There are a few things that I can do pretty well.
How many’s a few?
I dunno…four? Maybe five?
I can make a stir-fry that I learned years and years ago from a cookbook by my idol, Nigel Slater. It’s a Thai one, and I can whip it up swiftly with my eyes closed (though I usually have no reason to close ‘em). And friend, I truly believe it is damn near perfection every single time.
I can catch trout on flies. Not all the time, mind you, but enough of the times so that I consider myself a decent enough fly fisherman to keep going.
I make good feta/basil/tomato omelets.
How many’s that?
Okay, one more.
I can play medieval castle with my kids for way longer than they can. Not once, I tell you, have I been bored and walked away from the imaginary moats or the fake plastic dragons before they have.
So, as you can see, I have my hands full with enough being good at this’n'that that it would almost come as a surprise to many of my inquisitors to discover that I seem to lack quite a bit of suave when it comes to doing one thing in particular: being a husband. Now, don’t get excited, this won’t be a tale of my debauchery, of my endless drinking and womanizing and gambling, of me being a flat-out rogue in matrimony.
I’m afraid that I’m far too vanilla-bean to offer you up such a generous silver platter of morsels and tidbits. Instead, what I stand to offer any man (or woman!) who is either bumbling through a marriage of his/her own or engaged to be married in the near future (and thus completely blinded by something very shiny which they think is a diamond but which turns out to be a teensy sharp shard of dangerous glass), is the very useful and hard-earned knowledge of a dimwitted fool who has been married for thousands of days.
What I am saying is this. Follow me down this familiar rabbit hole of mine if, and only if, you’d like to become a better spouse by learning from the best, ahem…I mean the worst.
I’m the best of the worst, okay?
So, just listen up…
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The Turn-Away 1 of 15I'm someone who is pretty good at foolishly putting pride before just about anything else. The result? I have often found myself smothered by my own simpleton ways, buried under layer upon layer of aggravation and suppressed emotion. Listen, there is something to be said for the 'strong silent type,' but that's not at all what I am talking about here. What I am saying is this: if you don't learn the fine art of very open communication very early in your marriage, you will end up hurting alone later on.
Prisoner Of Love 2 of 15You have to be comfortable being yourself. There have been times when I think I have tried to change things about myself in hopes that my wife would like me better or want me more or whatever, but these changes went against nature. The result was me locking myself up behind steel bars of my own making. If you feel the need for major change within yourself, have a frank honest discussion with your partner first. Seriously.
Tough Girls 3 of 15Tough girls are hot. I am a real sucker for strong women who have weathered hard times and battled their way through this world to carve out a place for themselves. My wife is a prime example of this type of lady. But still, there is a down side to these sorts of people too. Often, my wife has been just as guilty as I have of withdrawing within herself before we got much of a dialogue opened up about something that was bothering her. And I haven't really handled that all too well. When someone you love is prone to moving backwards within themselves instead of outwards toward you, you need to be VERY gentle and patient yet persistent enough to let them know you really DO want to help them work through whatever it is that's driving them away. This is way tougher and requires way more delicate care than it sounds like, but I can tell you from a thousand different screw-ups just how vital it can be to making a marriage work.
Personality Quirks 4 of 15There are some things you might do that gradually begin to annoy your spouse. I'm not talking about seriously deep personality characteristics here, but rather the little immature things you might be holding on to from when you were doing beer bongs in college or whatever. Me, I have about a million and one, but there were only a select few that began to really irk my wife after a few years. Like, I would always play this game where I say,"What if such and such happened?" The scenarios are typically so far out and ridiculous too, but it took me a helluva long time to really realize that there wasn't anybody digging my game but me. So, I gave it up. Well, pretty much. Hey, nobody's perfect!
