The other week I was watching the season ender of Saturday Night Live. Ben Affleck was host and in his opening monologue he took time to spoof his acceptance speech for Best Picture Oscar win. Apparently, Affleck got a media earful for a thank you to his wife that included mention of marriage as work. I hadn’t seen the original speech, and I am not a Huffington Post reader, so I decided to look into it a little further. Here’s the line from his speech directed at his wife, “I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases. It’s good. It’s work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I would rather work with.” In most of the reviews of said speech and something the Affleck/Garner duo spoofed on SNL was that the Oscar stage was not an appropriate time to refer to marriage as work or anything less than a sparkly, shiny, designer couture version of the real thing.
Which brings me to the topic of this blog, relationships, fertility, health, happiness, and other non-truths society sells us that leave us feeling inadequate. It’s not so much a non-truth, maybe a half-truth or just as a missing piece in our narrative. The piece we don’t always share so freely but is often what we have most in common. It’s the most important part of the story that gets left out for whatever reason. It’s too hard? It might make you feel awkward? It doesn’t jive with the outward image you’ve so carefully crafted of yourself?
Let me start of by saying thank you to Ben Affleck. While some may feel that an Oscar ceremony is not a prime place to tell the world the truth, I admire and applaud his celebration of the work. Regardless of how people talk about their relationships in public, the main truth of marriage is that it is work. I’m surprised work isn’t somewhere included in the Webster’s definition of the word. I mean, I’ve been married for a whopping four months, and I know fundamentally that successful marriage is all about work. Throw in the 10 years and three children of Jen and Ben. Even with excessive amounts of money and hired help, that’s a lot of work! It doesn’t always feel like hard work, but it is work. Work rooted in love, sacrifice, patience, acceptance, commitment, faith, and then a little more patience. So again, thanks Ben for being a real person who understands that marriage is work and saying it out loud. I promise to watch the next movie you’re involved in just to honor that truth. Also, I enjoyed Argo. I’ve actually seen it twice, coincidently, so thanks for that too. And thanks to Jennifer Garner, you just seem like a nice person.
I’ve been dealing with some emotion over missing pieces of our social narrative myself. Mine comes from recent attempts at baby making. For pretty much all of my life, up until about a year ago, I have been terrified of the possibility of getting pregnant. I grew up with urban legends of women getting pregnant from an errant sperm on a toilet seat or knocked up after their first attempt at intercourse. EEEKKKK! I was led to believe that, “it just takes one time.” Of course, all this scared straight business is useful for horny teenagers, but it led me to naively believe that getting pregnant would be a piece of cake. Four months of trying to score without a goalie has blown that truth up with dynamite. I’m not saying I’m infertile or anything, I just assumed like many other women that I’d get pregnant, like right away. I mean, I regularly eat kale, exercise, and I avoid BPA. So, why am I not knocked up already? I have learned through this process that most women do not get pregnant on the first try or the second try, but after 4 or 5 months and that’s only about 50% of couples. To get to 70-80% of couples, you’re waiting around 9 months to a year. Most recent studies on infertility report that 10% of couples need medical help trying to conceive. That’s what, 6 million people? That’s a lot of people! If you are a woman who is trying to get pregnant, when you talk to another woman about it, even a woman with a child or 5, they will almost always tell you how long it took them or a friend or a cousin or a sister to get pregnant. A year, two years, they just stopped trying and then it happened, they had two miscarriages, and on and on. I always feel like I’m in that scene in Cruel Intentions and Sarah Michelle Gellar is telling me “everybody does it, just nobody talks about it.”
Why? Why the hell don’t people talk about this? Maybe it’s impractical for people to go around talking about all that work, all that challenge. I think it would be kind of liberating though. What if one day we all walked around with t-shirts that said, “This is my painful truth…” “This is my secret shame…” and fill in the blank accordingly. My guess is that instead of feeling excluded, you’d find a hell of a lot of people wearing the same fucking shirt as you. When I hear other people’s stories about challenges in baby making, I don’t feel disheartened. I feel less alone. It’s not just me. This is LIFE. It’s not ugly, it’s not weird, it’s not unusual. It’s actually the normal.
Let’s spice up our narrative and avoid our social graces. Reclaim your truth, own your shame, the more you share your burden the lighter it gets. Let it come to the surface and swim around a little bit. Be authentic. It seems to me, in our desire to be shiny happy people, we loss our opportunity to cultivate compassion. We miss our opportunity to connect and share our struggle.
Remember folks, all of life is practice.
Remember folks, all of life is practice.
Yes, marriage is work.
Sure, pregnancy can be allusive.
But you are not alone.