Last year, around our 5th wedding anniversary, Jack and I began our “Seven Year Itch Watch,” assuming that our marriage is precocious and we would hit that milestone early. Like how we figured out in our first year of marriage that we could trim the bottom inch off our shower curtain rather than debating whose turn it is to scrub off the mold, and buy a new one every year once the old one started getting too short. Ten dollars a year, total marriage saver. I mean, we’re relationally brilliant. Obviously we’d hit year seven by year five.
Since beginning our Seven Year Itch Watch, a number of people we know and love decided to end their marriages. Most of them had been married longer than us. That rattled me. As a child of parents who stayed married, I’ve never had the internal strain that Jack has. His well-worn map for relationships is that they dead-end, mine is that the map keeps unfolding as the territory expands. For the first time this past year, I got to feel a little of what Jack must feel— helpless, confused, and panicked, wishing for some guarantees, but knowing there aren’t any. I’ve long ago given up the idea that there is some magic formula to staying married. There’s no such thing as “Marriage God’s Way,” even if some of our relatives gave us extra wedding money because we hadn’t had sex yet. True story.
Of course there are things that help a marriage, or any relationship: Banishing contempt and criticism, owning your desires, and oh lord, curiosity. I’ve had fun this year doing a little bit of couples therapy, and getting on my soapbox about curiosity. I tell people, “Your partner is a different universe, with different governing laws. You might think something like gravity is a “duh,” but it might not be for them. Pursue understanding until you can honestly say, ‘Ah, that makes sense.’”
Then I tell them that I get it, that they would not be-LIEVE the ridiculous shit I had to explain to my husband during our first year of marriage, about things that are basic common sense. Things like, if you stay up late and get up early, you’ll feel tired. But then I learned that what’s been “common” in his life is very different from mine (for example, he never had a bed time, even as a kid, so he learned to function through tiredness; He’s better at it than anyone I know, and he uses those extra night hours to GET AMAZING SHIT DONE so he can impress everyone in the universe). Your spouse can transform from a flowers-for-Algernon-level moron into a remarkably resourceful and creative person—without changing at all. Curiosity and understanding can correct your vision.
As we come up on year six, or what I’m calling “Seven Year Itch Part Two,” I think we’ve gotten a little itchier and squirmier. San Francisco is full of beautiful people, and monogamy is… well, not really a thing here. All my fears of being “not enough” for Jack get prodded by the wild liberalism of this city. (I also have a new felt sense of what it’s like to be on the conservative end of local politics… definitely a new experience!). I often ask Jack if he’s going to come home one day and announce he wants to have the highly-fashionable “open marriage.” He answers honestly: “I can’t predict what I’ll want, but it sure doesn’t sound like a good idea.”
By that, you mean that polyamory is a good way to replay but never resolve attachment trauma, right? A place to relive Oedipal struggles and torture your partner? YOU WANT ME TO BRING HOME THAT HOT CYCLIST I PASSED IN GOLDEN GATE PARK, ‘CAUSE I TOTALLY COULD YOU KNOW, HE WINKED AT ME.
The good news is, we’re going to Disneyland in October. Jack suggested that every three anniversaries should be spent in Disneyland, to play together, to retreat from whatever our life is about, and to pretend that groping each other on Peter Pan’s flight is a scandalous new idea (“Every generation thinks they invented sex!” my grandma told me once). Disneyland is a good place to welcome the challenge of Year Seven. I’m hoping that the Dreaded Year Seven is like the Dread Pirate Roberts— terrifying by reputation, but when you look it in the eye, you find the passion and the gentle love that has been there all along.