You’ve read those “relationship articles” in the magazines in the doctor’s office. You’ve listened to the somber, tear-stained advice from your divorced friends, who once believed that their own perfect unions would prevail over differences such as these: Children or no children? Republican or Democrat? Urban or rural? Petit Syrah or Pabst Blue Ribbon? Reading books or binge-watching The Kardashians?
Believe me, any of these issues could well turn out to be deal-breakers. Moreover, there are other potential problem-areas that you may not find in those magazine articles, but which may very well turn out to be just as crucial to the success of your adorable relationship.
Let’s take going to the movies as one example. You’re delighted to find that you share a passion for seeing movies in the theater, rather than just waiting for them to appear at the nearest Redbox. Great! Check! We’re off to the movies! Things are going so well!
What to see comes almost as an afterthought. Trust me on this — it shouldn’t. You’re driving to the theater, checking the listings.
“Oh, look,” you say. “Here’s that new Lars Van Trier film.”
“I don’t know who that is,” she says. “What is it about?”
“The human condition,” you say.
“Oh, look,” she says. “Here is that new Reese Witherspoon film.”
“What’s it about?” you say.
“Hopefully, not the human condition,” she says.
My spouse and I have been together for 15 years. We love going to the movies. We’ve seen literally dozens of movies together. We have agreed on approximately five. I tend to prefer movies that I would call “complex,” “unpredictable,” “courageous,” and “original.”
She has a different set of adjectives for such movies, as follows: “miserable,” “wretched,” “boring,” and “punitive.” She believes that I choose these movies because I have unresolved feelings of self-loathing lurking deep inside, and that I choose movies as a means of punishing myself and, by extension, her.
Here is a typical snippet of our post-movie commentary as we exit the theater, or — in extreme cases — wait until we get into the car for the sake of privacy:
Me: “Didn’t you think that was astonishing? What a parable of contemporary alienation!”
Her: “What a steaming pile of horse manure. That is the LAST time I let you pick the movie.”
Me: “Here’s a question: Can’t a movie be both pretentious and visionary? Self-indulgent and ground-breaking?”
Her: “Why are you talking like that? Is there a switch on you somewhere that I can turn off? Here’s another question: Can we get our money back?”
Me: “Don’t you want to see movies that move and stimulate you?”
Her: “I want to see movies that don’t make me want to slit my wrists. I know this may sound crazy to you, but I like to see movies that make me feel happy and hopeful.”
We’ve been having variations of this same conversation for 15 years. There are only two reasons that I am allowed to continue picking the majority of the movies we see. One, she loves me dearly and tolerates my pathetic obsession with all things dark. Two, she can never remember the names of the movies she wants to see, so I usually get to pick by default.
Even so, she has ways of getting even that she knows will drive me insane, little habits that threaten not only our own union, imperfect though it may be, but the entire foundation of civilized behavior, or, if you will, our “social compact.”
For one thing, she will eat all of the popcorn during the seven trailers we must endure before the movie begins. This, of course, is an abomination. There is only one way that self-actualized, high-functioning people will manage the “popcorn situation” at the movies, and that is to buy the popcorn, and then WAIT until the trailers have all finished playing.
Once the movie actually begins, it is permissible to begin eating the popcorn. I thought everyone understood that this is not some trivial form of delayed gratification for the greater good, but a fundamental principle of movie-going, right up there with not giving away spoilers and not taking calls during the movie.
She claims that this behavior is “controlling,” just another example of how I punish and deny myself basic pleasures, such as popcorn that is still hot and fresh. She has a point there. The string of trailers will last a good 20 minutes, and by then the popcorn is nearly cool to the touch.
“Cold popcorn is almost as depressing as the movies you pick,” she says. “What kind of person buys perfectly good popcorn, and then sits and watches it for 20 minutes until it is cold and tastes like packing peanuts?”
We’ve considered buying a separate, slightly smaller bag of popcorn just for the trailers, but then we considered whether spending $50 dollars for movie popcorn was a wise addition to our monthly entertainment budget.
Her: “Cheaper than marriage counseling.”
I have to admit, eating hot popcorn while watching the movie trailers feels pretty good. Sometimes, you have to go a little crazy for a thing called love.