I understand very little about love and relationships. I began a marriage. I worked at it. It ended. When that happens, it forces a person to take stock of the relationships around them, the good ones and the bad ones, in hopes of learning something. There are marriages in my circles that I believed were doomed from the start only to be surprised year after year to find their cheerily posed holiday cards in my mailbox. I am partially convinced that dressing your mate and your Labradoodle in matching sweaters every December is the key to marital bliss. Conversely there are the seemingly perfect unions which dissolve in an ugly duel and catch everyone off guard.
What I do know is this: The best relationships are between two people who get each other. Being gotten by your partner seems to be the Holy Grail of good love.
I always admire the couples who achieve the “getting” of each other. The ones who find a oneness in outlook and an appreciation of the other’s peccadilloes. While there are quiet examples at every turn, occasionally the situations are so extreme that I scratch my head over the fact that one of these people exists, let alone how they find their counterpoint in another.
I was once watching a reality show that featured one of these very couples. The husband was a scientist who earned a living developing antidotes to counteract venomous spider bites. At some point in the lab, he fell in love with the subject of his work. And I mean fell in love, like the way Elizabeth Taylor fell hard for every man who gave her a diamond. He became utterly bewitched by spiders. He moved hundreds of deadly spiders, contained in cages, into his basement for close observation. He then released thousands more, of the nonlethal variety, into his home to reproduce at a rate seen only in the Duggar family. Spiders. Fifty-thousand spiders to be precise.
The man essentially turned his living space into Australia. The cameras filmed as his children overturned cereal boxes to have both Cheerios and spiders fall into their bowls. He and his wife would pull back the sheets on their bed, ready for sleep, to reveal hundreds of spiders already dozing under the covers. I had a strong aversion to sharing a bed with a dog — man’s best friend — while this scientist’s wife was co-sleeping with dozens of eight-legged bedmates who are certainly not. But they were her husband’s best friends, and she seemed to get that.
The only scenario more bizarre than a couple living in a giant spider web also involved a love triangle with a nonhuman species. I once saw a short documentary about a married couple in Maryland raising a Cabbage Patch Doll as a real child. They adopted him as an infant, named him Kevin and treated him as their son for 19 years by the time the show aired. They held his hand as they did errands. They spoke to him, and he would respond through a weird ventriloquist act the father had perfected. I stared, mouth agape, as the father took Kevin fishing and the mother took him back-to-school shopping (the only store clerk scene better than Pretty Woman is watching the faces of these store employees when asked to start a changing room for a doll). When Kevin turned 16, they bought him a Barbie Corvette so that he could cruise for chicks, like any hormonal teenager. Both parents addressed the camera with impassioned pleas for understanding, claiming that they took an oath to love Kevin the way any adoptive parent does. While throwing away every doll I could find, I wondered how my perfectly lovely girlfriends who long to raise a child with actual DNA have so much trouble finding a good guy when strange folks like this manage to find their doll-rearing soul mate.
Whether you want to frolic with arachnids, teach algebra to a Cabbage Patch Doll or just want to watch TV programs about weirdos like this with someone else, you have to be with someone who gets that about you. Good relationships are about tearing away the veil, losing the illusion and traveling beyond the initial politeness and attraction that exists between strangers. It is discovering that the Wizard of Oz is just an old, frail man with a microphone and being okay with that. For some, it’s a matter of supporting each other’s jobs and being kind to the in-laws. For others, it’s seeing their partner’s oddities as normal when the rest of the world would like to see them battened down in a straitjacket watching the bubbles blown by a nurse from the islands.
If you’re married or with someone for the long haul, you’ve already gotten each other for better or for worse. Now you have to work on getting each other.
Erin Donovan moved with her family to the Midcoast where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog “I’m Gonna Kill Him.” Follow her misadventures at imgonnakillhim.bangordailynews.com and on Twitter @gonnakillhim.