Tuesday, 16 January 2018

When Do Two Become One?

I've been reading an amazing book this week. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Strout is a beautiful writer, so skilful with words and images. Her work puts me in mind of Alice Munro, and of another Canadian writer, David Adams Richards. I love how all three of these writers make me feel as if I'm crawling right inside the lives of their characters. Characters who are not obvious heroes, who are not necessarily beautiful or exciting, but who are living ordinary, often difficult, lives with dignity and honour. 

Yesterday, I plunked myself down amidst the muddle and mess of our renovations to have a cup of tea and a short read. I was struck by a scene in Olive Kitteridge where Olive's son, Christopher, gets married to a woman he's known for only six weeks. During the ceremony, Olive feels a sense of disquiet, of fear for her son. Of course she wants him to find happiness, to not be lonely, but still, she's wary of her new daughter-in-law, and worries "at the way the bride was smiling up at Christopher, as though she actually knew him. Because did she know what he looked like in first grade when he had a nosebleed in Miss Lampley's class? Did she see him when he was a pale, slightly pudgy child, his skin broken out in hives because he was afraid to take a spelling test? No...." 

This scene had me musing all afternoon. As Hubby and I worked to put our house to rights, I thought about marriage. About that old cliché of two becoming one. About the idea and the reality of matrimony, holy or otherwise. How two people who probably, as Olive points out, know little about each other commit to each other for life. Supposedly. And how the marriage ceremony itself does little to unify a couple, to make two people become one. 


Our "By Invitation Only" theme this month is unity. And that scene in Olive Kitteridge had me thinking the rest of the day about my own marriage. How well Hubby and I thought we knew each other when we got married, after having dated for a year, and lived together for another three. How much we've discovered about each other in the almost twenty-nine years since then. And what has made us more unified as a couple, what has helped us to become if not exactly "one," then certainly more "one" than we were on our wedding day. Ha. 


First, let's be perfectly clear; I'm not an expert on relationships, not at all. And I'm not advising anyone on anything. Heaven forbid. In fact, the older I get the more I realize that I'm not that much of an expert on my own relationships. But maybe NOT being an expert is a good thing, or at least not thinking I'm an expert, that I have all the answers. Most of my life I've felt like I'm in that scene out of the old adventure movie Raiders of the Lost Arc, the one where Indiana Jones tells Marion that he's making it up as he goes along. 

man and woman sitting on top of a mountain peak, snow covered mountains behind
Climb every mountain together. Yukon, 2008. 
Because that's what marriage is, to me at least. An adventure where we have to figure things out on the fly, make it up, so to speak, as we go along. And looking back it's the moments where boulders were bearing down upon us, where we had to commandeer a truck and take off after a passel of Nazis, figuratively speaking of course, which helped us to move forward in our relationship. We faced adversity, figured things out together, and were stronger as a couple as a result. 

Hubby and I have not had to face the kinds of challenges that some of our family and friends have faced, that's for sure. I know that some challenges are so devastating they can break up a relationship, rather than make it stronger. But still, we've weathered loss, and illness, and other stressful situations together. And we've learned about ourselves and each other, what to do, and what not to do, in order to best support each other. 


woman on a mountainside, with hood drawn tightly over her head, looking cold
Freezing on Mount Kosciuszko, New South Wales, Australia 2008

Like how I learned that nursing is not my forté when Hubby had his heart and his shoulder operations. And that he doesn't like to be coddled. Conversely, he's learned that coddling is the way to my heart of hearts. And so when he's sick I leave him alone, and when I'm sick he panders to me. When we were in New Zealand a few years ago, I had a killer cold: sore throat, couldn't talk, felt like death. I woke up in our motel room to find that he'd been to the grocery store and bought oatmeal to make me porridge for breakfast, plus fresh lemon for tea, and chicken noodle soup for lunch. Then he "loaded me into the car" (as he tells it) and we set off for our next destination. We had our camp stove with us, and at noon, he pulled off the road beside a farmer's field, and made me soup and tea for lunch, while I slept on a blanket in the sunshine. We don't have any pictures of me looking dreadful that day in New Zealand, but the shot above is of me not feeling too swift the day we tried to hike up Mount Kosciuszko in Australia. Clearly I had not come prepared for the temperatures or the wind chill. 