Kid Time 5 of 15When you have kids, there is a lot of love that enters the household, and a lot of magic times. But, as I found out after many battles over fishing time and stuff like that, you absolutely HAVE to be prepared and willing to be with your children as much as your spouse is. Granted, if you are at work all day and the other one is with the kids, it throws off the time-balance, but you must always remember this: someone who is at work all day can not expect to come home and sit in the easy chair with a martini while the other person continues to watch the kids. This ain't Mad Men and this ain't 1963 anymore.
Hipster No More 6 of 15Do not, under any circumstances, make a habit out of poking fun at any of your partner's favorite books, music, movies, TV shows, or any other stuff that you might feel the need to ridicule because your tastes are so much more evolved than theirs. This might seem like a small one, but I am here to tell you that it's not. Having a laugh about someone liking an old lame 80's song is one thing. But repeatedly making light of someone's pop/literary tastes is just bad form, especially if that is the person you aim to be with until the hearse pulls up. I did that for a while and now I feel like a total ass for it. Plus, in a stroke of brilliant poetic justice, my wife has much more refined and eclectic tastes than I do now.
Overboard 7 of 15Never try to impress the person you love by dressing up like a teenage mall rat or purchasing a substitute for genuine attraction like a mid-life crisis sports car or a four-wheeler you have no idea how to ride and will surely kill yourself upon. I have struggled at times with the fact that my wife is a really beautiful woman, and I am more of an average looking guy. This in turn lays a Bic to the fuse of the old 'self-conscious' time bomb, and before you know it I find myself trying to find some way to seem cool to her which only results in me feeling more inadequate or dumb. Here's the thing. If you are with someone and you know in the pit of your guts that they love you full-tilt, no matter how 'cool' or 'sexy' you might be, then you are living your marriage right, my man. Because six-pack abs and a fast muscle car are things of beauty, to be sure. But they are also among the least important factors in the entire history of human love.
Cash Money 8 of 15Oh God. Look, I'm not the guy to give anyone anywhere any sort of financial advice when it comes to money in the marriage. But I will say this. Know your limits and trust in them. If you are like me at all, and you are pretty incredible at spending and fairly diabolical at saving and paying the bills and stuff, then heed my stunted wisdom here. Let the other person teach you The Force. I am still working on this, I still have days where I wanna buy a gross of size XXXL neon chartreuse 'Frankie Says Relax' t-shirts off of Ebay for a small fortune, but I've learned some restraint. It took my wife and I a lot of smashing heads like horny rams to get me to this place, and I still have miles to go before I can be called fiscally responsible, but I am trying and I know that she knows the way of the monetary Jedi. So I watch...and I learn.
Try To Chill 9 of 15I have never been the Jack Johnson sort. I have never laid back in my hammock and lifted my flip-flops toward the sun as the cool island breeze plucked at the strings on my ukelele. This is unfortunate too, because my wife fancies herself a top-shelf chiller. She thinks that she knows how to be calm and ride the tidal wave called life as if it were a ripple from a frog's fart. And, hey, as part of my path to selflessness and open-minded realization I will NOT laugh at that notion and tell you that despite her claims to mastering her zen, she's actually just a lit M-80 with one of those tropical drink umbrellas sticking out of it. When it comes to me though, I'm East Coast rattled nerves to my Woody Allen-ish bones and I realize that now, after years of fighting it. No longer can I or will I blame my slightly manic state on anyone else, because I know it must be tough to be around me a lot, as a wife or a friend. So, I'm really trying my damn best to learn to chill out a little bit more. And let me tell you something: with two kids under four that ain't exactly easy for a dude like me. But I know that a chilled-out man is a better man for his family, so I'm on it. Pass me my uke.
Dream Weaver 10 of 15Share your dreams. And if you don't have any, get some. Fast. I went through a drawn-out period of time after I left playing in my band of 13 years, when I really had no clue as to what I was going to do the rest of my life. Oh sure, I found work and paid the bills and all, but when it came time to comparing our long-term visions for our shared future, Monica had all sorts of ideas and schemes that she was really excited about. And I had a handful of squat. This ended up being a bad thing because it scared my wife, understandably. She figured that I had more or less gone from being one of the biggest dreamers she had ever known or loved to one of the most idle future planners of all time. She was right, too. Today, though, I'm proud to say that I have dreams. Big ones. And they all involve me driving in the Daytona 500! (Psyche!)
