “Fine.”
7. No matter how tired, stressed, and distracted you are by your job, your husband is more important. If he wants to take you out to dinner on the night when a hideous deadline is looming, your boss wants to take you for happy hour, or the staff surprised you with new project deliverables, make time for him. It sets a precedent when you don’t.
8. I know that you actually want to park a car in the garage. It kind of makes sense, right? But really, there isn’t room in the garage for the car, his motorbike, and all his man things (tools, tool cabinets, that air compressor thingamabob, and lots of other fiddly bits you don’t know the names of). Let him have the garage. After all, you’ve taken all the bedroom closets, every drawer in the bathroom, the medicine cabinet, and his winter coats and hats are in the basement. Always.
9. When you’re down to the dregs in that bottle of wine, don’t always give him the shortest glass.
10. Of course you don’t like the 30-year friend who wears tie-dye t-shirts, drinks PBR and still listens to the Grateful Dead. But he doesn’t like your friend who channels dead people at dinner parties.
11. When you’re walking across the Brooklyn Bridge together, under the stars in the brisk cold air after a lovely New Year’s Eve, and he challenges your earlier decision to confront the drunk chicks from New Jersey, which started a bit of a row and meant you had to leave early, say nothing. Take his unshaved face in both hands, give him a big sloppy kiss, and tell him you love him.