Marriage. Commitment. Monogamy. Long-term relationship. For some, these words might be swoon-worthy, tapping into deep longings, bringing forth wistful sighs. For others, these words bring forth shudders, slight nausea, along with an instantaneous urge to text that hottie from the club last night-"You can't take me alive!"...words to live by. For those of us in long-term relationships, those words probably elicit a spectrum of responses. When everything is going well in Marriage-Commitment-Monogamy Land, we might feel a deep sense of contentment. We gaze at our partner feeling blessed to be with that one, right person. It's such a privilege to share life with someone who just gets us, isn't it? When things aren't going so well in MCM Land, malcontent rules the valley. That old cliché "Familiarity breeds contempt" starts to take on significance in new ways: "I never noticed the way he chewed his food before. God, it's annoying." The little things that used to be funny or endearing grate--"You know, I actually think the way you sing the theme song from "The Love Boat" is stupid! I wish you'd never sing it again! Ever!" Then, children come along, and the valley of MCM Land is never quiet, and you are never alone. Again.
Malcontent ruled my own valley not so long ago. I have four daughters one of whom has autism. Another one has ADD, and yet another was just diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Clearly, we are rockin' some awesome genetics. When my husband and I married, we were best friends. Young and in love, full of hope for what the future might bring us. Sixteen years later, we are exhausted. He's working all the time; I'm the family social worker, coordinating services for everyone, counseling the anxious and depressed teenager, managing the ADDer, and constantly running interference for the family Aspie. We are ships passing in the night. Time alone? Ha! A date? Huh. Sex? Hmmm...I don't know if we remember how to do that, but I've heard it's like riding a bicycle.
The state of MCM Land deteriorated further on 9/11 of this year. That was the day that my husband declared we ought to celebrate my birthday. What?! Who wants to celebrate their birthday on 9/11? "Baby, your birthday is on a Monday," he explained, "so, it makes sense to celebrate it today. We're all together. It's the weekend! It'll be fun!" I pouted. "But, it's September 11th." Apparently, the family Aspie agreed. "Why do we have to celebrate Mom's birthday today? I wanted to go to Creative Kidstuff!!" Ouch, that hurt. It was a horrible birthday. Not only was I "celebrating" my birthday on a day that wasn't my birthday, but I was also celebrating my birthday on a national day of grieving. And, no one else in the family was too jazzed about it either except for my husband who was all for celebrating with efficiency. There were no shouts of glee or any other kind coming from MCM Land that night, I assure you.
I will tell you that after sixteen years of marriage, my husband did realize that I was both disappointed and hurt. I wonder how he figured it out--"I don't want to celebrate my birthday next year. No one cares that I was born. Let's just skip it, okay?" On 9/13, he declared to me, "Baby, you need a birthday do-over! I'm takin' you out on the town! Wear something sexy." I gasped with excitement! A date? Just us?! A sexy date? Oh, we hadn't gone out on a sexy date in years. How does one feel sexy when life isn't about you anymore? How does one even invest time and energy in trying to "get there" when your marriage feels more like a corporate partnership? "I'm taking ____ here. Could you pick more milk up before you come home? Oh, ______ needs help with her math homework. Oh, the recycling needs to be taken out, and please call _____. He needs more information about the taxes." And on and on and on. This partnership doesn't feel like it used to. Now, it just feels like a string of conference calls in order to exchange information. We just need to move from point A to point G. Here's what you need so that you don't skip over point F. "Wait, what? I forgot to tell you about ____ (insert pertinent information)? Well, great. We just missed point E. Why are you so forgetful! Oh, don't you dare blame...," and argument ensues. This is what life, love, and long-term relationships can become in MCM Land when things are neglected. Beware the corporate partnership.
I didn't realize that we had been behaving like business partners until I was sitting in our favorite sexy date restaurant sipping a very sexy drink. Away from our tremendous responsibilities, dressed in something lovely, feeling like an adult woman rather than a "mother", I was able to take a deep breath and look at my husband. There he was, the man I married. My best friend. My lover. That guy with the sharp wit and killer grin--"I think you need another drink, baby. By the way, you look so freakin' sexy. Did I tell you that?" I melted a little on the inside. I hadn't felt like that in a very long time. We ate wonderful food, and I drank too much. In truth, three drinks, and I've had too much to drink. I also think my husband deliberately got me drunk. I was loud and flirtatious, and I said all sorts of lascivious things. I embarrassed myself horribly, but I didn't care. We were having such a fabulous time with each other. That night, we weren't parents or taxpayers or homeowners or employees or neighbors. We were for each other, and I remembered all the reasons why I married him.
When we left, he suggested that we walk a bit so that I could regain some balance; I was more than a little tippled. I felt so free and exhilarated. I didn't want to go home and lose this feeling. What was this feeling? We were laughing, flirting, touching each other. Oh, it was so much fun! That was it. We were having fun together. Life hadn't felt fun for a very, very long time. "Hey," I said quietly, "I'm kinda drunk." He winked at me. "Yes. You are." I giggled, "Now that you've got me drunk and at your mercy, what are you gonna do with me?" He stopped and looked at me, and then there was that killer grin. "I've got an idea." He dragged me to the parking ramp wherein we had parked. He took off towards the roof, parked the car in the darkest corner away from the cameras and onlookers, and leaned in towards me, "Ever gone parking when you were a teenager?" That was all it took. We made out like kids in the family car until the windows were steamed up. It was heaven.
Life does not slow down for anyone. It has a vampiric effect on us stealing our energy and will to go the extra mile. Add children or children with special needs whose needs are endless, and you will soon find that your inner well of resources is completely tapped out. Soon, bitter winds are blowing through MCM Land, and you might be thinking of moving on to the reportedly greener pastures of Swinging Singles Island. There's always the Divorced Desert, but that's a hard and lonely place to live. It seems that once you're there, you either want to go back to MCM Land or hit Hedonism II, but staying in the desert never seems to be a desirable option particularly if you're taking kids with you.
This is why I don't suggest the following with insouciance but rather with great seriousness. I have come to believe that forging a happy life in the valleys of MCM Land is nearly impossible without the elements of adventure and fun. When we begin to experience our partners as mere accompanists or a means to an end, then we are in the middle of relational degradation. How can we reconnect on many levels quickly and often? Leaving the familiar home environment, wearing something different, and being to each other who we truly are is the beginning. Our date was so much fun. We flirted, talked, engaged each other in interesting conversation, and remembered why we moved to MCM Land in the first place. We enjoyed each other. It was sheer pleasure, and it gave me hope that we still "had it". I needed to know that because every day since then has been full of challenges. There has been the occasional "passing like ships in the night", but there has also been some steamy, sexy rumpus, too. Fun is not overrated. Cultivate fun and adventure in your relationship. I have discovered that it is key to making the mundane aspects of life a bit more magical. As for the not so mundane aspects? Well, if you're up for turning up the volume on your sex life, then, by all means, add some fun and adventure into the other parts of your everyday life together. You'll soon discover that it's making its way into your bedroom. Seek it out. You won't be disappointed.