Travel has been a great relationship coach for us over the years. When it's just us, together in a strange place, well, we have no option but to rely on each other. And we have been in some strange places. We still laugh about the night on another Australia trip when we stayed in the worst hotel ever. We'd booked a room through a tourist information site a few hours away, where the lady agreed that a night in a classic Aussie pub, in a small town in the middle of Western Australia, would be great fun. And from the pictures, it seemed the Goomalling Tavern with its shady second story wrap-around balcony was a classic, just what we were looking for. Ha. 

woman sitting on bed in a dingy hotel room looking not pleased
Not happy at Not the Ritz, in Goomalling, 2008
By the time we arrived, had a friendly pint with the proprietor and a few of the locals in the bar, and were shown our room, we were too tired to say..."Uh... you've got  to be kidding." At first glance, it didn't look all that bad. Until we returned after supper, and I discovered when I pulled apart the curtains that the window in the room was boarded up, that behind my bed were cobwebs and dirt that looked years old. There was no way I was getting under those blankets. I slept on top of the coverlet, with my coat thrown over me, and my socks on. I won't bother to go into detail about the shower down the hall, which we did not use, or the room with the toilet that looked as if it might actually fall off the back of the building. 

door to a balcony with "no escape" sign
The exit to the balcony at Hell Hole Hotel.
That's supposed to be the exit to the balcony, above, where we hoped we might sit with our wine after dinner. Ha. Faint hope there, folks. The balcony was closed, unsafe, we were told. Well, the sign says it all. Once darkness fell, we imagined we were in that old Eagles' song. You know, the one that says "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave?"

Of course there is an upside here. I earned major brownie points for my very mature and flexible behaviour that night. Hubby still says, "I can't believe that you agreed to stay." But, he'd been doing all of the driving, we had been on the road for many hours before we arrived at Hell Hole Hotel (as I called it,) and driving around in the dark, exhausted, looking for somewhere else to stay was just not on. I didn't tell him for months, though, that I kind of wanted to smother him as I lay there sleepless, in the dark, trying not to touch anything, listening to him snore. 

I didn't smother him, as you might have guessed. And I'm sure we stayed in a much more salubrious accommodation the next night. I seem to recall a lovely cabin in a caravan park on the coast.  It's funny that this single night at this ghastly hotel is one of our favourite stories. "Remember that night in Goomalling?" he'll ask. "You mean Hell Hole Hotel in Gruesome Goomalling?" I reply. "Was it THAT bad?" he'll say. "Yes," I always say, "Yes, it was." And we chortle. 

As I said, I'm no expert on relationships, not even on those in my own life. But you get my point. That adversities, even small ones, tackled together can forge or strengthen a bond. Create a more unified structure to any marriage. Not sure that structure is the word I want here, but we were talking about hotels. 

And I do know that the day of our wedding Hubby and I thought we knew much more about each other than we did. But that's the way with everyone, I imagine. 

I will also say that over the years, tackling adversity together, not all of it as funny as our night at Hell Hole Hotel, our marriage has been a lot like an Indiana Jones movie. We've had to make it up as we went along. Except without the Nazis and the boulders. 

Ha. Hopefully without the boulders.

Danger and road closed signs where water has covered a road
When the road is closed, I guess you just have to find a different route. Kind of make it up as you go along.


So how about you my friends? Where do you stand on that old cliché about two becoming one? Have you had to dodge any boulders, or chase any Nazis, metaphorically speaking of course, in your relationships? 


Since this is a "By Invitation Only" post, make sure you stop by Daily Plate of Crazy to see what the other bloggers have cooked up for you.




Two Traveling Texans

Linking up with Thursday Favourites at Katherine's Corner  and Saturday Share at Not Dressed as Lamb

37 comments:

  1. What a beautiful, rich, and personal approach to the subject of unity. Indeed, it takes two very special people to make life as a couple work, and adversity can either bring you together or break you apart. Thank you so much for your example of living, loving and working together.

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  2. I do agree that adversity can be divisive or truly bonding.

    Your hotel story reminds me of many stories my husband and I share as we travelled back and forth across Canada many times having so many problems with our cars and the places we stayed. At that time I kept a diary and we still often read parts of it and laugh until we cry.

    There were many hikes and adventures when we were lost or had emergencies. Oh what we managed to survive!

    Of course all of that is put into perspective when one of you gets seriously ill. We were both seriously ill within a year and that was very difficult.

    Now, with our newest challenge being distance away from each other we continue learning how to successfully navigate our shared lives. One thing for sure, when I got married I knew I didn't want it to be boring. I've succeeded.

    Suzanne

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    1. I keep a travel diary too, and we love to read it out loud to each other and laugh. Sounds like you and your husband have weathered lots of "boulders" in your marriage:)

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  3. Oh yes. There are plenty of stories where we look back and laugh at how awful something was, just as there are plenty when we remember great times. After 30+ years together it would be very odd if there were not. But, like you, I haven't smothered him yet and I haven't caught him about to throw the hairdryer into my bath water. And there are all those little things that you just don't tell. That's fine. Brave post, might I add.

