The young couple living above my apartment share a loud, witty friendship. On hot Saturday afternoons, their conversation, thick with laughter, flows into my small living space, both an intrusion and a welcome guest. It is their first year of marriage. And as with the glitter of many things new, they still have that ticklish excitement about each other. Although my participation in the details of their union is limited, catching only pieces of dialogue here and there, they exist in sharp contradiction to the idea that the first year of marriage is usually the most turbulent.
This idea has not always had permanence in my head. Being a romantic idealist, I have always thought the first year of marriage would involve earth shattering sex and conversation, leaving just enough space to breathe and work and be human. But little by little, meeting a mentor here, speaking to an old couple there, I came to discover the complexities many newly-weds have to endure.
At first a surprise, I would find myself wondering: Didn’t you know him before? Why is the idea of living with this person so headache inducing? It’s not like you picked her up from the market. These thoughts, evidence of an un-lived life, littered my arguments whenever a conversation about the subject came up.
Imagine my surprise; shock even, when I read about a young influential woman, who almost got divorced in the first year of her marriage because she could not blend with the living habits of her partner. Some other person once told me how a couple had lost their marriage because they did not agree on which end of the tooth paste to squeeze from. One hears such things and thinks it is a meme – an attempt at humor by some online mischief maker. But the narrative abounds, and with the consistency of every new example, I found myself drifting slowly to this conclusion: The first year is tough. The only problem is that my neighbours, and a few other people, through their example, seem to dismantle this logic.
As a child, I did not grow up with the best model of what a marriage should be, so I went hunting through people’s experience in order to legitimize my ideals. When Mr. Oje, my immediate boss, and one of the nicest men I know, told me his first year of marriage was just as tedious, my lungs constricted so tightly that for a second I was not able to breathe. He has been married to Mrs. T for fourteen years, and their union, like something carved in concrete, has settled into a predictable loyalty that only time and devotion can bring. He flurries round the office, running administrative errands to help his wife’s business, scanning things, writing profiles, tirelessly making her shine. And she sings about him every chance she gets, on most of her speaking platforms. This is not the test of a happy home, but my point is, they are good people. And if good people can stumble through chaos in their first year of marriage, what then is the fate of hotheaded, irritable, and anxiety-prone over thinkers like myself?
So I queried Mr. Oje for details, wanting to know how he arrived the fourteenth year from a turbulent first year. He told me there were hot arguments, boiling and searing conversations, an adamancy by each partner to situate themselves firmly in the habits they had always known. He, calm and introverted, his wife, bubbly and social. From what he tells me, the first year is likely the toughest because there is no fusion yet, no middle point or compromise. Couples arrive at a marriage destination still as single and independent as the day they turned eighteen.
Another reason – and this is just me picking the conversation at the seams, is that marital expectations or ideals, no longer hover like a cloud, light and out of reach. Suddenly, reality descends with a stark clarity and a brutal ugliness. Maybe the problem is that the couples were never ready for such harsh confrontations. I like to think it is really that simple, though things are not always black or white, after all, there are marriages that crash in the first year even when the parties have dated and cohabited years before the wedding.
These days, I find myself anticipating marriage with a sense of eventuality, something I believe will someday happen. When it does, I hope it is with someone with whom blending will be easy, seamless. I hope I enjoy friendship with all its whispered conversations, wild laughter and similar perception of things. But where this is not so, I hope my limbs carry me from the ground and move, so I can at least meet my partner half way.