Last month, I celebrated my 19th wedding anniversary to my devoted husband, Al. He puts up with all my crazy shit and, he does laundry too! It doesn’t get much better. Plus, I can happily say that I never had mother-in-law problems in this relationship. Al’s mom was a wonderfully kind and gentle woman who only wanted her kids to be happy. The best part was that she wasn’t Jewish which meant NO GUILT TRIPS!
When Al was a kid and he misbehaved, his mom would hit him in the head with one of her flip-flops. The cool thing is, now, she smacks him from the spirit world. All I have to say is, “hey mom, Al’s being a dick again” Next thing you know he’s walking into a wall or something falls on his head. It totally freaks him out.
My first marriage was another story. Mother-in-law problems were rampant in my household. The woman would get drunk and actually send me hate mail.
On my first wedding day in 1985, I remember walking through the hotel lobby on the way to the altar, when suddenly, I had an epiphany. I didn’t want to get married. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be with this man until my dying day. I refused to walk through the chapel door but my ever helpful mother pushed me in. She thought I was just having nervous jitters. (That wasn’t the bride tripping in the wedding video, that was her mother shoving her in the door. God forbid we should keep the rabbi waiting. What would the guests think if the bride didn’t walk in? Oy, I’d be mortified at the Mahjong group next Thursday) Everything was a whirl after that. I felt like someone who was stuck in a dream. Before I knew it, I was married.
My mother-in-law had obviously been “in the booze” before the ceremony – she stumbled down the aisle. She wore an absolutely lovely lavender gown (her daughter picked it out) but refused to purchase matching shoes. Who does that? No one could convince her that she looked ridiculous with the black open toe suede shoes peeking out from under her gorgeous silky dress. Wearing suede in May in 1985 just wasn’t done – let alone black suede with lavender silk? If the fashion police were at the wedding they would have booked her.
Walking down the aisle in a drunken stupor, she tripped and fell on her ass, flask flying from under the folds of her dress. I could see my grandmother having conniptions and jabbing my grandfather in his side. The smirk on her face when she looked at me said “I told you that you should have married a nice Jewish boy”. It didn’t matter that I was getting married under a Chuppah by a rabbi. As far as Grand-mom was concerned a reform rabbi wasn’t really a rabbi – he didn’t wear a yarmulke. Oy, Dana, dear. You couldn’t even give me nachas on your wedding day? Such a disappointment you are. A goy with a schickered mother? Thank God your aunt Esther is dead. This would break her heart.
Years later, I remember telling my grandmother that I was going to marry Al. We were sitting at her kitchen table where she was trying to shove a bowl of borscht in my face. Her kitchen smelled like a combination of cooked beets and melted tea kettle. Yes, that’s what I said. Grand-mom would put the kettle on and then forget about it. Hours later the metal would literally be melted from the heat. How they never had a fire, I’ll never know but, Macy’s sure did sell my grandparents a lot of tea kettles.
Me: Grand-mom, you know I hate borscht.
Grand-mom: Nu? Eat it anyway.
Me: I came over to tell you that I’m getting married.
Grand-mom: Is he Jewish?
Grand-mom: Another goy? You didn’t learn your lesson the first time? You have a lokh in kopp? (hole in the head) Here, just take this knife and cut my heart out. You want some chicken soup instead of the borscht?
Me: His name is Al and he is wonderful to me.
Grand-mom: Is he a doctor?
Grand-mom: Is he a lawyer?
Grand-mom: What does he do?
Me: He’s self-employed
Grand-mom: How much money does he make?
Me: Really, Grand-mom? That doesn’t matter. I love him.
Grand-mom: When money flies out the door, love flies out the window. You want your tuches to be cold? Here, have some strudel. I just got it from that Bar-Mitzvah I went to last week. They’re delicious. That affair must have cost a fortune but I wouldn’t know -after all, it’s not my business.
Me: Anyway, Al’s in the glass business. He does well.
Grand-mom: Oh? Glass business? Can he put new windows in for me?
