This is my daughter’s “princess fork” so named because the handle used to be decorated with four Disney princesses. Now after so many bowls of macaroni and cheese and so many trips through the dishwasher, that image has worn off. But its fundamental “princessness” has not diminished, nor has my daughter’s love for it. It’s like her memory of “how it used to be” is so clear it’s like it doesn’t matter that things have changed. The fork still gets the job done. Why move on to something new?
This is my “pink doggie,” my beloved childhood toy. Until my children were born, correct that, until my children were six months old, pink doggie defined “cute” for me. I still can’t look at him without melting a little, even though his stuffing is falling out and even though he isn’t quite as firm as when we first met. Even in his dilapidated state Pink doggie is so special.
So why is it that I don’t take the same view of my spouse? As relationships age, I suppose some aspects of them grow dear but, as I try to come up with examples I realize most of this time I am saying to myself, “Man this is getting old.” And I have a good marriage. To a guy who, if anything, looks younger, is more fit, and more financilly successful thatn when I first met him.
What is up? Why can I look at a disheveled stuffed animal and think “How I love you!” and at my living, breathing companion for life and think “You are such a pain in the ass!
It does have something to do with my husband’s being alive (and I assure you that I don’t really want to kill him). For one, he eats. And occasionally makes audible breathing noises while he does so. For two, he uses the bathroom. And often forgets to flush the toilet. And to put his underwear in the hamper. And, in general, he leaves traces of his existence wherever he goes: dirty dishes in the sink, an unmade bed, open cabinets in the kitchen, and piles of clutter scattered to and fro about the apartment.
But unlike poor faded pink doggie, my husband is exactly the man he was when I met him. This propensity toward disorder is not a reflection of his inevitable decline but continuing proof that this man I fell in love with so many moons ago WILL NEVER CHANGE. (Back in 2003 he did put my coffee mug in the dishwasher once. This is a factoid he often trots out as proof, “But I am always cleaning up after you, too.” Other than that, even he will agree that he is basically a mess.) He has always been a mess. Head in the clouds, distracted absent-minded professor mess, who collects art, coins, roman artifacts, italian books on reptiles, fur blankets, wood cutting tools, flashlights, and a lot of dust.
While I cannot access this feeling directly now, I do remember thinking that his mess was “cute” when I first met him. I remember beholding it as an exotic curiosity, wondering “how did that happen?” when I saw that so many layers of lint had collected on the vent in his bathroom that it looked like it was growing a beard. And the dishes in the bathtub, that was just funny! As someone who savors unlikely pairings, I sort of enjoyed drinking fine wine next to a terrarium that housed a king snake (but not enough to keep the snake). And the piles of books on castle building next to the essential guide to animal husbandry and how to teach yourself ancient Greek? Interesting. The tomes on archeology looked intriguing and their placement atop a large mound of sauce pans/junk mail/video cassettes from the 80s? How surprisingly relevant.
One thing I can say about that first apartment we eventually shared is that it was full of surprises. And cleaning it up (or taming it somewhat) gave me an opportunity to impress his friends. What happened to that pile of laundry? and his mother How on earth did you get him to get rid of that snake! So it served its purpose. To this day I know his mother assuages her contempt for my parental incompetence with the thought, but she got rid of the snake!
I did get rid of the snake. And I did tame the mess. But make no mistake, while some might describe me as an “appealing oddball,” no one would ever call me a “neat freak.” True neat freaks, like my brother-in-law, for example can’t set foot in our much improved (but still pretty messy) state of disorder without first taking some anti-convulsant medication. I, myself, am not a neat person so why does it come as a surprise that I have spent these last years living on the set from Sanford and Son? What should surprise me is that it drives me crazy. I got just what I ordered. Things haven’t changed.
It is true that pink doggie has never disappointed me. But that probably has more to do with the fact that I only ever wanted him to sit on a shelf than without any great contribution on his part. While pink doggie has never forgotten to flush the toilet and has never left his shoes for me to trip on in the hall, he has never made me dinner. He has never remembered my birthday. He has never laughed at the same jokes and we have never scoffed together at the lunacy that presents itself as “local news.”
More importantly, however, pink doggie has never had any expectations of me. It is sort of a one sided relationship. I can only imagine the tale of woe and neglect he would recount if he were able to speak. There was that time you lost me in elementary school after bringing me in for show-and-tell. How could you? And then when you were in college you had your dad FedEx me across the country because you had left me at home. I was terrified! And now, you say you still love me…But we haven’t slept together in 28 years!
No it is for the best that he can’t talk. I have used him terribly. Like an object.
As for my husband, though he at times could be mistaken for an extention of his iPad, and though he probably would like it if I treated him a little more like an object, there is no denying the fact that he is a real person with expectations of his own. While I never make noise while I eat and I do my best never to breathe loudly, there are things about me that drive him crazy, too. Like my idea of a plan is to say, “So I will see you later?” I have made a restaurant reservation maybe once in my life and I think it was for the wrong date and time. I am always forgetting to check the parade schedule when I decide to go into the city and I continue to believe the instructions provided by my GPS device despite ample evidence (including an accidental trip to Bayonne, NJ) to the contrary. I don’t really need to plan. I am just as happy hanging out at a NYC playground as I am walking through the Forum in Rome. And I like to hike and ski etc. but I would be just as happy to sit around drinking hot chocolate and watching E! True Hollywood stories all day.
That “go with the flow” mentality was central to our relationship working. But I can imagine that even this character trait can get old, especially if means your wife once did fall asleep in the Roman Forum while you were sightseeing together, and when the one “carve out” to the “whatever you want” attitude is “But you must clean up after yourself! Now!”
I guess it is no revelation to announce that people are not like princess forks, or stuffed animals even when they do wear out. Loving a person involves so many more expectations on both sides. And the there is no surer way to guarantee disappointment than to expect someone to change.
Come to think of it, would I even want to live with someone who was constantly tidying up? Maybe. But if I lived in an immaculate apartment, when would I ever come across a 1950s American History textbook rife with unintended racism and sexism and a surefire insomnia cure? When would I ever find an old newspaper clipping about a gorilla with my husband’s name about a his gorilla girlfriend (with my name) that was torn from the paper 5 years before we met? How would I ever learn about the origins of ancient writing or how to make an igloo or how to grow an herb garden on a bathroom vent? No, I think I will stick around here for a bit. . . where there really is room for a lot of stuff, including my old pink doggie.