A funeral for my single self
My husband and I are on the back porch talking about what's coming for his career and for our family in the next few years. Another couple with whom we are friends has been looking at buying an Airstream or similar RV. This has sparked some romantic notions in each of us.
For my part, I have always envied the Wurteles. They are a pro triathlete couple from Canada. Each year, they drive down to St. George, Utah, and park their RV near the swim start for the Ironman 70.3. They spend the next few months with only each other for company and with total freedom to swim, bike, and run each day as they see fit. Heather Wurtele has won Ironman 70.3 St. George multiple times. Then in May, they pack up and drive back to Canada.
I think about how much you would give up, to live away from friends and family like that, excluding everything in your life that wasn't triathlon.
But I also think about how much you would gain, being able to explore yourself deeply and push your capabilities. Like a novelist who goes to a remote cabin for several months, writing every day until he's done. I have to think such a book would be more ambitious, more complex, than whatever you could piece together while juggling a normal life.
When I think of my husband and myself living in an Airstream, I think of a less cluttered life, our stuff in storage. Kicking my husband out underneath the awning to grill steaks or tinker with bikes when he starts to drive me crazy.
But Sean sees it differently. For him, the Airstream is what we park in the drive of our house. It's how we leave for a weekend in the Olympics, no reservations. Or spend a week skiing at Whistler, knowing that each morning we get to wake up in our own bed and with coffee just the way we like it.
His house-plus-RV sends me into fits of agitation. All the extra costs and maintenance and pressure to use the RV when, otherwise, you might book flights to Hawaii instead. I mean, you can rent a lot of Airbnbs before you make up the cost of an RV.
But Sean is a dreamer. He likes to pin an idea up on a cloud, roll it around, see what shapes it might take. I am a planner: If I'm talking about an idea, it's probably already halfway done and I have a robust plan (with contingency plans B, C, and D) to complete the rest.
I've learned that, when Sean pins an idea up, I need to narrow down the time frame so I can determine if we are at a decision point or if I can simply smile and say, "Mm-hmm," without fear of coming home the next week and finding an RV already in our drive.
The latest idea Sean has pinned up on a cloud is a hot tub. Like the RV, this sends me into fits. "Maybe it doesn't make sense to install a hot tub when we're going to move away in just a year or two?" I say.
"Why do I have to ask your permission to do what I want to do?" he says. "You are not the boss of my life."
Am I bossy? I like to think that I'm just trying to wring everything I can out of life, especially in the limited windows of time that we have together, by (albeit, overly) coordinating.
In an interview on This American Life, Alain de Botton describes how his wife, for their tenth wedding anniversary, dressed in black as if for a funeral: "Many of the hopes that took you into the marriage will have to die in order for the marriage to continue," de Botton says.
Sean and I have not reached this phase of our marriage yet. Instead, we typically deal with disagreements like this: He defends his position, I defend my position, until someone Wins and the other person makes A Compromise.
It's exhausting. And leaves both of us feeling more lonely than before.
I love de Botton's image of having a funeral for all the hopes I had as a single person. This doesn't seem dark to me. Rather, it seems like a way to let go of a selfish past that had its time but no longer serves. There is nothing weak or defeated about a funeral.
Then from this letting go, there is all this open space for something new and wonderful to flourish. When we can bury what's right for me, we can instead start to live in what's best for us as a team.
I don't know where our team will land with the RV or the hot tub. What's probably happening now is that Sean is saying, "My life is frantic and stressful, I need a sanctuary where I can relax." What I'm probably saying is, "When you have so little time at home, I feel neglected and unable to share experiences and intimacy with you."
More important than the hot tub, more important than triathlon, is that our marriage continues. And for that, we will have to stop asking, "What do you get and what do I get?" and start asking, "What does our marriage need and how can we each contribute?"
I hope that, by our tenth anniversary, we will have learned enough grace so that we each may dress in black for our respective funerals. Before packing up the Airstream and driving back to the house for a nice soak in our hot tub.