‘Threshold moments’—like the dreaded broken condom—can send a couple into a black-ice panic.
It’s night time. Children’s homework, baths, and tuck-ins are complete; sippy cups rest next to pillows, the last bedtime stories are spun. Finally alone, husband and wife relax, laugh, and talk by themselves, eventually retiring to the old Posturepedic, where things take a romantic turn.
But later, while basking in conjugal afterglow, wife whispers, “Honey, something’s wrong down there.” Peeking under the sheet, my receding hair becomes even whiter as I notice that the Super-Ultra-Sensitive-Tropical-Colored-Power-Dotted-for-Her-Pleasure-Extra-Extra-Thin impulse purchase from the drug store has somehow undergone what Janet Jackson called a “wardrobe malfunction.”
My, um, personal part looks less like a shrink-wrapped power boat and more like a Fisher Price man in a poncho. Threshold moments like this can send a couple into black-ice panic, sliding toward an abyss of “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer.”
My thoughts zigzag:
Will we have a baby in 10 months? How do we tell my … I can’t retire early, I can’t ever retire … Didn’t we throw out the infant car seat, the stroller, the baby pajamas … I’ll be wearing Depends at the kid’s high-school graduation!
Suddenly, my annual whiny, knee-scrunching protest against a vasectomy to save my “original equipment” seems as prudent as passing on that chance to buy Cape Cod oceanfront land at $25,000.
Sure, we’d hashed over the idea of a fourth child years before this moment, but we could never feel peaceful about it. My smoldering desire for one more child clashed with my wife’s concerns about taking on too much. Finally, I asked an elderly monk I know for advice. He sat silently for a long time before saying the question reminded him of his favorite Clint Eastwood movie, wherein a bewhiskered Clint squints and says, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” After that, I happily put the idea behind me and moved on—or so I thought.
Now, after nearly waking the neighbors with frenzied, panicked shrieks, I lay astride my betrothed under the covers, holding hands, thankful for an accident.
Was I crazy? We’re no strangers to the pregnancy game. One child with a serious birth defect, another was stillborn—the risks increase with each passing year. What was I thinking?
Who knows? Maybe these kinds of unscripted marital moments—whether in the bedroom or emergency room—are miniature life prisms, taking ordinary events and refracting them into a spectral array of deeper meaning we would otherwise overlook.
Why not just relax, step out on the porch for a glimpse, if for no other reason than to pause and reflect on life, on being together. As Victor Hugo said, “Winter is upon my head but eternal spring is in my heart.”
Turns out my wife didn’t become pregnant. Bittersweet. But that night we did give birth to something deeper in our marriage. A no-holds-barred conversation in the face of the unknown—an understanding that no matter what was before us, we still had each other.
Surprise events in marriage have a way of untangling couples from the macramé of the mundane: emails, stacks of laundry, unpaid bills. Suddenly, what really matters is knowing that our lives are short and there’s no telling what might happen next.
This time, it was the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy; another time, maybe a grim medical diagnosis or a devastating layoff. The hashing out of these threshold moments so often unfolds in the wee small hours together upon the marital bed, where we confess our fears to one another with a candor we might not have expressed in years.
These are conversations that deepen beyond measure the vows taken years before and open us to futures we didn’t think possible. Best of all, we don’t need all the answers. We just need to feel safe laughing, crying, or praying together as we dare to peek under the sheets of life and take a glimpse at the new thing that may be in store for us.