There’s a thing in my family, particularly among the women, where when something’s wrong we purse our lips and say, “I’m fine.”
The more convincingly you say it, the angrier you are. It's a marvelous trap: if people take you at your word, they're being insensitive; if they don't, they're not listening.
I'm aware of springing this trap on my husband, but I do it anyway. Sometimes, for emphasis, I follow it up by angrily washing dishes or make slides for presentations I may or may not ever give.
This is the thing with marriage, and with relationships in general: it's not like you don't know what you're doing. It's that you're stubborn, or blinded by emotion, or you're trying to even out the constantly shifting power dynamic. You know exactly what you're doing, and you do it anyway. As Pat Benatar so aptly put it, love is a battlefield. Grab your put it, love is a battlefield.
It's not like we never saw this coming. In fact, earlier this year, T and I dubbed 2013-2014 the "YOTT" (pronounced, with a hint of irony, "yacht")—Year of Trial and Tribulation. In August, we moved out of our house in Santa Fe, got married in Taos, and pointed the moving truck toward Northern California, all in the same weekend.
That was hard, but it was just the beginning. Having rented our apartment sight unseen, we had no idea how small it would be. (We sleep in the closet. I'm not kidding.) Because rental prices in San Francisco are insane, we live in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood famous for crack addiction and homelessness. Yesterday, while walking the dog, I saw a person sleeping with his arm curled around a pile of used hypodermic needles; other times, I've stepped over used condoms and human feces. Sometimes we joke that you can mute The Walking Dead and hear the same sounds coming from the street below. Jobs and friends are hard to come by, and we both miss the life we'd built for ourselves back in Santa Fe. Moving to a new city further complicates that—since we're both just building our new lives, we don't have the same support networks that we did before, so we end up relying more on each other at the exact point when both of us are a little less able to support each other.
As a friend put it to me recently, "How do I complain to my husband about my husband?"
According to an Australian study, people in their first year of marriage are the least happy. Their happiness improves after the first year, then continues to grow: the happiest couples have been married 40 years or longer.
This is validating: things are supposed to be hard. It gets better. Surprisingly, though, it's about money.
"The survey found the lower well being in the first year of marriage was linked to lower levels of satisfaction with a standard of living," The Australian reported in December 2012. According to the same article, joining your incomes doesn't quite offset the sudden reality of how much it actually costs to be grown-ups: owning a home, having children, etc. Nowhere does this seem more applicable than in San Francisco, city of skyrocketing rents and tech industry income imbalance.
But for all our self-awareness and understanding of the externalities at work, sometimes things are just hard. The other night, we had a sort of meta-fight about the extent to which we each felt it was appropriate to talk about our respective professional and personal challenges. And then T said something like, “What if we just decide not to fight about this right now?” And somehow, everything was fine—actually fine, not fake-fine. Maybe we just needed to recognize that we had a choice.
As a friend recently advised, we marriage freshmen have to cut ourselves some slack. (I think that's especially true for those of us whose marriage coincides with another huge life change.)
Some things will just be hard, and maybe the best (albeit most difficult) thing we can do is, instead of trying to fix them or pretend we're fine, to just let life be hard. But I'm going to be really, really happy when the only yacht we talk about is actually spelled correctly.
Alexa Schirtzinger is SFR's former editor and a current John S Knight journalism fellow at Stanford University. Keep up with her at aschirtz.tumblr.com