Married with Friends
The best part of marriage is the insular universe you create. The secret jokes. The unspoken understandings. The living-in-your-underwear-on-the-couch-ordering-take-out-watching-reality-TV-and-playing-with-the-dog nightly rituals. The characters you become during sex. And the comfort to actually be the most authentic version of yourself you are capable when another person is present.
But one of the downfalls of marriage is that same insular universe. The friendships you once had transform for the lesser if they don’t all but disappear. The feeling of self shifts from an “I” to a “We.” The what-should-we-do-tonight-I-don’t-care-what-do-you-want-to-do-tonight ping pong game that results in neither of you really doing what you want to do because you feel an obligation to hang out even though maybe you just want to read a book. The characters you become (in spite of yourself) during sex. And the old baggage you sometimes have to actively remember to forget.
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Last night, my husband Julian’s basketball team had a game some two hours away and he wasn’t going to be home until late. Finally! This was my chance to be alone. To hang out with someone else! To not have to consult about what to do. To make the decision MYSELF. I was not going to waste this respite from married life. But what to do? And with whom?!
I knew I wanted to do something interactive. No wandering around the bookstore or going to the movies or listening to albums on The Rolling Stone 500 for me. This behavior was getting stale. Most of my days—Hell, most of my life—is spent inside my head, alone with my books, my movies, or my music. Or online “talking” with “friends.” Or with Julian. Or the ever adorable, yet silent Dodger, our dog. I needed some old fashioned human connection. A conversation. A face to face encounter.
But who the hell was I going to call? My longest friends, Joshua (the one with whom I volley relationship drama) and Trevor (the one with whom I trade texted quips), live hundreds of miles away. The smatterings of people I could imagine spending an evening with and not feeling like immense amounts of catch up would be involved were either busy or non-responsive (this is what you get trying to make plans the afternoon of…). Then there was the fear of the ever important balance of personalities and egos crucial to assembling a group of strangers. Would her loquacious nature be overpowering to his stoic grace? Do I assemble a group of burners or drunks? And if someone doesn’t do either, would that be awkward? Where do I want my own presence to situate? Center of attention? Or passive observer? And would people from the Valley really drive to LAX during rush hour? A very small list developed. And as usual, Maureen came to the rescue.
Maureen and I met back in my Party Staff days, catering to the stars for our measly $11 an hour. I was drawn to her bubbly personality that seemed to balance out my work persona of Fuck These People and This Party. She is the person I count on to bring me out of whatever funks I’m in because she is relentlessly chipper, borderline obnoxious. She reminds me that somewhere in here I am kind. And maybe I shouldn’t pretend so hard that I am not a nice person. When Maureen is sober, she reminds me of my mom when she is drunk, the good time Sally who wants everyone else to have a good time; when she is lifted, she plays like the sister I would beg Santa for, listening to my (drunken) bullshit with an attentive ear and opens up my heart to things I usually wouldn’t let in without inebriation. So naturally we got drunk as soon as possible last night.
Since I so rarely am around other people—and I mean really around other people; the niceties of water cooler conversation don’t count—there is usually this adjustment period. This jolt to remind myself, “Hey. Focus! Exist in the real world now.” I must find my way on how I want to relate, how I CAN relate, and how I probably should relate. Which is where booze and weed come into play.
This drunken relaxation, this sigh of relief, is not specific to my interactions with Maureen; they are indicative of my interactions with everyone. I would always choose to be drunk or high if I could. And when Julian and I are home alone, we are usually stoned. I can’t speak on what this does for him, but for me this helps box the ever-present anxiety into a corner and allows me to enjoy the moment in the moment instead of worrying about what the moment could mean. It helps expedite the aforementioned transition from Cerebral to Tangible and makes me a lot more willing and able to participate at a jovial level.
Maureen and I had a nice time, watching Rocky Horror complete with a running quotation commentary. Neither of us had seen the film for a long time, but some things just stick with you; we also tried to remember the Nicene Creed and actually got most of it—some things REALLY stick with you. We talked of family and work and it felt really nice to connect with someone who was not my husband. I wish we had had more time. Maybe next visit the transition will be shorter. Or the drinking will come sooner.
* * *
But quite early in the evening, almost from the moment I picked her up, I started wishing…that Julian was going to be home when we got there. All the excitement of having an evening to myself, a friend to myself, to momentarily enjoy the “I” instead of the “We” suddenly flew out the window and my full blown addiction to my husband started to creep into withdrawal stage. I needed my fix and I needed it now. Needed the way he pulls his green hoodie over his long hair. Needed the way he pauses the TV when a contestant says something incredulous. Needed the way he sings to himself with all those Lauryn Hill-isms and I join in and change the key. Needed his “Breakfast Can Wait” dance.
It reminded me that he is indeed my best friend after years of scoffing at the idea that your lover is, could be, or even should be. But what is a best friend if not the friend you like the best? And if you are going to marry your friend, making a commitment to be friends until you die, you better like him more than everyone else. Julian is the one person that I need to talk to every day, the one person that has seen the incredibly ugly creases and is still around, the one person whose presence, even on the bad days, still fills the room with hope and wonder. The one person that can make me swoon and sweat and scratch and claw despite almost six years of looking at his face.
* * *
But it doesn’t mean that he should be my ONLY friend. The “We” is wonderful, but so often I feel like I am letting the “I” get away from me. That I need to make excuses for myself. To defend my dissenting opinions. For those who only know me as bold and brash, there is a very equal part that is timid and terrified. I need to remember to reassert Jonathon. To not get so lost in the bliss that I can’t find my own way. And this means making human connections with other people. Stopping to listen. Waiting to care. Allowing others to be flawed. To collect different styles of friends to enlighten and expand and energize my own journey. To be a better friend to myself.
And then to come home, stronger, to the arms of my best friend.
Jonathon Saia is a freelance writer/director/raconteur living in Los Angeles. His treatise on gay pride, “Far From Queer, More than a Fag” was published in Issue 4 of Chelsea Station and his poem, “The Forest for the Trees” can be found in the anthology Between. He is currently directing the upcoming Web series, Double Minority Report, written by and starring his hilarious, sexy husband, Julian Michael. For more on Jonathon, visit his blog, Cineaste.