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    1. You're right, of course. After many years there are bound to be good and bad times. Not all of the bad times are worthy of reminiscing about. Just the ones that make good stories.

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  4. As always Sue, an exceptionally well written post. Yes, to have unity means compromise, but not always one sided. Marriage is just a microcosm of the world. It’s thinking and trying to understand the other...
    Ali

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    1. Thanks, Ali. Compromise is important, isn't it?

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  5. This was so fun to read--the disaster hotels are either a nightmare or a comedy sketch. It seems like you two had the right attitude. Certainly the survivor tales are worth telling!

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    1. Thanks. Nightmare AND comedy sketch, I think. Wish I had pictures of the shower room and the toilet. We wondered why the building hadn't been condemned.

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  6. Your ‘ not happy in Goomalling face ‘ is pretty formidable - scares me ! Hope Stu doesn’t get that too often :) we’ve shared some grim hotel rooms too in our time . I remember cockroaches swarming round our bed in Turkey . After chasing them away we wedged towels under the doors to keep them out . Later in the holiday hubbie was taken into police custody for driving into a local boy who ran in front of our car - everything turned out OK though , no injuries or charges & we loved Turkey . All good bonding experience , which is important in a relationship . There are bound to be tricky patches , rocky times , but if you’ve managed to establish a real bond , or unity , you don’t give up easily .
    I’m looking forward to reading Olive K but I’m still engrossed in Dalziel & Pascoe . I didn’t expect to laugh at them so much .
    Wendy in York

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    1. Ha. That's my mother's face. Not my fault. I will say that sometimes he gets that face unintentionally; I don't realize he's getting it until I see his reaction.
      I love Reginald's Hill's wit. His books are wonderful. So many witty literary references, and allusions.
      P.S. What a story to tell about that Turkey trip. A real bonding experience. Like negotiating round-abouts around Leeds.. I think it was??

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  7. What a wonderful take on our BIO subject this month and so beautifully written. We will have been married for 42 years this July ...... unity ...yes ... but not all the time !!!! haha !!!! XXXX

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    1. Thanks, Jacqueline. And congratulations in advance on the 42 years married!

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  8. Hi Sue
    Hubby & I will celebrate 40 years this summer! I'm proud of this milestone! Even in retirement there is stuff we navigate thru. Makes it interesting.
    We stayed in a "Hellhole"(lol) near Kennedy Space Centre. What a disaster! How my husband slept is beyond me? I stayed awake in case there was a fire!!
    Robin

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    1. Congratulations, Robin. Forty years. Stu and I have a way to go to get there. We didn't get married until I was in my thirties and he in his forties.

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  9. Isn't it fun how different each of the invitated bloggers' take is on this topic?! Clever of you to explore Unity through your marriage, and very entertaining. Makes me think of what DA says in her post, about the tension that is necessary in Unity -- not too much, of course, but some tension makes the whole more interesting and helps hold it together. And Travel?! Well, travel is a perfect way to get to that tension, quickly! (Ask me how I know! ;-)

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    1. Thanks, Frances. I know... that you know... lots about the stresses of travel. Ha. Tension, not too much... sounds good.

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  10. Ah, I love this post. We also have travel stories that are much funnier in retrospect. :-)

    Last night we had one of our random joint insomnia events, and this morning I have been thinking about how funny and comforting it is to lie awake at 3AM talking and laughing rather than “spinning in my mind” alone. A good marriage is a process and the work is definitely worth it.

    —Laurel

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    1. Thanks, Laurel. Love the image of you two sharing stories when you can't sleep:)

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  11. Ahhhh, yes, the travails of travel, but also of so many episodes of our lives. Looking back they do become laughable. We survived and now we're laughing. Loved reading this !!!

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    1. Thanks, Marsha. Travel stories are the best, and sometimes the worst moments make the best stories. Thanks for reading:)

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  12. I've just finished Olive Kitteridge-very impressed! Such an amazing book,sentence after sentence,different stories,different relations......a lot of them about marriages!
    Your story is,as always,amazing as well.
    Travels are always some kind of challenge in a relationships-new situations,new conditions...suprises are always possible,even in a very long marriages or relationships. One of our song goes:"I remember only happy days.....",some of disasters become anecdotes but I don't think I would try some of the horrible accomodations again
    Dottoressa

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    1. I'm not finished the book yet. I limit myself to one story at a time. Really enjoying it. You're right...I love to talk about horrible accommodations... but I'd never revisit them!

