Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I Beg Your Pardon . . . What I Really Wanted Was A Rose Garden

One woman I know believes that there exists between a couple an implied contract that they will stay the way they looked when they got married. This particular belief was revealed when she told her sister, my friend, about a couple in her neighborhood who divorced. The divorce, according to the Sister, was understandable because "you know, she broke the contract." "What contract? "my Friend replies. "You know . . . . the contract you make when you get married. You marry a certain kind of person. They look a certain way. You owe it to your partner to stay that kind of person. You can't be putting on weight. That's just not fair. The woman broke the contract." After laughing out loud in disbelief, Friend realizes Sister was for real. The promise to remain the same "kind" of person is part of her marriage vows. To her credit, Sister has kept its terms admirably. She can still be mistaken for a My Size Barbie.

This notion of "contract" has set me thinking. I'm thinking there are certain bedrock things that, given our individual nature, should probably be included in our marital contracts with each other. I'm not talking about prayers, scriptures, white shirts or tithing. I'm talking about the things that make this life, the one we're living now, honestly, particularly, individually pleasant.

I'm wondering about my "contract" with Kevin. What is the point at which I will not be able, like Tevye, to find an "other hand"? I'm thinking that, for me, it has something to do with new and beautiful. If we stopped moving into new, I would feel betrayed. Neither do I want to live ugly. Living an ugly, repetitive life would have me crying "Breach" before too long. I realize this has nothing to do with eternal life. Yet, it has everything to do with my earthly life and the way I am built, with what pleases me at my core.

I like beautiful shoes. (They don't have to be new; I've ordered some of my favorites off eBay). I like new clothes, beautiful books whose covers I can rub, new places, good restaurants (without cream of chicken soup in their pantry), different roads, beautiful ideas clothed in original words and a non-repeating summer annuals. The new/different doesn't have to be fancy. I like shoveling snow, digging holes, breaking ice on the driveway, painting walls and chopping trees. They're mini-adventures. I like to have little adventures, every day. This drive is so strong in me that I don't want to go to church some Sundays. It's not that I don't like my congregation. I just don't like doing the same thing week in and week out. It's my personal version of water torture. (Hard to establish traditions this way, I admit. But the Easter Bunny has managed to bring Cheese Whiz every Easter Sunday for the last fifteen years.)

Owning that fact about me, instead of hiding it, frees me to seek what I need to be satisfied. It also allows Kevin to meet a real need. Gives him a target to shoot for. Built into our budget is the Tessa "slush" fund for me to spend on whatever I want. Some puritan streak in me is ashamed of this. I want to be able to say that I like devising recipes from food storage, and that two six-packs of pink geraniums will do for summer planting. I could pretend to be satisfied, or even try really hard to be satisfied with the utilitarian, with the same. But, I'm not. After a while, I get moody, low, like some sort of seasonal disorder in which I'm deprived of light.

Interesting that I married a man who lives in the town in which he was raised, five blocks from his parents, in the same congregation as his childhood. Makes for a nice tug-of-war, my propensity against his. (That we still live here 19 years later makes me realize I'm not winning). Yet owning up to the actual, real bent of my heart (the semi-annual showing of Sweet Home Alabama; drinking condensed milk straight out of the can; the indoor soccer league with the Latin Girls; Sophie Kinsella novels in the bath; onion rings from Stans and a 44-ounce from Crest with no sharing; tiger print bras; distrust of authority in any form) makes this life, the here and now, a pleasant place to be.


  1. You doubtlessly don't remember me. I was in your Honors Writing 100 (?) class right after you came home from your mission (Kristen Gerdy's class). I have this vivid memory of you sitting on the floor listening to Dr. Jorgensen explain who you were. You were looking somewhat dazed (and when I came home from my mission to fall into a job and then lawschool, I finally understood the dazed look) I fell in love with your lyrical language then. I fear I will have to take your blog in measured doses lest I lose whole hours and days to your lovely language again.

    I have recognized in this post many of the failed and moldering marriages around me, where one or the other shouts of breached contracts. And it has made me wonder about the contracts my husband and I have. Never really thought of it this way. Thank you.

    angie fears

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  3. Angie, I remember almost everybody from that class. And if you showed me your handwriting, I would remember instantly. What was your maiden name?

    I think if we were just upfront about saying what we need . . . . it will easily be given. Women, in particular, tend to go about silent, hoping that their unarticulated needs will be met. Then, we cry foul when our husbands, who would most probably lick out the garbage can if they knew that's what we really wanted, doesn't meet our needs.

    I think that was what I was musing about.

  4. Tessa,
    My maiden name is Turner. I am small and blonde and I was very quiet back then (trust law school to fix that!). Funny how handwriting can bring back memories.

  5. Thank Heavens my dear hubby doesn't believe in the concept of "the contract"! Over the years he has matured into a much better looking (imho) and much more refined looking man (he voluntarily gave up his mullet--eventually, and his earring--eventually, and his beard looks much better now).

    I have changed too, not in a "good" or "bad" way--just different. My hair is not the same length or color!), my hips are wider (the three children did that), things have settled. But I am also a much kinder and less critical person than I was then. I think (to a point) that change is good--I also think that recognizing your own need for change and adventure makes you able to use it as a tool instead of having it rule you--much like bridling a horse.

