I wish I could take credit for that title, the whole design vs. default bit, but it actually came from a book I’ve been listening to on Audible titled If You’re In My Office It’s Already Too Late: A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together.
Before you gasp and wonder if I’m booking sessions with a $600/hr. divorce lawyer, I’m simply reading a collection of books advised in a blog post I read recently, about which I’ll write more later.
I felt that caveat was important, lest my mother call me pronto.
The book is enjoyable, as the author tells some compelling (though not entirely applicable) stories about his journey as a divorce lawyer. Journey is probably not the sort of word he’d use, but it’s a good description of his awareness, experience and ultimate contemplation of what makes marriages fail, and (thus) what we can do to avoid such dissolution.
In one of the last chapters, I think it’s Ch. 39 (but, again, I’m listening to it and that makes things murky), he talks about the lack of attention and focus we put into marriage after a while. Marriages become sort of ignored and lived as a default rather than with intention or design. We kind of assume that the marriage will plug along and develop and grow simply by having been established in the first place, but as has become clear with modern divorce rates, a marriage is very much like a garden: it takes some tending.
I’ve been thinking about this and looking at my own relationships, marriage and otherwise. Am I coasting? Is there intention? Is there design?
I think this question applies to marriage, careers, housekeeping, book reading, everything. I realize there is beauty in the moment and in letting the world unfold around us, and then there is beauty in planning, in designing, in having a vision for the future. Often, it seems these two things are at odd with each other: on the one hand, we want to plan. On the other hand, we don’t want to control or hold too tightly to a vision of the future at the expense of the now.
But I wonder if there isn’t a balance, a point at which we know what we want, we’ve chosen a path but we’re still able to enjoy the view. In some ways, having a map or making a plan enables us to enjoy the present, the now, because we’re not stuck constantly looking for clues as to where to turn next, wondering if we’re headed in the right direction.
And there is, of course, the usual suspect of frenetic lives, a focus on doing and buying and working that all keep us from sitting with our spouse and having a glass of wine and just talking, about the future or a book or the sunset.
How seldom do we do this when we could, and often do, talk about things like schedules, dinner options and bills? Sometimes, in our house, it’s truly seldom.
I think there is an idea, in marriage and with nearly all relationships, that the establishment of the union is the hard part. It’s hard to meet someone who lights our socks on fire or is solvent enough to trust with our bank accounts, let alone our hearts, and we think that the hard part is walking down the aisle and pledging ‘I do.’ Then, suddenly, the years and decades have passed, often with little focus or intention on the marriage itself, the living thing that we agreed to keep alive for the rest of our lives, and when it grows stale, we all seem surprised.
The question (and it’s a little scary to consider) is this: what do you want your marriage to be, and is it headed in that direction or not?
If you close your eyes, what do you see? What do you think of when you think of your marriage? What do you see when you think of your relationships with your kids? What do you see if you look at it through a lens, filtering out the periphery and getting down the brass tacks about the state of your affairs?
I don't think these are questions for the faint of heart. Sometimes it’s easier to opt out, arguing you’d rather focus on the here-and-now rather than some distant future. But that’s a cop-out as far as I’m concerned, one I’m all-too-familiar with.
I’m like the witness on the stand, trying to answer the question without answering the question, and the judge has to turn to me and say, tiredly, “Please, just answer the question.”
Also, doesn’t the guy in the Rousseau painting look like David Bowie? Is it just me?