When I was young, my best friend and I often compared our opposing views of how love works. She believed in the coup de foudre, the overwhelming passion that can't be denied, and she felt sorry for any relationship that didn't have it. I, on the other hand, envisioned getting to know someone over time: love as a slow, warm dawning. Ironically, she ended up marrying someone she initially assumed would just be a friend, whereas the first time I laid eyes on my future husband it was an effort not to stagger back, stunned.
A few years into our marriage (we've been together for 20 years now), I found myself in conversation with a longtime family lawyer. Gleefully, I described all the ways my husband and I were different. Our families were just the starting point: conservative vs. liberal, wasp vs. Jewish, Midwestern vs. Los Angeles via Brooklyn. Our personal styles were very different, too. I was hopelessly chatty, he was quiet; my idea of a great vacation was Paris, his was a jungle -- anywhere but Europe. When he was planning our honeymoon, I had to warn him that I expected indoor plumbing. It was my honeymoon! (His face fell.) My idea of a delightful evening was dinner with good friends at a wonderful restaurant, where the conversation lasted long after the bill was on the table. This exact scenario was close to his idea of hell. Not even our internal clocks were well matched: He went to bed early and liked to get lots of sleep; I went to bed late and woke up early.
The lawyer suddenly put a hand out to stop me. "You're worrying me," he said, and I was startled by the genuine concern in his eyes. "If you'd told me all this ahead of time, I would have said there's no way this marriage would last."
An early draft of my novel, "Prosper in Love," about a young couple deeply in love who nonetheless manage to put their marriage into peril, included a scene in which, to underline how much the husband character suffered through the restaurant dinners the wife so adored (see above), I had her order coffee and dessert, only to have him rise abruptly from his seat, as if unable to take it any more. "Do you mind?" he said. "I might just take a walk around the block." A friend who read these pages told me that I had to take it out or readers would never believe this couple would marry. I didn't tell her that it had really happened -- on one of my first dates with my husband.
Even my mother had a critique. "You know I adore him," she said, "but I can't say I would have chosen him for you."
I'm not saying that any of this made me question my marriage -- although it did make me less likely to jump to conclusions about other people's relationships. Life -- and love -- are too unpredictable, too unfathomable, for that. And I can't even tell you what makes my marriage work. My best guess is love itself (yes, I know, that's a tautology, not an answer), tempered, perhaps, with a modicum of good humor on both our parts. What I do know is that the happiness of sliding into bed each night with my husband -- the warmth and familiarity and the way we fit together -- far outweighs all the differences and arguments. It even outweighs the rolling of his eyes when I ask for the dessert menu. Or perhaps our marriage works because, in deference to him, I'm willing to compromise and order dessert only half as often as I'd secretly like to.