Ben Martin found that his marriage works best when he and his wife forget what marriage is supposed to look like.
Here’s how you know it’s going to be good:
The speaker walks a bit more slowly than you’d expect up the steps to the dais, across it, to the podium. Just slow enough that the applause begins to slacken before he’s there. Something is on his mind.
He just needs a little more time to mull it over, but time is up. He has to decide. The seconds are ticking away and the crowd is quiet now. He’s behind the podium and he fumbles in the breast pocket of his suit coat and pulls out the pages of the speech he prepared. It looks like his hands must be a bit shaky — he’s having a hard time unfolding the paper.
He finally gets the speech unfolded and almost puts it down on the podium, but stops as a sudden peace washes over his face. His mouth opens halfway and then closes again. Is that the faintest trace of a smile? He folds the speech back up. That’s definitely a smile. He puts the now-useless script back into his pocket and leans into the podium, confident. A sigh. Another smile. And then he begins to speak.
This is the formula. It means the audience is about to hear something authentic. This is what they really wanted to hear. Or really needed to hear. The truth. Before the scene is done, there’s a shot of at least three audience members with shiny, teary eyes because this shit is real and necessary.
It’s a powerful image because we all know that in life there are speeches we’re given to read that aren’t authentic. Things we’re supposed to say or think or feel or do that really don’t match who we are individually. We all get up and get dressed and go out and read from scripts every day. Not in speeches exactly — not often anyway — but in our conversations. “Hi. How are ya’?” “I’m fine. You?” “Fine.”
We do it with actions, attitudes, and even thoughts as much as with our words. We talk and live from speeches and scripts that we’ve rehearsed our whole lives, to the point that we’re almost unaware that we’re doing it at all.
This is probably good.
If we had to take the time and energy to make sure that every word, action, and thought was an authentic reflection of exactly who we are, then we wouldn’t get a whole hell of a lot done. We have to have prepared, pre-approved speeches to get through the day, otherwise everything grinds to a halt as we figure out every interaction from scratch.
Who writes the speeches? I think we write some of them ourselves. But I think a lot more of them have just been tweaked and adjusted with each generation and were written ages ago by people no one has ever met.
The older an idea is, the harder it is to recognize where the script ends and we begin.
Take marriage, for example. It’s an ancient institution. The decisions we make about marriage affect the courses of our lives, yet we often aren’t even aware we’re deciding anything. The questions we’re brought up to ask about marriage (church wedding? caterer? open bar? invite list?) beg for more detailed questions.
When a man asks “Is she the one?” it begs the question of whether the one is a she, whether a “One” exists, whether the one is only one, and whether marriage is the a good idea if she is. For many men the answer will be yes on all counts. For others, not so much.
Other scripts that are pre-written for us include buying an engagement ring, taking on traditional, gender-assigned roles within the marriage, or having kids.
Anyone who’s in a relationship has made decisions about these, and probably hundreds of other topics, whether they’re aware of it or not. When a traditionally minded man goes out shopping for an engagement ring, he’s decided that engagement rings are a thing he agrees with — even if it never occurred to him to ask the question. He’s reading from the “Marriage Script”.
In my own marriage, I’ve found that the pre-written speech has had amazing moments. I’m a straight guy who’s been faithfully married to one woman for almost 15 years; we have two kids; we got married in a church; there was a cake. There have been plenty of times when the whole thing would’ve been derailed or just bogged down to a molasses crawl if we’d insisted on agonizing over every detail; slogging through it, line by line, word by word, choice by choice.
But there have also been plenty of times that the prepared remarks didn’t fit my wife and I at all. Some of the toughest times in my marriage have been when my wife and I kept trying to fit into the one-size-fits-all script we were given, often without realizing that’s what we were doing. Some of the biggest successes we’ve had in our marriage happened when we finally stopped, looked around, and asked ourselves, “Why are we even doing this?” Just asking the questions is often the hardest part, because many solutions are clear if you’re willing to throw away the script.
I’m convinced that anyone who says they know exactly what someone else’s marriage should look like is … well … wrong. Every individual, every couple, and every marriage are unique. While the scripts they follow might do well to be inspired by the ones that have been written for us, the final drafts have to be written, together, by the participants themselves.
Not every couple is actually compatible, but as hard as it is to find a person you’re compatible with, it’s even harder when you don’t let yourselves ad lib through scripts written by strangers, too.