This morning over breakfast I was thinking of what used to be considered enough. (Not enough food, I had two poached eggs for breakfast, something that would have been un imagined luxury some days of my childhood. You see, when the chickens weren’t laying much, an egg and some rice might be dinner and certainly not every day. Of course, when they were laying and we had a few who did two eggs a day, grandma would be begging us to eat eggs. The problem of self-sufficiency at least in places with no refrigeration is that it’s often feast-or-famine.)
I was thinking that, along with being possibly the most wealthy/pampered generation in history we’re also the most demanding. On ourselves, on life, on those around us.
(Look guys we’ve been broke. We had a year we were so broke we NEEDED those donations the fire department makes for the holidays, which reminds me, the snow interrupted me, I need to make a big canned food shopping trip and take it to the Manitou Springs fire department. BUT by historical standards, I was magnificently rich. We could eat at least one meal a day, I had heat and light and plenty of water. Oh, and books and entertainment at the flick of a button. Rich.)
Specifically, as the 30th anniversary of our religious anniversary looms, and Dan wants to go away for a writing vacation for three days, (and I’m afraid people will die during it, again), I was thinking of how our marriage has been for thirty years.
Overall, it’s been d*mn nice, with occasional episodes of grumpiness (right now mine over finding/buying a house.) And then I thought by the standards of the village — the standards I heard my mom and her freinds judge marriages on — we’re a frigging miracle and fortunate beyond all hope.
As with everything else that’s a transition/change, 2015 was rife with divorce in my extended friend circle, and it seem like almost all of them got divorced because “he doesn’t make me happy” and “she doesn’t fulfill me.” A tall order.
In the village a successful marriage was as follows: he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t beat her, she doesn’t sleep around and she manages the house and keeps the kids clean.
Were some marriages hell on Earth? Sure, from the outside some looked like it, but you now what, sometimes you got these rare glimpses from the inside and realized these people were crazy but in a way they were happy too. Okay, a crazy way. But you know, looking around now at my friends who have marriages I don’t get and which TO ME would be hell on Earth, it’s not markedly different, even though everyone seems to demand so much more of marriage these days: a lot more beyond companionship, mutual support and not doing bad things that affect the other. (Yes, I know, some of you got divorced on that last clause, and that I totally get.)
But it’s not just marriages that are affected. It’s like because of mass media, those of us who tend to be driven have these impossible images of what “success” is.
Oh, it’s not just the media, mind, though it doesn’t help. Some people always expected a lot of their close relatives.
At one point my mother was complaining to a friend that I never won most of the writing contests I entered (thinking on it, there was a political color bar, of course) and how my brother only won poetry contests that didn’t pay, and her friend told her “Think about it, woman, what are you complaining about. They aren’t on drugs, they aren’t bringing you home illegitimate children, they pass their schooling with As or Bs, and they’ve never been arrested. You should be thanking G-d instead of griping.”
Now, I’m the last to encourage low expectations. (Ask my kids. I know what they’re capable of, and won’t be happy with being fobbed off with a token effort.)
However as I was thinking of that overheard conversation and of the definition of a happy marriage in the village, I realized I’m holding myself to a crazy-impossible standard. You know, EVERYONE is supposed to be buying my stories. I should be bigger than J. K. Rowling. I should be writing a lot better and a lot faster. I should be losing weight (well, that part… eventually we’ll figure out why it isn’t happening and I’m inexplicably gaining. BUT… It doesn’t seem anything I can do.) Dan and I should look like those Hollywood couples, and have everything and never snap at each other…
And I realized it’s not sane. It’s not happy-making. Not that I ever contemplated divorcing out of dissatisfaction, or that I’m dissatisfied, but mostly I’ve been very upset at myself.
I’m not one to encourage low expectations. But sometimes knowing what the passing grade is makes you realize you already have an A, and stops you driving yourself crazy.
This holiday season give yourself and those you love permission to be less than perfect. And celebrate what you have.