So much for making a lifetime commitment based on how a guy looks in jeans. The 36 Questions hubbub is making me wonder how I could have been so shallow as if a single garment should have such predictive value. Worse is that jeans are so ubiquitous, something that grandfathers and toddlers both wear, heads of state and janitors. At least asking how he looked in a tux would have led to a factoring in of income and class. But the need to make my choice more complex and nuanced escaped me at the time. There were the jeans and this one question: are you available?
If you’ve missed it, the 36 Questions business is basically the theory that a heartfelt, sincere conversation between two people focusing on 36 scripted questions will result in their falling in love. This is different from a Match.com questionnaire that seeks to establish compatibility. The reasoning behind 36 Questions is that the two people will fall in love by virtue of the intimacy created by their conversation. In other words, sharing how we feel about our mothers and what we envision as a perfect day create a very fast connection and because it’s fast, it feels pretty powerful.
Women understand this intimacy-creating process. In my experience, sharing personal information is how women make friends. Men not so much. I don’t really know how men make friends with each other except by what I’ve observed which is a complicated combo of competition and activities. With men, their relationships with each other seem woven around external business. With women, relationships seem most rooted in our emotional histories, the connection built upon the divulging of secrets, feelings and frustrations not expressed to men. Now, how two people fall in life in terms of wanting to spend their lives together is a different proposition altogether.
I often read obituaries in our local paper. People with marriages of 50 and 60 years will recall what captivated them about their departed spouses. They think back at what lit the spark: a wink, an extra fast jitterbug, a ride in a beautifully waxed car, a hand in the small of the back going through a doorway, hair falling over one eye, leaning over to listen, having hands that could hold a baby and their own aching head someday. And then it seemed like they built a whole life around that wild strand of hair. They married, had children, went broke, got solvent, had parties, were left alone, played the old music on tape recorders at the nursing home, and when the one’s head was shiny and bare, the other remembered the lock of hair that fell over that one eye, seeing it as if it was still there to be pushed back to make way for a kiss on the forehead.
I jest about the jeans being my only criteria but only partly. I met and married my husband of nearly 32 years after five months of on and off and then very on again dating. We didn’t ask a lot of questions. It would have interrupted our intoxicating foolhardiness.
The intimate conversation I needed to have with a partner was a very long one because it covered things that could only be shown, not told. And the only way those things could be shown was by living life. Gambling, in other words. Taking a very big risk based basically on the jeans.
Those were things I could have asked at the beginning, sitting in a dark restaurant with the list of questions spread out on the table between us, but the answers would be too well-thought out, calculated to score, maybe artificially frank to accelerate our intimacy. I wouldn’t have wanted that. Better to let things unfold at their own pace and in their own direction. The web of our relationship couldn’t be hurried. What I needed to know would take a while to learn.
I needed to know that my partner would be a good sport, that he would regroup quickly after a disappointment, not dwell on it until a small sadness became a tragedy.
I needed to know that my partner could get very angry and never hurt me, never threaten to leave, never intimidate me, never lay a hand on me in anger. I needed to know that, with my partner, everything in our lives that he or I could control would be safe.
I needed to know that my partner knew how to be happy and that he believed in being happy and wasn’t comfortable being negative or sad for its own sake. I needed to know that my partner would only require half the air in the room, not most or all of it.
I needed to know that my partner would want to be proud of me and when my own accomplishments seemed small and inconsequential, he would find ways to encourage and empower me to be successful.
I needed to know that my partner understood that it’s a happy and exciting thing that people change, that the way they are at the beginning and the things they thought at the start won’t necessarily define them later, its a mystery how people evolve even when we know them very well.
If a marriage was an illustrated book, most of it would be pictures with very few words. A marriage is built on the doing, not the saying. The action, not the promise. The reality, not the intention.
I say that from my perch on the other end of the tunnel. I fell in love a long time ago based on almost nothing more than the jeans. It’s how it works, I think, if people let it work that way.