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    2. You must than read something beside-is it good?
      D

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  13. What a lovely read. It's refreshing to read about you working through your marriage, leaning on and learning from each other in today's world when we often hear about divorces. I'm not married, though I do have a long-term boyfriend who is my favourite travel partner. I think we learn a lot about each other when we travel as well and I love that we can look back on our adventures together. We thankfully haven't stayed anywhere that was as bad that hotel you stayed in in Goomalling. I think our our most memorable bad travel story involves discovering bed bugs in our hostel in Seoul...!

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    1. Thanks, Bryna. I think that bed bugs are pretty memorable!

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  14. I got married last year and can definitely saw that my husband and I are closer now. Well, for part we finally live to together. We do enjoy traveling and I like how you put it. It's just us in a strange place. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. Marriage on the move... that's travel:)

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  15. Great post. I'm certainly familiar with the idea of conceding your comfort when the other person has been driving all day. The more we experience together, the more we realize how to best care for eachother. It's a testament to your adventurous spirits that you continue to have so much to learn from and about eachother.

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  16. Great thoughts. We will celebrate 24 years this spring and have been together 27 years. Yes, we grow when traveling together and having those experiences. I always think it sad when couples divorce and one does not have the other person to share these stories with anymore. We have had some funny, now not then, travel adventures. We have been through the death of grandparents, aunts and uncles, my brother and an upcoming heart surgery. I know I am not a good nurse so this will be another interesting adventure! I agree with making it up as one goes along and having a good sense of humor!

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    1. Oh.. the nursing gig is one I hate. Is your husband having the heart surgery? Stu had double by-pass and although it's "done ever day" as people said to us.. it's still major surgery and the recovery is not easy for the patient Especially f they're not particularly patient, if you know what I mean. Good luck. Hope all goes well.

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  17. Susan, I have read only your post above, but none of the comments.

    Twelve days agao my beloved soulmate and husband of nearly 22 years died. We weren't unprepared for it -- he had cancer. But no one can prepare for the ending of a miraculous union like ours.

    I'm now stumbling through my early days of widowhood, trying to feel all the feelz without medication, appreciating that no words of condolence matter, that hugs help, sometimes reeling from well-intentioned, but horribly conceived things people say to those who are left behind, reviewing the grief literature and "how to do it right" advices, and caring for myself the very best I can.

    The question I dread the most and have come to despise is: "How are you doing?" Protip: Please don't ask this question of anyone newly widowed because they do not have and cannot spend the energy required to audit their feelings and report them time after time after time. We are not "better." We are bereft and will be bereft until we no longer are bereft.

    Grieving is a journey that must be traveled alone. No one can fix it for us. Grieving is labor, just as dying is.

    In a month or six months or a year what I think about grief will surely have changed. But twelve days out, that's what I have to offer.

    Tonight, it feels like the greatest joy in life is loving someone, being loved in return, and doing together what makes you both happy. Love truly is its own reward.

    Ann in Missouri

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  18. Dear Ann,
    I am so very sorry to hear about your husband's death.

    I won't say "sorry for your loss" because my mum told me a while ago that those were the words she hated the most when her first husband died. She told me this when I called her for advice. The son of a good friend had died, and I had no idea how to respond or help. I just knew that I didn't want to be annoying, or insensitive, or cliché.

    Mum said in the days following her husband's death, besides being asked how she was, she hated the expectation that she wanted to talk. She said she wanted to be quiet. And she sighed with relief when the well-meaning but constantly chattering neighbours left her alone.

    She said that one person only, a good friend and neighbour, seemed to help. Mum said the friend was content to make tea, and just sit quietly and drink it, while mum sometimes drifted off to sleep. Then she'd offer to brush Mum's hair. She made no demands on Mum to be cheerful. Never uttered those hateful words "at least..." but was just "there."

    I've never lost a spouse. A much loved step-father, a wonderful mother-in-law, and a cherished big brother. But I can imagine that those losses will pale by comparison if something happened to my husband Stuart. Partly because I weathered the other deaths with his support. And partly because...well... I'm sure you know.

    I can't know what you are feeling but I can imagine, a little. I wish you peace and quiet moments. And kind and perceptive friends, like my mum's.

    Sincerely,
    Sue

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    1. Thank you, Susan. Your mum was so right. And you have absorbed her wisdom.

      Ann in Missouri

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All comments, ideas, commiserations, questions, complaints... are most welcome.