At Large : Real life
Speaking of weddings, as I have recently, it is well known that husbands and wives generally arrive at a working understanding of who's the boss shortly after exchanging vows. There are those who argue that in this modern age, the widespread practice of cohabitating before clinching the deal resolves all hierarchical questions before the wedding, but I doubt it. Men and women don't know everything about how each other works, but they know that living together is one thing and getting married is another. And, they know that wedding vows are one thing, and everyday life is another. Life requires an awful lot more than the promises one makes before marriage and even more than the marriage vows themselves foretell. Men and women know that actions speak louder than words. That the honeymoon is over. Put it any way you like.
A scene or two taken from real life will help illustrate my point. You may have heard that modern marriages are partnerships of equals. He works, she works. He cooks, she does the dishes, and vice versa. She nurses the infant, he changes it. They unite in a bilateral effort to take the little critter to the playground on Saturday morning.
Actually, most marriages are more like multilateral Middle East negotiations. However, in contrast to Middle East negotiations, success is when the talks never end. Or, a better analogy, the tides. The ebbs and flows of authority, advantage, power, and disadvantage, are as ceaseless as the ocean's rise and fall. And, as the moon is to the tides, love is the overseer and moderator of the marriage. The prospect that the tides will quit this daily up and down, delicious to contemplate perhaps, is dim.
It turns out that in our house, I am responsible for disposing of the trash. The definitive negotiation which led to this grant of authority must have gone right over my head, or it happened so quickly that I missed the part where I assented, but nevertheless it's my job. Of course, I have other jobs. There is a list, written in her own precious hand, in red ink, taped to the mirror above my bureau. There are five items on the list. I've checked off three, but I know that there is an unspoken, unwritten list in the mists of our married life, and that it will come into focus one day.
I got some advice - at a very steep price, I might add - from Henry Kissinger, who suggested that I should hold the line at disposal and resist collection. If the trash were placed in the appropriate containment vehicle in the garage, I would transport it to wherever it should go. Trash that was elsewhere in the world except my garage, including elsewhere in the house, would be beyond my jurisdiction. Kissinger said this must be non-negotiable.
Now, it happened that Moll - who had apparently had some advice from someone else - was uninterested in détente and could not care less about the former Secretary of State. She asked me to expand my efforts to include bagging the trash in the kitchen and throughout in the house, carrying it to the garage, and then - she added a deal-breaking requirement - replenishing the wastebasket with a new bag.
I balked, citing historical practice, the injustices experienced by my ancestors, the rights which had accrued to me as the one responsible for garage maintenance, and the need for parity in all negotiations of this sort. I also reminded her that I had recently agreed not to hurl dirty laundry up over the balcony into the laundry room, because the dirty stuff I hurled had a habit of interfering with the clean stuff just removed from the dryer. You'll just have to carry it up the stairs, she said. Absolutely, I said.
On the trash collection and re-bagging issues, I consulted Henry, who merely shrugged. I suggested mediation before the World Court in the Hague. I telephoned Dr. Phil for an on-air intervention, but he didn't return my calls. I put on the table a letter that appeared to have been written in my defense by Gloria Steinem, but it was unceremoniously tossed into the trash, with a sly sideways glance whose message I understood at once. It turned out that, Kissinger be damned, all elements of the negotiation were negotiable. My position in the talks was a loser.
I am proud to report that with time, I have come to see the wisdom of vertical integration as it applies to the tasks associated with trash removal and disposal, and I regret my previous truculence.
On the plus side, Moll and I recycle together (when we can't jam another can into the recycling tubs), and I don't have to do laundry.
Anyway, that's how it goes, really, in modern marriages. And it's not a bad thing. A little give and take never hurts. In fact, as a mechanism for growing good, long marriages, it may be the only proven technique. Without question, an imbalance of forces will destroy any union.
Truculence, denial, and intemperate negotiating tactics will also. For instance, we went sailing once, and we hit a rock. The crucial decisions that led to the calamity were mine. Foolishly, as if I had not learned a blessed thing over the years, I elected irascibility and whining as main techniques for managing the crew's disappointment, bruising, and pain. As a consequence of that benighted approach, considerable negotiations have been required to rebalance the forces since then. An extended period of shuttle diplomacy was necessary before good order was returned to our ship of state. And, it looks as if I may end up doing the laundry. Which I don't mind, really, though I have to say, it's not on any list I've seen, so in pure theory there ought to have been some negotiations before the chore was assigned. But, as I say, real life requires some give and take.