Marriage: Why Bother? The Insider’s Perspective.

Research shows that a shitload of American marriages end in divorce and an AOL banner headline informed me this morning that many young couples are putting off marriage due the crappy economy. I’m not sure these two things are related but what I am sure of, as a 7.5 year veteran of wedded bliss, is that my marriage has worked out exceedingly well in spite of statistics and crippling poverty and my own deep distrust of the institution. So I am here, at the behest of an esteemed colleague and soon-to-be Young Married, to defend marriage or, at the very least, present an argument as to why it’s worth the trouble.

Point 1: Helpmates are awesome! Seriously, you can crap-talk companionate marriage all you want but I’ll bet your drinking buddy or that gal you pal around with at grad school social functions wouldn’t rub your feet after a long day that the office (unless they’re trying to have sex with you; of course, your spouse might be doing it because they’d like to have sex as well but it’ll be far more affectionate and far less creepy). A really good husband or wife is great because they perform all the various functions of a friend plus the gross stuff like cleaning your dirty underwear and lancing unreachable boils.

Point 2: Helpmates with whom you are sexually compatible are even awesomer! All horrible, unspeakable things you’ve always wanted to do in bed (or in the butt or, you know, wherever) but were far too ashamed to even discuss with a boy/girlfriend can now be openly discussed – attempted even — with your spouse. Of course, this is no guarantee that you’ll actually be doing anything other than standard missionary for the rest of your life but at least you can talk about it and it’s far less likely that pictures of your aberrant behavior will show up on the web.

Point 3: The government will reward you for getting married. Lower taxes, cheaper health insurance, no estate taxes, Social Security benefits, and more easily shared property rights are just a few of the many incentives Uncle Sam offers married couples. Given these reasons, I’m wondering if all those young people who are forgoing marriage because of the economy are really just making excuses.

Of course, the astute reader would note that Points 1 & 2 are not necessarily marriage dependent. You could have a great helpmate companion person with whom you share your entire life and never bind yourselves to them legally. And really, when you consider that I’m nearly 8 years into my marriage and we’re so poor that we still get refunds come tax season, we own no appreciable property, and Social Security won’t exist by the time we’re old enough to qualify for it, Point 3 is moot for a good number of people as well.

So really, why bother? Consider the four main reasons I chose to marry: a) It was awkward introducing Joe as “my baby’s daddy” to relatives; b) It provided the perfect excuse to throw a righteous party; c) I would acquire a sweet new last name; and d) I’d found a person who challenged me emotionally and intellectually, who I loved, and with whom I could honestly see myself getting old with. Objectively, none of them are good reasons to sign a marriage certificate. Marriage is an arbitrary institution meant to reinforce old power dynamics but in certain cases, it can still rock. Why bother? Well, if you love each other and Johnny Law has no objections, eh, why the fuck not? If it works out, it’ll be well worth the trouble.

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Pitfalls of a Martial Arts Education

I’ve started going back to Taekwondo after my regular fall semester hiatus. Things have changed slightly. Our master has incorporated a few yoga-inspired moves into our stretching routine. Different methods for escaping from an attacker’s bear hug are being practiced (if your arms are pinned, wail on his nuts with your fist; if they’re not pinned, it’s elbow-to-face time). What has not changed is the fact that I am the sole adult in my class. Once in a while we have one of the teenaged black belts assisting in class but, other than that, it’s me and the elementary school crowd.

Needless to say, lessons are not always as challenging or helpful as they could be because, well, little kids suck at martial arts. Okay, that’s not fair. There’s this one little kid, his name’s Xavier and he’s eight, and he’s really, really, really good at sparring . . . other eight-year-olds. So, really, little kids don’t necessarily suck at martial arts — although plenty of them do — they just suck at doing martial arts at an adult level. They can’t hold a target high enough or tightly enough. You can’t throw them properly or kick them properly because they’re small and you’ll hurt them. You have to constantly encourage them and tell them they’re getting better even when they’re not because otherwise they get all emotional and start crying. I mean, c’mon guys, this isn’t freakin’ preschool. Grow a pair!

The one good thing about the whole situation is that, because of my superior intellect and muscle control, I totally dominate that class. Like, last night, we had a quiz on all the Korean terms we have to know when we test for our next belt. I killed! What is palkup? Elbow. What is poomsae? Sparring. What is olgul sonnal maki? Anyone? Anyone? It’s high knife-hand block, bitches! All they could do is sit there and shake their little heads while I mopped the floor with ‘em because, as I may have forgot to mention, little kids also suck at learning Korean (except, I suppose, for actual Korean kids; then I guess it’s pretty easy). So anyway, I kicked their collective butts at the vocab quiz and even though they were pretty upset, my daughter included, I think they came away from it with a profound sense of humility which is good because, as any adult could tell you, humility is important in martial arts.

