The Fun Side

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IS THERE BLISS OR BOREDOM IN THE TRENCHES OF MARRIED LIFE? RICHARD MILLER CRAWLS INTO NO-MAN’S-LAND AND GIVES US HIS BEST THOUSAND-YARD STARE.

A lifetime ago, I met a girl. She was very cute and very funny and enjoyed my company as much as I enjoyed hers. Sure, there were uni assignments to write and lectures to skip and occasional shifts at work to autopilot through, but that left a lot of time for fun together.
Movie marathons, meals out, babysitting her nephew (looking after a kid was an enjoyable distraction back then, rather than the endurance test parenting has turned out to be) lazing beside the pool, impromptu road trips: looking back, I see a lot of laughter in those first few years, and not much stress or responsibility.

Maybe this is my old age speaking (don’t let anyone fool you, the mid-thirties are the new mid-fifties), but it feels like the last few years have well and truly reversed that ratio. Is that just the way life goes? We get old and tired and cranky, and have less and less time for fun? Less and less time for each other? Maybe in the same way that a river erodes its banks, the flow of years inevitably cuts an ever deeper rut through our lives, leaching away the fun and leaving a build-up of stress, fatigue and responsibilities like muddy silt below the surface. Our waters become clouded with worries: the mortgage that never shrinks, the career plans that never come to pass, the never-ending housework and bills, the hours spent chained to a desk. Quite frankly, we don’t have time to go to a movie, let alone laze by a pool or embark on an off-the-cuff adventure. And who can afford to eat out all the time?

We get caught in the grind (and not the good coffee house kind). We lose our spontaneity, our sense of purpose and adventure, our ability to laugh at ourselves. We even lose sight of the things we love about our spouses and families. Instead of familiarity breeding contentment, it brings contempt. We get bored with our partners, or blind to them entirely. Fun becomes frustration. Bliss becomes banality. That familiar path between us deepens into a muddy trench, and before we realise it, we’re sniping at each other in the dark and digging through each day—no longer building a home but a hole.

That sounds a bit Carveresque (except with far too much alliteration), or like some weird mash-up between Saving Private Ryan and Revolutionary Road without Tom Hanks’ gentle gravity or the respite of Leo DiCaprio’s beautiful face. All in all, quite the bleak canvas.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. Married life is an exercise in peace-making, not in war-mongering—although sometimes it doesn’t necessarily feel that way. Whether we’ve been hitched five weeks, five years or five decades, I think we can find the fun in our everyday lives and in our most important relationship.

There’s surely joy in our marriage; maybe we just need to get better at looking for it.

Personality plays a role, of course. Some of us are better at finding the magical in the mundane than others. And in some ways we’re at the mercy of things outside our direct control: financial systems, family demands, health problems, our workmates’ attitudes, and so on. Finding the fun doesn’t mean running away from reality. Probably not a good idea to let the dirty dishes moulder while you tell your wife that you can’t do any chores because you’re determined to have fun this year.

I think, as weird as it might sound, the secret to more joy is to add another responsibility to that great pile already in your life. It’s the responsibility to recognise and savour moments of happiness and surprise and contentment as they occur, to actively pursue joy if it seems to be escaping. Especially if you’re someone who gets caught up in the day-to-day stresses and forgets to appreciate the person sharing those stresses with you. Make joy-finding something that you do deliberately, together.

Don’t snipe at each other over whose turn it might be to scrub the pots and pans. Crank up the music and dance as you do the dishes together, as you did when you were first married and you knew the time spent on the most mundane chores was precious if you spent it side by side. Instead of wasting your Saturday night arguing over your household budget (again), buy the cheapest bottle of wine you can find, watch a crappy telemovie with the volume down low and make up your own dialogue, just like you used to do when you were uni students living on noodles and toast and laughter.

I’m not saying it’s a particularly easy thing to do, nor that we should be trying to recreate some blissful (and likely mythical) past. Time marches forward and we march with it. But we must keep our eyes open to what we have and celebrate each other. We must take the time, even if it’s just the three minutes between the kids finally going to sleep and our own exhausted collapse, to look at each other and say things like, “You did really well to stay patient just then” or “Thanks for giving the shower a quick scrub yesterday, it looks so much better”. It’s not much, but we need to make sure we recognise we’re in the trench together, not on opposite sides of the battlefield.

As I write, the same girl I met a lifetime ago is giggling with our daughter as they hold a bubble wand up to the fan and watch the cats chase and pop the bubbles. Sure, we’ll have to mop the detergent off the floor later on, and that’s no-one’s idea of a particularly good time. But the fun is here, now, in the laughter and the wide-eyed wonder, in these common fragile orbs and the tiny refracted rainbows they cast on our walls and floors.

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