Me: I can ask him.
Grand-mom: If he’s a good businessman he probably has some Jewish blood in him.
Me: (time for this conversation to be over and seeing a way out) You know, you’re right Grand-mom. His mother’s great-aunt was Jewish. (Liar! Liar!)
Grand-mom: Are you sure it was the mother’s side?
Grand-mom: Okay, tell him to come over and bring his wrench. I need my sink fixed.
There are so many outside influences that can put strain on a marriage; mother-n-laws, grandmothers, Nordstrom cards, children (yes, these precious bundles of joy sometimes turn out to be over-opinionated adults with superior attitudes who try to tell you what’s wrong in your relationship). Marriage between two people is sometimes difficult enough without adding these and other influencing factors.
Romance can fail. Money can fail. What we need in our marriages is something deeper; something that can’t fail. We need our relationships to have a spiritual meaning. What we need is a belief that our relationships are special but more importantly, a belief that they are sacred. Marriage should be a place of healing, growth, mutual respect and acceptance. No matter what is going on around you, you should always keep in mind the love that brought you together.
When you feel angry or disenchanted in your otherwise healthy relationship, don’t keep score. It will only lead to more anger and resentment. Relationships are always equitable; never equal. The balance constantly shifts and changes over the weeks, months and years. Dis-contentment can sometimes remind us that we need to go back to basics and cultivate the love that brought us together. Make your marriage impenetrable to outside influences. Whatever struggle you have, share it together. The problems you are encountering are an opportunity for your relationship to grow.
Forgiveness is key in any relationship, especially in marriage. But, what meaning does forgiveness have if it’s only given when the anger is no longer there? Giving forgiveness is not a sign of weakness. It’s also not an excuse to ignore the problems in our marriages. Forgiveness is the gift we give our relationship so that we can move forward. We must refuse to let difficult issues fester and tear down everything that was built from a place of love. Yes, it may feel “better” to stay angry and sulk. This attitude kind of makes you feel superior – you have totally convinced yourself that you are right. Your partner deserves your scorn and withholding of affection. We’ve all been there. But, what’s the point? Why cultivate anger and resentment when it can feel so much better to forgive and move forward? Think of all the time that’s wasted on anger; hours, days, weeks or even months that you just can’t get back.
Honor your relationship with spirituality. What if we brought God into our marriage each and every day, not as a weapon (you’re going to hell if you divorce me) but as an example? God loves us unconditionally. Can you bring that unconditional love to your marriage?
I couldn’t bring it to my first marriage. Sometimes it’s just not possible. The relationship lacked the basic tenets of mutual love and respect. I can’t stress enough how crucial I believe these things are to have in order for a marriage to flourish and endure. I didn’t love my ex enough and I certainly didn’t respect him enough for that marriage to last. Unfortunately I ignored the warning signs until I stood at the chapel door. I don’t consider the marriage a failure though – it was a life lesson. I do believe I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that time. The lessons I learned helped me to love and appreciate the marriage that I have now. And, without the first marriage, I wouldn’t have my beloved daughter and grandchildren.
Marriage is a work in progress. In order for the “for better or worse” clause to work, there has to be a joining of the hearts and souls. This doesn’t always happen when people say “I do.” But, that’s okay too. Not all relationships are meant to last “forever”. Try to remember that right now, in this exact moment, you are exactly where you are supposed to be and someday you will understand exactly why. Then slowly, put the frying pan down and back away. This too, shall pass.
Oh and completely forget this happy crap I’m spouting off if your partner cheats on you – all bets are off. With all of my talk, I would be at the head of the parade leading Al to a pool of testicle eating piranhas surrounded by a mob of bloodthirsty wives whose husbands were cheaters. Or, just get a good Jewish lawyer. Same thing.
It didn’t take long for Grand-mom to realize that Al didn’t have an ounce of Jewish blood flowing through his veins. When he asked for his lox with Ritz crackers and not a bagel, it was game over!
And now, Al is forever known as the “goy with the wrench.”