Dr. Shrink: So let me make sure I understand—on two occasions, in the course of the last year, he had too much to drink and at least once a week he comes home from work later than he said he would, and although he usually calls about being late, he doesn't always, and sometimes you have to poke him to get him to acknowledge that you've been kept waiting.
Amy: Yes. (The implication of my "yes" is: Feel free to sympathize; also, anytime you'd like to discuss his imperfections and their likely source, go right ahead.)
Dr. Shrink: I want to make sure I understand—
Amy: Yes. (Meaning: Let's get started—he's selfish, possibly unreliable, and impulsive...)
Dr. Shrink: You came to see an expensive psychoanalyst to tell me that the man you married has faults of which you've been aware since you've known him? This is why you're here?
(So not what I was hoping for.)
We then spend some time on how terrifying I find it to love someone so much and how difficult I find the possibility and the likelihood of disappointment. We do get somewhere, and when Dr. Shrink stops, my best friend takes over. She says to me basically: No one's perfect. It's time you stopped being surprised by this. The question is, Do you take this bundle of faults over some other bundle of faults?
But it's not enough for me to choose this bundle of faults; if I want a love that lasts, I better know why this bundle suits me so well. At first, one loves the faults because they are part of the whole adorable love package. She is a sweet and tenderhearted creature, and her inability to ask for a raise, hail a cab, or defend herself from her unpleasant mother are all part of her sweetness. Of course, someday when you're standing in the rain with your armful of packages and ask her to flag that cab across the street and she says, winsomely, "Oh, darling, I just couldn't—it's so...aggressive"—it will be less adorable. He is determined and unswerving, which is great; he is also hardheaded and heedless. As much as you like the former, you better be comfortable with the latter as well. Understanding why is worthwhile, and usually involves a quick review of parents. Whether or not they had a wonderful marriage you hope to emulate or a disaster you hope to avoid, it's helpful to know which parent you identified with and which parent's part you want to play. (Don't even bother trying to escape both of them entirely; to do that, you'd have to be born into another species.) I think the biggest mistake I've seen in clients and friends and myself is acting on half an understanding: "I don't want to marry my selfish father; look how unhappy he made my sweet mother," sounds like a reasonable, even psychologically astute position, and an awful lot of people (including me) marry their nice mothers (or their nice fathers; bullies come in both genders) and think they've protected themselves. All I can say is: Not so fast, Shorty.