I like everything about weddings.
And they bear the same relationship to marriage as Fisher-Price ads do to childhood, as a bathtub does to the Atlantic. It takes something to get married: nerve, hope, a strong desire to make a certain statement—and it takes something to stay married: more hope, determination, a sense of humor and needs that are best met by being in a pair. And beyond the idea of marriage, which some of us cannot do and lots would rather not, is the question of partnership. In the old days for middle-class people, partnership meant He went off to work and did Outside Things, and She stayed home and raised children and other Indoor Things. In the even older days, it was Hunting and Gathering on one hand and Nursing and Cooking on the other, but at any point in history up until the very recent past, the meaning of the marital partnership was: The world is divided into two spheres, and I will take one and you will take the other. (I know, I know—a lot of ladies who would have been happy driving trucks or running counters had to darn socks, make dinner for six, and run errands, and the number of gentlemen who gave up Jobs and Outside things in order to accommodate the lady of their choice was notoriously small.) But even in the somewhat skewed nature of those traditional partnerships, there was clarity. Like white-glove etiquette and pinching corsets and dress codes, the world is on the whole a better, fairer, more humane place without them...and yet. And yet, in their absence, there is an awful lot of uncertainty and not a little unattractive behavior. The quid pro quo and you-owe-me of modern marriage, the lists that people make under the worst kind of couples therapists are not partnerships.
What makes for a true partnership
I think we should expect more and more, in the little ways as well as the big ones. Little things shape a life: He buys the jewelry he knows she likes, not the stuff he'd like her to wear; she wears the nightgown he's crazy about and not her favorite T-shirt. I think of my sister, reading companionably on the couch while her husband, in the great tradition of husbands, channel surfs interminably. It used to make her crazy and crabby—and the remote control mania will never make sense to her—but instead of berating him, she realized that not only does he like it better when she's near him, because he loves her, but she likes it better, too. I think of an older couple who lived in the country in a house they both labored on—mostly her, as is sometimes the case—until one day she announced that she wanted to spend her last years in her favorite city. He began to say that he hated that city and he hated change and he was damned if he was going to pack up his books one more time and at his age—and then he thought, "She makes me so happy and made us such a happy home, let me give this to her." And now they live in that big city and take long morning walks along her favorite river, and it's become his as well. I think of two dear men, who have managed to put their very serious careers, as writer and doctor, always slightly behind their relationship. He wrote hard and the doctor worked hard, paying the bills for both of them. The writer hit it big and, with his loving encouragement, the doctor began to think that he might like to work hard, but in a studio, not an office. They have balanced their needs and wants and given just a little more weight to the other's happiness, and that's what I'm talking about. It's doing your share, and then some.
In a true partnership, the kind worth striving for, the kind worth insisting on, and even, frankly, worth divorcing over, both people try to give as much or even a little more than they get. "Deserves" is not the point. "Fair" is not the point. And "owes" is certainly not the point. The point is to make the other person as happy as we can, because their happiness adds to ours. The point is—in the right hands, everything that you give, you get.
Amy Bloom is the National Book Award-nominated and National book Critics Award-nominated author of Come to Me: Stories, Love Invents Us, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You: Stories and Normal.
More from Amy Bloom
Meet the eigth wonder of the baking world
The precarious balance between mothers and boundaries
What she did (and didn't do) for love