Wednesday, June 20, 2012

There's No Such Thing As The Perfect Couple (Publication Edit)

There’s No Such Thing as "The Perfect Couple"
The Outs
Ellen Jo Roberts
The Noise
July 2012

             "wedding day"

Drinking rum cocktails, watching the sun set over the high desert landscape, surrounded by adorable pets, fantastic climate and softly swaying wildflowers, we are keenly aware of what a great life we've got. My husband and I will celebrate our 17th anniversary on July 1st. Seventeen years, some more challenging than others, but each with a lesson. One thing I've learned over those years is that there's no such thing as "The Perfect Couple". Every duo I've thought to be "perfect" (charming at parties, sexy as hell, photogenic and fantastic) has crashed and burned up in tremendous flames, the combustion often causing lingering fall out over entire cities. The Perfect Couple is a figment, something concocted by Hollywood and Hallmark.

Chad and I are far from perfect, but we work at it. We frequently disagree and our methods of dealing with the world and its challenges are 180 degrees different. Astrologically speaking, we clash on every level. He is analytical, scientific, critical, sensitive and easily wounded. He sometimes gets teary-eyed at children's dance recitals and during heart-tugging films. At parties he hides along the fringes, communing with nature.

         I am light-hearted and jovial, never taking things personally. He is slow-moving and thoughtful. It's hard for him to jump in on frivolously witty banter. When he says something it is usually very memorable and meaningful because he's invested a great deal of thought into it. I am quick on my feet and quick to speak. I sometimes make foolish detours or neglect to read directions.

   He doesn't get angry quickly, but when he does it's a slow boil that lasts all day.
   I am quick to get mad, but cool off just as fast.
      My husband thinks he can circumvent anything bad ever happening simply by doing as much advance research as possible.   I am the opposite. List making drives me bonkers and too much planning steals chances for delightful surprises. You can never prepare for every possible variable that could happen so I prefer to ride the world as it rotates, taking it as it comes. As an artist I count on those "happy accidents": the things you didn't plan for that turn out far better than what you originally had in mind. I don’t need to always be in control of the details. I have faith in the universe.

He likes to have all of the proper tools laid out and everything organized in advance

         We are night and day, yin and yang. On paper, we're a disaster. But yet we remain committed to each other. This polarity magnetizes us. It attracts us to each other.
Our differences are complementary, making us more well-rounded and a stronger team in the long run. Chad has taught me valuable lessons- like, foremost, "Not everyone thinks like you do, Ellen". Everyone's mind works differently. I am not always right. I do not always know everything. Stop and read the directions. Enjoy the silence and the scenery. Sometimes being so different from each other is a huge hassle, but being the partner of Chad has made me a better person.

We were young when we got married. Carefree and foolhardy, packing up just our most precious possessions and heading to Arizona and the Great Unknown, with no jobs lined up, no place to stay. Just "living on love" and sleeping in the forest. Getting hitched was a lark. We met in college 19 years ago when we both lived in the same historic boarding house on College Avenue in DeKalb, Illinois. The first time we spoke, he winked at me. Within two years we were wed and moving west. In the 17 years we've been in Arizona, nearly every couple we've ever met has since disbanded. The exception is baby boomers currently celebrating their 25th, 30th, 40th wedding anniversaries, like Chad’s parents.

        My marriage model was far different. My father was killed in a car wreck when my brother and I were pre-school age and we were raised by a single mother. Marriage was no kind of commodity to me. I certainly never imagined I’d be hitched by age 23. My main notion of marriage came from my grandparents. Gram and Gramps spent 58 years bickering with each other, heels dug in tight for the long haul. Because that’s what their generation did. They’d survived the Great Depression and World War II and they weren’t gonna quit anything (even when maybe they should have). Their partnership may not have been affectionate or romantic, but it was well-managed and successful long term, like a good investment.

We sit in the yard sipping our lime-crushed rum, and wonder how it is we've survived the marriage minefield, littered with our peers crashing and burning to the left and the right of us. Couples more alike, more beautiful, more "together" than we've ever seemed to be.

Was their perfection just an act for the public? Behind closed doors was it something else entirely? Or did their unions collapse when the heat became too much to sustain?  If they couldn't make it, how the hell can we, the obviously imperfect, ever make it?

Navigating other people and their emotional grenades is one of life’s great challenges. And marriage is a tough gig. Anyone who signs up for it oughta realize. You'd like to think it's 50/50, but truth is a lot of times it's one person giving 100% and the other giving far less. Sometimes we take turns.

          A key to happiness occurred to me, while running along the river on a glorious spring day; the kind of day where the sprouting leaves are freshly green, the herons and hawks fly overhead right on cue and the world just seems impossibly awesome.

The key to happiness is that you've got to be able to make yourself happy. You cannot be reliant on someone else for your happiness. For one, you're bound to be disappointed. And two, it's just not fair to that other person. The key to happiness is to be happy alone, doing your own thing, generating your own good cheer. If you can do that you will be happy, I promise you. You'll also be a valuable asset to your loved ones. Such a self-contained source of happiness will provide endless delight with all the extra you'll have to share. If you rely on your spouse, your friends, your family or any other person to supply you your happiness it will end up a big mess.

Some of my friends are vintage auto aficionados and they’re always buying, selling, switching and searching for that next great project car, the next great screaming deal, and never quite satisfied with their current ride. Even after busting their knuckles, investing blood, sweat and tears, they’re always quick to trade off for something else. I've had the same automobile for the past 14 years and I love it just as much today as I did the first time I drove it, even when it gives me grief, misbehaves, or needs special care as any long term relationships does. I found my dream car and I’m sticking with it.

Ellen Jo Dahlberg married Chad Roberts at Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois on a perfect July day in 1995. There's never been a dull moment since. They live in a historic brick bungalow in Clarkdale, Arizona which they share with Floyd, Ivan, Ned, Hazel and several vintage Volkswagens. Read more about it at

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