This week I read Joshua Ferris’ The Breeze, a short story about a married couple who are out in the search of excitement due to the moment of spring that the wife, Sarah, experiences while sitting on the porch of their New York City home. The story is filled with alternate endings (and even some alternate middles) on how the couple chooses to spend this one, glorious spring evening. It is also filled with Sarah’s severe unhappiness about her married life. Apparently she feels like she is missing out on…something exotic and adventurous.
The story is written solely from the female POV though for a brief moment, the reader gets a glimpse of Jason’s (the husband) mantra should he have been in the lead role of maneuvering the marriage in the way he wanted it to go. While it was a nice break from Sarah’s nonsensical behavior and her constant push/pull into demanding what she wanted, only to feign disinterest when she got it, the feel of Jason’s “tantrum”, for lack of a better word, was rather childish. It spouted off more as a three year old demanding what he wanted than as a man who was trying to get his point across.
It’s difficult to determine, without sitting down with the author and specifically asking him, what Ferris was trying to do with that particular scene. Was he insinuating that when a woman is demanding that she sounds like a three year old having a tantrum? Does he really think women have a tendency to be as nitpicky, controlling, and whiny as his female main character? And if he does believe all of these things, what exactly does that say for his complacent male character who does nothing more than go along with whatever whim his wife is attracted to at the moment?
Although I found the multiple middles and ends of this story to be challenging to get on board with, it did give me a glimpse into what this particular male author thinks about marriage and the workings of the female mind. And it got me thinking…are we, as women, really like that? Do we have trouble making up our mind, fickle as the breeze that’s repeatedly mentioned in this story?
The answer to that…is probably. Some women are, anyway.
But I think the part of the story that I had most trouble getting on board with, was the portrayal of the male character. All too often in the various media portrayals of men, they come across as wimpy, complacent, bored with life, or going through some type of midlife crisis that results in them behaving in such an atrocious way that I wonder how any woman could possibly fall for one of these guys.
That’s not to say that I believe men should be like the stars of romance novels or behave in a way that is shown in the multiple romantic comedies that have spanned the length of time. Though I’d be lying if I said having my husband behave like John Cusak did in the movie Serendipity wouldn’t be amazing…minus the fact that he carried an unrequited love for another woman throughout his engagement to his rather whiny fiancé, only to ultimately leave her at the altar.
See, that’s the thing. We, as humans, want that drive of someone in love with us. We want the man (or woman) to see us with sparks flying and that novelty feeling that comes with attraction at first sight. It’s the thrill of the chase; the destiny we all believe is out there. Yet, let’s face it. Even when we find that perfect someone, there are still dishes to do, laundry to wash, and children to feed. Yes, there are moments of spontaneity, but they are sprinkled into a life of the ordinary.
I remember vividly what my husband and I have come to refer to as the “Steak-n-Shake moment” in our relationship. We’d been dating for a few months and were positively smitten with one another. We went out a lot, took scenic drives, ate romantic meals together, and enjoyed dreaming about how great our future with one another was going to be. It was heavenly.
We also did our fair amount of putting the kids down for naps, making meals, cleaning up after those meals, and paying bills. Our relationship did not have that “fairy tale” look of two people who meet and then go through the typical steps of falling in love, getting married, falling in love, etc. There’s some back story there that we can get to at another time.
Anyway, back to Steak-n-Shake. We’d stopped off for a little bit of couple time and a couple of ice cream shakes. As we sat there, our entire relationship took on a different kind of…something. It was as if, in that moment, the novelty wore off. Left in its place was an ordinary couple who did a lot of ordinary things, despite a dream of the extraordinary.
It’s quite possible the novelty had been slowly chipping away, one day after the other, throughout our relationship. Which is fine, because eventually, you get tired of the butterflies in your stomach. I did, anyway. But when that novelty wears off, you see what’s really lying underneath it all. And we had reached that moment.
In a lot of ways we were like any other young couple who had found one another through the miracle of the Internet and had developed a fondness for one another. We had very little in common other than a past marriage each, a smattering of children in tow, and a desire to find “the one” that was going to go the distance in a marriage.
As we sat there spooning ice cream into our mouths, we both came to the realization that the butterflies had fanned out and were on their way to upset the stomachs of other couples. The shiny newness of the relationship had faded to a comfortable matte finish that, while lovely in color, wasn’t that exciting. The ice cream date ended with both of us thinking the other was on the verge of ending the relationship.
Ouch. Not a way you want to experience a date with someone you love. Right?
When we got back to the house I was living in and got into the evening routine with the children, there was this feeling that we were standing on the precipice of something great. We could either walk away from this fragile thing we called love because there wasn’t a shiny new bow on it anymore or we could take hold of this rock that had lost its shine and work at giving it back its gloss.
He sat in the chair in the living room while I puttered around in the kitchen. The mood was less than joyful. As the kids were playing and taking turns in the bathtub, I realized what I was really looking for wasn’t a romantic comedy type of man or constant excitement. What I wanted was a marriage. I wanted love everlasting.
“Nothing’s really changed, you know. Nothing bad has happened, neither of us is unhappy in the relationship,” I told him as I sank down in the chair with him.
“That’s true. I still love you. I want to be with you,” he told me as he held me close.
“And I want to be with you. And if that’s what we want, that’s what we have to focus on.”
I kissed him. He kissed me back.
There wasn’t a bolt of lightning. The butterflies didn’t come racing back. We didn’t get up and spontaneously run off to do something adventurous. If I remember correctly, we put the kids to bed and watched a movie.
Because, unlike Sarah and Jason in Ferris’ The Breeze, I wasn’t in need of upsetting what we had in our relationship. I didn’t (and still don’t) want constant complacency or lack of spontaneous adventures in my relationship (that has turned into a happy marriage, by the way), but I was ready to accept that life isn’t like that. So, why should I expect marriage to be?
Yes, marriages can end up complacent and monotonous if the couple doesn’t engage in hobbies, never takes a vacation, or isn’t interested in trying new things. But just because a couple doesn’t experience exciting evenings together every day of the week doesn’t mean the marriage is dull.
Ferris’ refers to that moment of recapturing the excitement of marriage as a fickle breeze that must be caught for fear of the marriage either dying out completely (one of the alternate endings he wrote) or becoming stale and boring. For me and my husband, that moment was captured over ice cream shakes at a chain restaurant.
If you experience The Breeze, I encourage you to grab hold of it and decide which way you’ll take the relationship. It’s not necessary to ramp up the intensity on a daily basis, but it is necessary to decide whether you’re going to hold onto that moment and run with it or watch it pass by you; a relationship that dies out before your eyes.