Socks on the Floor
I’m at a bar in Livingston, MT, embracing a different perspective in one hand and a martini in the other. This is a spot where Pete and I would come often when we were here in the summers, either to gig, or to fly fish, or hopefully to do both. We sat here many a time to reflect on the day and to meet friendly strangers. I can tell I’m out west by the clothing, by the dust and dry air, and the lingering smoke of distant wildfires. There are ranchers, fly fisherman, tourists, and townies all hanging out in this one spot. Locations and vibes are different everywhere, but folks are pretty much the same. Pete loved people. He never met a stranger, and if by chance somebody recognized him and wanted to talk, he’d treat them like a long lost friend. My stomach feels queasy being here, but my heart feels good.
Somebody wrote to me after one of my recent blogs. She commented on how nice it was of me not to dwell (my words not hers) on Pete’s flaws—that I seem to only discuss the good in him. It caused me to pause and think . She said that I never mentioned his socks on the floor–and that caused me to pause again.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not a marriage advisor, but here are my thoughts:
Pete was not flawless. I am not flawless. Nobody is flawless. I will acknowledge that some flaws are large and insurmountable and cause marriages to disintegrate. A lot of flaws are minuscule and cause marriages to erode, slowly.
Maybe it was because ours was a second marriage for both of us. Maybe it was because we were both 45 years-old when we married each other. Maybe it was because there were always health issues that we knew might arise at some point in our future. Maybe we truly were perfect for each other. It could have been any combination of these things, but Pete and I never focused on those little flaws or annoyances.
I am a throw my clothes on the chair type of person. Pete was a throw his clothes on the floor type. More accurately he would actually step out of them beside his side of the bed, and climb directly under the covers. No doubt it was because he was exhausted. In the morning, if I were the one to make the bed, I’d fix my side then walk around to his side. Inevitably there would be a small pile of clothes on the floor. I would try and step over them, get aggravated and grumble to myself. Then I would tell myself, very specifically, “One day you will wish his clothes were here to step over. You would be happy to have to move them out of your way.” I was right. In our entire marriage, I never once mentioned to him that those clothes were in my way sometimes. It just didn’t matter in the big picture.
Your spouse doesn’t need to have health issues for this to work for you. The truth is we’re all going to die—it’s just who will be first and when. Don’t live in a space of worrying about it, but it’s a reality that can help put big and small issues into perspective.
You don’t have to be sick, or 45, or on a second marriage. Life is always too short. Here’s how I advise my adult children who are not yet married:
Consider how important these little things are, and if they are important to you, bring them up gently. Think about something that is huge and important and compare those things. Is it worth it? Do you love each other? If you really love each other, the little things just have to be let go, and at that point they might not even bother you anymore.
In closing, I’ll share a funny story. Sometimes even Pete and I would marvel at how lucky we were, at what a perfect match it was. Sometimes we thought we must be crazy and just deluding ourselves—that no two people should get along as well as we did. So just a few months before Pete died we were standing in the bathroom getting ready for our day. We joked about this lack of pet peeves and decided we should each tell each other something that aggravated the other one. I went first and told him, not about the clothes because that was my secret meditation on love, but that it bothered me when he didn’t push his dresser drawers in all the way. Even saying it out loud sounded silly and I acknowledged it is just one of my OCD things. He then told me that it bothered him that I didn’t twist the toothpaste lid on tight enough. I was almost embarrassed. What an idiot I was and to think he’d kept that to himself all these years while it slowly ate away at him.
We looked at each other and just burst out laughing. “That’s the best you’ve got?” Guess we are that good of a match!