The Slow, Steady Approach of Age: Signs 1 and 2

             I would guess that in every person’s life, sometime between say ages 21 and 35, he or she has a shift in self-perception. You become conscious of the fact that you’re no longer a “young adult” and somehow you’ve become more of an “adult-adult.” Sign #1 happened to me about a year and a half ago. I was in a Mervyn’s trying on what hitherto had been my favorite brand of jeans. They had more of a flare than boot-cuts and they all had cool, swirly, sequined designs on the back pockets. I put on a pair and twirled around in the three-way mirror and suddenly realized that even though they fit well, I couldn’t take myself seriously. What had once been cool had unexpectedly become an ostentatious. I didn’t feel I could pull off the spangled-butt look anymore.  They were, in short, too young for me.

                And, ultimately, this was okay. I wasn’t consigning myself to mom-jean hell, merely to a more subdued style of pantswear. I was still cool.  

                Sign #2 happened on Monday. I was eating my morning bowl of Hodgson Mills Multigrain Hot Cereal (with milled flaxseed!) upon which I had sprinkled a couple tablespoons of walnuts and a tablespoon of honey. I took a bite and was chewing it slowly when I realized, Hey, I’m not enjoying this! There’s not enough honey to make it truly sweet, the walnuts are bitter, and the cereal itself is, well, boiled grains. It’s boring to the palate, of a slightly more exciting texture than plain  oatmeal, and yet I eat it every morning. In fact, I go out of my way to a special store to buy this particular brand of hot cereal. And why? Because it’s good for me. Really fucking good for me. That shit’s got 450 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids and 7 grams of protein in one serving. And fiber? 6 grams per serving, bitches!

                And so, like every adult-adult, I find myself eating things not because I enjoy them, but because they are good for me. What I’d like to eat is a breakfast burrito from the campus cantina, stuffed full of eggs, bacon, cheese, and green chile. But I don’t eat that because it’s got too much fat, it’s got too many calories, it costs too much, and it’ll give me heartburn. I think of my Grandpa, a broccoli-hater of old, chirping in a voice bright with false enthusiasm, “This broccoli is good for me,” before choking down a forkful with watering eyes.    

                It’s come to this.

Pitying Fools

When I was in high school my girlfriends and I would ask each other, “Would you go out with a Ferris or a Cameron?” In case you don’t get the reference (and for the sake of my pop culture-loving soul, I hope you would), it refers to the titular character of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  (1986) and his best friend, Cameron Frye. Ferris was outgoing, daring, cute, and infinitely confident. Cameron was an insecure, inexperienced hypochondriac with daddy issues. All my friends said they’d date a Ferris. I always answered “Cameron.” Back then I’d justify my choice by saying I wanted to help Cameron, teach him to be a man, heal his sorrow in some way (mostly sex which, at the time, I thought had the power to heal most things).

Cut to five years – and four Cameron-like boyfriends — later when I realized that insecure, inexperienced hypochondriacs with daddy issues (okay, only one of them had daddy issues) make for terrible boyfriends. They’re emotionally unstable, sexually immature, and in constant need of the kind of validation I assumed was covered by my willingness to be in a relationship with them. Apparently my attraction to Cameron was his neediness and my desire to be needed, like the relationship one would have with a dog. Except with a dog, your expectations aren’t as high as with a boyfriend.

Which brings me to Saturday. Joe and I caught a ride home from Alamogordo with our friend D, who was in town visiting his dad. Joe rode in the front with D, I rode in the back seat with a couple of very sweet, very drooly boxer dogs. The sun was just starting to set over the desert, the pink and orange sky making the blue of the mountain shadow and the deep lime green of the creosote stand out.  At some point D mentioned that he hasn’t gotten laid in three years, the longest dry spell he’s ever had since the naissance of his sexual activity. I can’t remember what the context of his statement was. I don’t think we were talking about sex or relationships or any related topics. Joe and I made our condolences and the conversation moved on but his statement stuck with me: three years. Jesus! Longest I ever went without sex was the four weeks after my daughter was born and I was under doctor’s orders (the doctor specified six weeks, but I’m not a saint). I understand that getting laid tends to be more difficult for guys, especially hippie guys like D who don’t get out much, but surely something would have come his way in that three years. He has an open, upbeat personality, a great sense of humor, and a steady supply of fabulous homegrown green chile all of which more than make up for his utterly average looks. And yet . . . three years.

