I just finished Mindy Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). Overall, I loved it. I flew through it in 48 hours, often laughing out loud in public (drawing suspicious looks from those around me). It was a candid, funny look at life in your 20s and early 30s and the career troubles, friendships, parties, and guys that come with the territory. (Also photo shoots and awards shows, things the average 30-year-old can’t relate to, but are interesting to read about when Mindy is writing it.) It was upbeat and lighthearted, until (for me at least) it wasn’t.
That part came when she wrote a brief chapter on marriage.
If you don’t know me personally, or don’t know me that well, you may not know that I was married once. I’m not anymore. I’m 30, and I’m divorced. I don’t like to talk about it that much.
No, I take that back. I’ll talk about how much I hate my ex all day long. I’ll talk about how I hope he crashes his car into a ravine. (I don’t wish death, just severe disfigurement or maybe the loss of a thumb so he can’t hunt very well anymore.) I don’t mind talking about all the residual anger I have. (Being cheated on will do that to a girl.) I don’t even mind talking about the months when the divorce was in the works, or all the pain he caused me, or how mad he got when I went to the bar where the other woman worked and sang “Before He Cheats” on karaoke night.
What I don’t like talking about are the good times – the six years we spent together before he started cheating, where I was 100% happy and honestly thought I’d spent the rest of my life with him. I’d like to erase those memories, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind style. I don’t like thinking about them. When I do, I inevitably descend into a vortex of doom where I wonder if I’ll ever meet anyone who I’ll share the same kind of inside jokes with, who will make me smile and laugh as much as he did, who will drunkenly dance to the Steelers polka with me in the middle of a crowded DC bar.
We had similar backgrounds and similar interests. We weren’t one of those couples that had to spend every waking minute together – I’d ship him off to hang with the boys while I hosted book club – but when we did hang out together with friends, I don’t ever think we made anyone feel like a third wheel. (Or at least I hope I didn’t. Friends, please tell me if I did.) We were both stubborn, and when we did clash, it could be epic. But more often than not, he was the first person I wanted to talk to in the morning and the last person I wanted to see at night. We just got along.
We had this, or at least I thought we did:
I don’t want to hear about the endless struggles to keep sex exciting, or the work it takes to plan a date night. I want to hear that you guys watch every episode of The Bachelorette together in secret shame, or that one got the other hooked on Breaking Bad and if either watches it without the other, they’re dead meat. I want to see you guys high-five each other like teammates on a recreational softball team you both do for fun. I want to hear about it because I know it’s possible, and because I want it for myself.
That’s what Mindy Kaling wrote about marriage, and when I read that passage on the subway last night, I started to tear up. That was us, I thought. After he moved out, I couldn’t watch “The Office” for months. Physically could not bring myself to do it. The episodes piled up on my DVR, because I don’t think I’d ever watched a new episode without him sitting by my side, humming along with the theme song.
We did play softball together, on a hilariously terrible team, and we did high-five each other, and then we went to the bar after to drink beers and eat wings on hot Sunday afternoons in the middle of summer. We’d cheer for each other in games of beer pong and flip cup. (And yes, at age 28, we were still playing beer pong and flip cup.) We saw every Pixar movie the weekend they were released. We’d duck from each other’s swinging Terrible Towels. When the Pens tied Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008, I literally jumped on him.
Basically, we had fun.
I thought we had it right. I thought whatever problems we might encounter could be fixed by those key factors – we got along, and we had fun, and getting along and having fun were what you needed to survive. Careers and cities and other people couldn’t penetrate that force field. I didn’t know where life was going to take us, whether we’d have kids or not, how much we might argue along the way, but I always came back to getting along and having fun. We liked each other. Wasn’t that enough?
Realizing it wasn’t was the cruelest lesson life has taught me so far. I struggle now, as I’ve struggled for two years, to figure out what to do better next time. I don’t have an answer. I look at couples I see around me and wonder how they’re still going. I have many friends who seem to have wonderful, healthy relationships with their significant others, but I also see people who don’t seem to like each other. They don’t have fun with each other. Or they don’t allow themselves to have fun with anyone else. I see very few couples out there who, as Mindy calls it, are pals. I had a pal, and I lost him.
I’d like to finish this on an optimistic note, but to be honest, I don’t have one. I’m one of those people who think too much, and this is one of those things I think way too much about. I want to be hopeful, but I’m mostly bitter. I get angry about marriage and I envy couples that look happy on the outside. I worry, very frequently, that I won’t find someone who I click with the way I clicked with him. And that scares me to death.