Every marriage goes through its trials. For one thing, you have to figure out what’s really important. You can spend years focusing on one thing, then realize later that you’ve been wasting your time on something sadly trivial.
Take my husband’s speaking engagements. In the early years of our marriage, I’d hear him groaning and loudly agonizing about an upcoming talk.
“I haven’t done anything to prepare,” he’d say. “I have no idea what I’m going to be speaking about. I’ll probably fall flat on my face.”
Well, that got my attention. (The prospect of public failure and humiliation usually does.) If he was going to be a basket case, then so was I. After all, I was a far more accomplished worrier than he was. In my family, they practically handed out trophies for Best Worrier, and the competition was ferocious.
So I’d obsess about my husband and his talk when I wasn’t obsessing about my own life and some upcoming disaster I probably needed to prepare for. Time would pass and I would eventually notice my husband wasn’t agonizing and moaning, so I’d ask him about the talk he’d been so concerned about.
“Huh?” he’d ask.
“You know,” I’d prompt him. “That talk you were so worried about a couple of weeks ago.”
“Oh, yeah,” he’d say vaguely, frowning.
“Well, when is it?” I’d ask.
He’d shrug. “I gave it last week.”
Silence. He’d be concentrating on something else. It was the pre-smartphone era, and I’ve long forgotten what men concentrated on then when they were acting too busy to be bothered with something important like their wives, for example.
“WELL, HOW DID YOUR TALK GO, GODAMMIT?”
I am not normally a screamer, but you know, sometimes you have to raise your voice. I learned that from the feminist movement.
He’d look up, finally, and shake his head. Then he’d grin. “I knocked it out of the park.”
Well! I won’t bother to tell you how many times we had variations on this melodrama and conversation, since I have no desire to make it clear how slow-witted I am. Let us say, rather, it took me awhile, but I finally caught on.
My husband went on speaking here, there, everywhere. Before he spoke, he’d engage in a little of the same whining about how unprepared he was and, oh, my God, how he was primed for disaster. But I’d learned to ignore him. After a while, he cut it out. Men can’t stand the sight of a woman rolling her eyes when they speak.
Years passed like that, the way years do. Hundreds of talks were given, maybe thousands for all I know. I saw only a fraction of them, but it still added up. Let me say: My husband’s an excellent speaker — relaxed, confident, enthusiastic, knows what he’s talking about.
So, it was a surprise when the TEDx talk came around. (Here, I will stipulate that people are either well-versed in all things TED, in which case they light up like the Fourth of July, or they look blank and polite. If you’re feeling blank and polite, please see this. Let’s just say that to many people, TED is a big deal, and my husband was speaking at one of the affiliated conferences in Austin.)
Another speaking engagement. Fine, great, no big deal.
But then, the date grew nearer and the TEDx talk and preparations moved in with us on a semi-permanent basis. My husband was used to freewheeling talks, taking his time, improvising, winging it. TED is a different animal. Its timing is rigorous, its narrative arc more prescribed. At its best, it produces snappy, inspiring, energetic talks that leave audiences jazzed and ignites their curiosity; at its worst — and this is only my opinion, but then, it’s my goddamned blog — it can trend toward the facile and formulaic. Still, it’s a big deal.
Anyway, I’d never seen my husband sweat a talk the way he did his TEDx. He wrote it, he re-wrote it, he re-re-wrote it. (This is from a man who doesn’t believe in revising.) He got a narrative, he changed the narrative, he deep-sixed the old narratives. He even worked, over and over, with a TED coach.
I witnessed it all. It was kind of like hosting a small storm in our condo; you couldn’t escape it, so you didn’t try. I read narratives, I changed them, I offered criticisms. And I listened. God, I listened a lot. At first I tried to paste on the worshipful Nancy Reagan face, but after a while, it dissolved from overuse.
TED in the morning, TED in the evening, TED at suppertime. TED was also in the shower; I know, because I asked. Forty-eight hours before the unveiling, I begged my husband to wait till the next morning till I heard his talk again. “I can’t hear it again right now,” I said, desperately clutching a glass of wine. (Like Nancy Reagan, I had to just say no.)
Finally, TEDx day dawned. My husband’s talk went well, as you can see here. We both went home, exhausted. It was time to get our lives back to normal, with his muttering about upcoming talks and my ignoring him.
That’s another thing you figure out about marriage. Sometimes, the status quo is just fine.
(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read another of my favorite posts about marriage in So, This Is What a Look of Love is Like?