Excerpt from No Cheating, No Dying by Elizabeth Weil, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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No Cheating, No Dying

I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried To Make It Better

by Elizabeth Weil

No Cheating, No Dying
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    Feb 2012, 192 pages

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But then you do: You endure.

That night, for dinner, I endured a deep-fried pig's tail. (Same pig, opposite end.) Some other wife might have endured the NFL. And as I lay next to Dan, later, feeling gustatorily put out, I started wondering why I was being so passive. Not in the sense that I wasn't fighting back. Why wasn't I applying myself more to being a spouse?

I loved Dan utterly. I even made him say this aloud—Lizzy loves me utterly—whenever he felt depressed. My marriage was the very center of my life. Sure, we'd taken some hits and suffered some losses, enough to know life and love are fragile. But none had driven a major wedge, at least as far as we acknowledged. So we just kept cruising, promising each other we would not cheat and we would not die, working off the lazy theory: so far so good.

This motivational soft spot around marriage was not unique to my own. Most of my peers had spent their twenties and thirties applying themselves: to school, work, sports, health, friendship, and, most recently, parenting—which in my case meant trying to figure out how best to raise an eight-year-old so lost in her dreams of The Secret Garden that she falls off the kitchen stool while eating breakfast, and a five-year-old so outrageous she's on track to be the next Sarah Silverman. But in this critical area—marriage—we'd shrugged and turned away. I wanted to understand why. I wanted to stop accepting this. Dan, too, had spent his twenties and thirties working tirelessly—okay, obsessively—at skill acquisition. Over the course of our eleven years together, he'd taught himself to be a meticulous carpenter and excellent, if catastrophically messy, chef. He'd buy mountainous stacks of books. Read. Take notes. Practice. Read more. Take more notes. Practice more. Repeat. In this way he'd learned to sweat pipe, run electrical wiring, hang drywall, cut stringers for stairs, salt cod, cure pancetta, build sourdough starter, reduce fifty dollars' worth of veal bones down to two cups of stock. On the night in question, Dan had been working on his so-called "fitness unit," studying the obscure Soviet-era weight-training manuals of Tudor Bompa, in hopes of transforming his already-reasonably-fit forty-one-year-old body into that of a young marine. My point here is that this man, my husband, was not an if-it's-not-broke-don't-fix-it kind of person. Yet he, too, shared the seemingly ubiquitous aversion to the concept of looking inside and trying to improve our marriage, and doing so not because our marriage was in crisis but just because marriage is so important and prone to drift.

That night, in bed, the image that came to mind, and that I shared with Dan, was that I'd been viewing our marriage like the waves on the ocean—a fact of life, determined by the sandbars below, shaped by destiny and the universe, not by me. And this, suddenly, seemed ridiculous. I am not a fatalistic person. In my twenties I even believed that people made their own luck. Part of the luck I believed I'd made for myself arrived in the form of Dan himself, three days after I'd moved to San Francisco, in the spring of 1998. Meeting this rugged freckled redhead was beyond the best-case scenario I'd envisioned for a move I'd worked diligently, of course, to make quite smooth. Before leaving Chicago, where I'd been living, I'd arranged to rent a small office in a group space for San Francisco writers called the Grotto. Every Tuesday these mostly young, mostly single writers met at a bar called Mars. That first Tuesday, in walked Dan.

He looked like he'd just climbed out of the ocean, as in not even showered before pulling on his jeans. His nose was straight, sunburned, and peeling. He had salt caked on his eyelashes and in his hair. He was tall, angular, calm, and handsome, and when he talked he covered his mouth with a hand, to hide the gap between his teeth. But I liked this—his vulnerability, his apparently thin skin. I thought it made him approachable. He had blue eyes, startlingly clear, which he also hid behind ancient gold-rimmed glasses. They were the most beautiful eyes I'd ever seen.

Excerpted from No Cheating, No Dying by Elizabeth Weil. Copyright © 2012 by Elizabeth Weil. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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