“Are you happy right now?”
It’s a simple question. He wants a simple answer. Can I give him one?
He doesn’t want to hear that people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be, even though Abraham Lincoln said it so it must be true. He doesn’t want to hear that there’s a difference between happiness and contentment, and that I prefer to say I’m content because it sounds more stable and sustainable. He doesn’t want to hear me assess myself, describing what happiness means to me and how my expression of it might differ from his. He doesn’t want to hear about joy, either.
What he wants to hear is whether, after nearly thirty years, I’m still glad to be married. That’s it. Marriage is a life choice, and he isn’t sure he ever wants to make it. He’s lived through more than twenty years himself, and he’s seen, through gradually maturing eyes, that happily ever after simply isn’t. There’s happily sometimes after, but he knows that there’s a lot of ever that’s unhappy. Am I happy now, though?
Life’s pretty great for him now, he says. He does what he wants, when he wants, with whom he wants, for as long as he wants. He’s pretty happy with that. He knows that marriage means being accountable to another person, and he’s cautious about considering such an arrangement. He knows that he would also take on certain responsibilities for that other person, and he isn’t sure that’s a good idea, either. Trusting himself or another person in such a way sounds unwise to him.
He’s still waiting for an answer. “Well?”
Am I happy? Am I glad to be married? How do I feel?
That’s always a tough question for me. I am so self-analytical that I have to think about it before I know how I feel. I know I must be honest, so I consider each word. I run a quick mental review of the years, weighing the pros and cons, because I know he’ll ask me follow-up questions. He knows enough about my personal and marital struggles to interrogate with surgical precision; I brace myself for the scalpel, touching the old sore places and reminding myself of the healing. There’s been a lot of healing, and I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been married. He’ll say that the hurt wouldn’t have happened, though, if I’d stayed single. That’s where we’ll disagree.
I think marriage, done right, creates a safe place to get better. We all have flaws and fears and weaknesses, and life’s circumstances will eventually reveal those to us or to others. Marriage may bring them to light sooner, or not, but when we discover them within a committed lifelong relationship, we have a partner with a vested interest in helping us improve. I can choose to live with this person and this problem, or I can choose to work with this person to solve it, but I can not leave this person. That goes both ways, of course; each partner makes that choice. That’s the basis for successful marriage, and it’s held this one together through some pretty rough places. I’m a better person because of marriage. I feel good about that.
He’s still there, waiting. It’s been nearly half a minute. His eyes haven’t left my face.
“Yes.” I smile, nodding, agreeing with myself. “Yes, I am happy. It’s been hard, but it’s been good. I’m glad.”