Why Can’t We Be Friends? 11 of 15Whatever happens in your marriage, no matter how rocky things get, try to remember that being friends is the most uber-critical part of any lasting relationship. I've forgotten this a lot through the years, and Monica would probably say she has too. Our personalities being what they are (fiery, creative, ruggedly individual), we have, in my opinion, often put our petty needs or complaints well out in front of the better good. I know I have. The result? Lengthy periods of time when we hardly spoke to one another, choosing instead to allow trivial arguments and problems to fester in icy silence. I know that isn't healthy. We both do. But we're guilty just the same. Now, though, we're attempting to move in other directions when it comes to all of that. And it starts with our friendship really. Because if we lose that particular lighthouse to the darkness...then we got nothing.
Do Nasty Stuff 12 of 15I'm serious here. Get nasty. Or as nasty as you can stand it, I guess. Dress up like nurses or pool boys. Role play. Get your mother-in-law to keep the kids for the night, crack a bottle of wine, and pretend you're the pizza guy in pornos; ring the front bell and deliver her the Super Supreme! It sounds so cliche, man, I know, but there is truth to the old adage that 'the same old thing will always lead to more of the same old thing.' There have been atrociously long periods of time when our Lust Life has been nothing more than a once glorious and powerful mammoth sitting frozen in a big block of Arctic ice. And that thing ain't easy to melt either, you guys! But I never stop thinking about it and trying to come up with new ways to melt all that old ice away. (This Friday: Buzz Lightyear comes over to fix Mrs. Bielanko's sink!)
Liquor Lips 13 of 15Watch what you say to the person you love the most. We all recall a vicious thing or two said to us through the years, by an ex or some jerk we worked with. Well, try and imagine what kind of lingering damage those kinds of words can do when they actually come from the mouth of your husband or wife. It hurts really, really bad. And guess what? In case you haven't figured this out by now....you can never ever take words back. In my life, I have had times, usually fueled by too much to drink, when I have said things to my wife that I am ashamed to even admit to myself. But, I have had to try and come to terms with the fact that I DID say them and that they DID do some serious damage and that if I ever choose to go down that sinister route again, then I should be prepared for the very worst. Bite your tongue and keep it bit until it's the next day and things have settled down. Trust me.
Do Regular Stuff 14 of 15Go places together as a family and just the two of you. I can't even begin to stress this one enough. After our first kid was born, I kid you not, Monica and I didn't go out to a movie or out to eat by ourselves for over a year. A year! By the time we realized how much we had been denying ourselves just by claiming to be too tired or too busy every time Saturday night rolled around, we were in full-on Red Alert mode; we had done nothing fun except baby crap since she'd popped out of the womb and it was nobody's fault but ours. Don't make that mistake. 'Experts' say keep a regular 'date night' and that sounds dandy. But, even if that's a tough one to swing, stil make sure you both spend a little time at a horror flick or grabbing some pizza and beers, just the two of you, a couple of times a month.
Laugh At The Mirror! 15 of 15Okay, here's a biggie. And I know it's a biggie because after almost eight years of marriage I still struggle with it. (Actually I still struggle with all of these, but that's kind of the point, huh?) So, try and remember to laugh at yourself. As often as humanly possible. Think about the very idea of marriage and the very notion of two people spending their entire lives up in each other's beez-wax, and remind yourself that you are conscious of the struggle and that you are aware at how sublimely impossible it all seems at times. And remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. And if that feels like a lie to you, well then laugh even harder at what a fool you really are as you begin trying to figure it all out a little at a time.
You can also find Serge on his personal blog, Thunder Pie.
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