And in the midst of this assessment, I start to feel the old Cameron feeling, the need to be needed by a pitiable creature, the surety of a nurse that I have within my power the means to heal this unfortunate soul. Poor guy just needs a good lay and there was a time when I could have, and likely would have, been charitable. But, by Juno, those days are long past and so I sit back in my seat and scratch behind the ears of a big, drooly boxer who looks up at me with pure gratitude.

Obligatory Vacation Pictures

So, earlier this month the family and I enjoyed a week-long diversion in sunny, humid, lovely Fort Worth, Texas. Time was evenly divided between family and friends. 

We visited the Ft. Worth Japanese Garden where my dad is the head landscape architect. Several summers I spent “volunteering” my time at the JG, silently cursing the misfortune of my birth while trimming asian jasmine. This is my dad in his work togs.

Isn't he handsome in a Sasquatchian kind of way?

Isn't he handsome in a Sasquatchian kind of way?

This is Lola next to one of those ornamental drippy things whose name I will never remember. Back in Nippon they put them in front of tea houses and restaurants so you could wash your hands in them.

JG-Lola&DrippyThing

And to round off the JG portion of our little travelogue, here’s the Suzuki Garden which my Dad built. I remember renting the miniseries Shogun so he could study traditional retaining wall configurations.

That rock grouping in the back there looks like a penis on purpose.

That rock grouping in the back looks like a penis. On purpose.

We also went to the Ft. Worth Zoo, which is spectacular. They had this walk-in aviary full of parakeets. You could buy a stick with some seeds and honey stuck on the end to feed them.

No humans were shit on in the making of this family memory.

No humans were shit on in the making of this family memory.

Our dear friends, the family Wilkes, joined us on both of these excursions. Lola and the eldest Wilkes lad got along famously as exhibited here:

Nothing says 'a good time' like awkward posing.

Nothing says 'a good time' like awkward posing.

And here:

OurHappyDead

And, of course, here:

Lola&Preston

Sadly, the youngest Wilkes lad seemed disoriented and moist for the duration of the visit:

"Oh man, I got no idea what's going on."

"Oh man, I got no idea what's going on."

We also had an awesome FFXI land party where we were forced to eat this mind-bending terriyaki chicken/mashed potato goop (no pictures), threw two raucous dinner parties (no pictures of the parties themselves, just of children playing in the pool and, really, haven’t we seen enough pictures of adorable children?), saw the movie Up (google the damn pictures yourself), and spent some quality time with the grandparents (who I did manage to snap a good picture of but whom I will spare the exposure). In all it was a great trip and I miss everybody terribly but we’ll always have our memories and that extra five pounds.

Do kids in North Korea have this problem?

Lola was outside playing with her friends the other afternoon. They were drawing huge ice cream cones on the sidewalk. Apparently it was some kind of contest. There was a dispute over who would get to judge the ice cream cone drawing contest: both Paulina and Audrey claimed the position. Of course, there could be only one judge; it was not a joint position. So Clara suggested they put it to a vote.

 “Raise your hand if you want Paulina to be the judge,” she said.

 Three hands went up.

 “Raise your hand if you want Audrey to be the judge.”

 Only one hand goes up this time. There’s a pause while everyone considers the implications.

 “I’m going inside my house,” Audrey declares. “I’m not coming out anymore.”

 Audrey strides away and there’s another pause as the remaining girls watch her go. Then Lola and Clara go back to their coloring and Paulina goes back to munching her mango chunks with a satisfied air.

Isn't democracy just precious?

Isn't democracy just precious?

White Trash Nachos

Justification #1: Everybody eats weird things. When I was a kid my thing was a slice of Kraft singles (the processed american cheese in the plastic single-serve wrappers) smeared with mayo. That’s it. I’d eat three of those and consider myself well-snacked. Or, because my parents never had candy or any other sweets in the house, I resort to dipping a chunk of lemon in a bowl of sugar if I needed a sweet fix. Improvisation, man.

Justification #2: I’m not freakin’ Supermom. That was my grandma, who would come home from an eight hour day at work, after stopping at the store for groceries, and cook a wonderful, healthy meal all from scratch. I can’t (humph, more likely won’t) do that. Besides, it was late, I was tired and crabby, and any attempts at actual cooking would have ended badly.

Justification #3: I’m trying to save money. I wanted nachos but I didn’t have any tortilla chips. Or torillas. C’mon, I was in between shopping trips and rather than run out to convenience store to buy chips at a terrible mark-up, I used what I had on hand: Saltines.

Don’t judge me. Thay were actually kind of good.

white-trash-nachos