  6. You know, my friend and I laughed so hard when she first told me about the contract. We couldn't believe it. First, that SISTER would actually think that, and then that she would say it out loud. As to the life-size Barbie clause, that's not in my particular contract at all. I couldn't and haven't kept that one. (Except 2008 and on have been pretty good years).

    But, then I started thinking about it and thought, you know, if we were all more upfront about our unvoiced assumptions and expectations, people wouldn't wake up suddenly after ten years of marriage and think, "I got gypped." Which is what I see happening around me.

    There's such a tension in our faith: be humble, sacrifice, put others first, be like Christ, look to serve, don't look to satisfy your needs. Then we are told to "ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you." It's hard to even know what to ask for if you haven't looked inside for a long time. Even the process of asking seems a little vain, too assertive.

    This tension clarified itself for me a few weeks ago: I stood in the bedroom looking at dirty socks on the floor. The laundry basket was ten feet away. I thought to myself,"I don't want to pick those up, and I shouldn't have to." Even I am unemployed and the chief everything on the home front, I am hoping that my service to my family, my sacrifice for them does not require me to pick up dirty socks when the act of throwing them there is laziness.

    Now, I picked them up because I didn't want to see them there. But, I didn't pick them up because it was part of my sacrifice for my family. I don't know if I've explained the difference, but it seemed different to me. And then I explained my feelings to Kevin, who was surprised to hear me say that dirty socks on the floor bother me. Perhaps my standards are rising! (They couldn't have sunk any further).

    I like the tool analogy. It works for me. It's why every vacation is to a different place. We still go on vacation, just a different place

  7. We speak the same language, my friend.

  8. I do laundry to bless my life now (and my family incidentally!)--because I like clean, pleasant smelling clothes that are not wrinkled (although I am really bad about getting them from the "folded in the basket phase" to--you know, anything past that!). Choosing to do it as a blessing (for myself as well as for the people I love the most) instead of having it thrust upon me as a chore has made it much more pleasant. Yes, the words I choose for the job descritption make a major impact about how I feel about the job in hand. I am also working on finding the spiritual side of everyday things, and there are many hidden lessons in laundry and other every day tasks.

  9. I wonder what friend would say about Stephanie of NieNie Dialogue's contract. Is there a special clause about when appearance changes out of your control? I heard someone say once that a woman should be denied her temple recommend if she put on a lot of weight. I believe the bigger message here is when a woman doesn't allow herself the opportunity to take care of herself. She has put everyone first before taking care of the old bod. Now that is a common scenario.

    As to other changes that happens in people as they grow older (gain experience, etc), NOTHING in life stays the same. Isn't there a physics principle about that? Things happen to all of us (loss, disease, babies, heartache, disappointment etc) causing reactions, changes, evolving etc. To think we stay the same or even have the possibility of such is a pretty unrealistic expectation, be it physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally etc.

  10. Nancy, I wonder if the person who said that a woman should be denied her temple recommend for gaining a lot of weight was male or female. And then I wondered which would make me madder--a woman who thinks that value is such an outwardly visible commodity, or a man who is so superficial. And what about those brethren who don't fit in the chairs as smoothly as they once did?

    Should the people I love who for various reasons, (medical, emotional and I don't presume to guess...) have gained a lot of weight be denied blessings? Should they be denied love?

    My mother was a wonderful woman, who raised a large (11 children), loving, righteous family, and was very wise. However, she was a terrible housekeeper. Once she told me that it was very hard to have her deepest vices laid open to the world, when other people are able to hide them and cover them up.

    I think that personal appearance is often judged the same way. It is our society's version of "Master, who sinned--this man or his parents?". Obviously they are at fault!

    I like being able to become "more myself" as my marriage progresses, and I pray to be able to help my husband become the man the Lord wants him to be.

  11. Oh Tessa...this is wonderful! Contract...hmmm, wow! Mine & Drew's contract would have been null & void about a year into it - life/reality came real fast! So did all the weight that I'd lost during my divorce before I met Drew. Yep, happy and a little more of the both of us since those days. Miss having you across the street girl! We still have mopeds/motor cyclist that need dealing with :) You're awesome!!

  12. Prism, I totally agree with you! I'm not sure if I conveyed in my comment what a hot button this is for me. I think your thoughts about personal appearance being a "vice laid open to the world" is so spot on.

  13. And it's what is so hard to teach our children. I am have conversations about what sin is worse: the one you can see or the one you can't. The one you have covered up or the one you don't. "Why, ____, do you think it worse to smoke a cigarette than to hit your brother?" "Because smoking is bad for you and can kill you." "But turning into a person who can easily hurt another person is also bad; it creates a habit in you to use violence to deal with your problems . . ." And so the conversation goes, uncovering the hidden personal problems which other people can't smell or see when you walk into a room.

    I tell them, "You're just lucky yours are under cover, and don't require you to sit on the chairs outside the bishop's office."

  14. um... are you the same tessa meyer from the boston mission many, many moons ago? if so, i think my dad was the bishop when you served there.

  15. yes . . . from 1987/88. Which ward? I only served in three. Foxboro, Amherst or Wellesley.