We'd been married nearly a decade, yet we knew so little. Nobody else seemed to know much, either. When I looked around my block or my city, among my family and friends, I found many happy marriages, filled with qualities I envied, but not a single one for which I'd want to trade. Some had combustive chemistry but cycled through burnout and renewal. Others had financial security but had traded footloose selves for traditional roles, and that seemed hard, too. Becoming parents had helped nobody, and the standard remediesthe date nights, the weekend getawaysoften felt cosmetic and under-gunned, like opening a beautifully wrapped and ribboned box to find one's own clothes. I felt changed by marriage, shaped by marriage, mostly for the better. But it also scared me. Dan was my "elected homeland of the heart," to borrow a phrase from Madeleine Kamman's When French Women Cook, one of his favorite books. I needed him. He understood me and he loved menobody else in the world offered both. Still the images of marriage I found most arresting I also found most troubling. Along with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, I adored John Updike's The Maples Stories, stories in which twelve years of marriage feel "almost too long" and Joan and Richard Maples are jaded and hard. In "Twin Beds in Rome," the couple flies to Italy to "cure or kill" their union. The whole vacation is a gauntlet thrown. "You're such a nice woman," Richard says to Joan as they unpack in their hotel. "I can't understand why I'm so miserable with you."
I didn't want this narrativenobody did. Still, Dan was not completely enthusiastic about my marriage improvement concept, at least at first. He fearednot mistakenly, it turned outthat marriage is not great terrain for overachievers. That first night, in our bedroom, he met my marriage-as-waves-on-the-ocean analogy with the veiled threat of California ranch-hand wisdom: If you're going to poke around the bushes, you'd better be prepared to scare out some snakes.
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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