Familiarity…a good thing?

“I just find it so frustrating,” my friend said to me the other day while golfing. He was talking about his wife’s penchant for leaving her unwashed breakfast bowl in the sink; the uneaten cereal left to harden for the day.

“Mmmmm,” I said, pretending I cared about his cereal tribulations more than the tricky fifteen-foot putt I was lining up.

“And because I get home first, I’m the one that always has to scrub it out with a Dobie it’s hardened so much,” he continued mercilessly.

“Shit.” I thought, but said, “Have you said anything to her about how much it bothers you?” Crouching to get a better look and demonstrate my concentration.

“Yea, I’ve told her about it over and over, but she still does it; says she’s sorry and then forgets again. She’s been doing it as long as I’ve known her… Man, you almost made that one,” my friend commented as we watched my putt skirt the cup’s left edge. ”

I decided to get it over with and stood straight. “Well, you can’t kill ‘em for leaving dishes in the sink, so I’d start concentrating on something else if I were you&#151like how good looking your wife is. There are tons of guys that’d put up with having to scrub cereal from a bowl to have a good-looking wife like Sandy.

Not to sound like an Andy Rooney wannabe, but “have you ever wondered why” so many couples you know&#151after 10, 15 or 20 years&#151seem less happy than they once were? How, when you’re sitting with that couple and one of them starts telling a story, the other rolls his or her eyes, interrupts a lot, or constantly corrects the story? How, when you get together, it seems they can’t wait to complain about each other in a “group mock” forum; making enough of a joke of it&#151“just kidding”&#151 so as to not seem overly critical? (By the way, if you’re reading this unobserved, it’s okay to say, “Hey, is he talking about us?”) Well, I have a few thoughts on this (surprised?).

First, let’s not pretend I’m talking about that other couple, because, unless you and your significant other are a reincarnation of that 1950s, all-perfect, Ozzie & Harriet American sitcom (Ozzie wouldn’t be tempted to infidelity if he found Gloria from Modern Family stark naked in his bed wearing 5 ½ inch red heels; nor would Harriet, if she came home to George Clooney making dinner for her dressed in washed-out blue jeans and an untucked, white, Oxford Pinpoint), you know exactly who I’m talking about.

Yea, I’m talking about you! And that’s okay…you’re not alone. All couples go through it. It’s called familiarity. Merriam-Webster defines familiarity as A: the quality or state of being (we’ll ignore that one, as it doesn’t fit my needs), B: absence of ceremony (we’ll get to that one in a bit), and C: a state of close relationship. Bingo! It’s that last one about which I’d like to talk.

When two people first meet&#151and for a time after&#151the most trivial bit of shared information (where he or she grew up, the pet dog they had as a kid, the time they had to walk home with a flat bicycle tire) is all exciting stuff. Think about it: you were able to sit for hours looking into the other’s eyes and listen with the all the intent and concentration of someone being given the details of a neighbor’s affair and never tire. The object of your desire could go on infinitum about this or that and, regardless of import; you were on the edge of your seat. Right?

Now flash forward a dozen or so years. After having heard the bicycle tire story some thirty-two or sixty-seven or three-hundred-eleven times it kinda loses its edge of the seat effect, doesn’t it? In fact, the edge of the seat has likely become your go-to posture in preparation for quick getaway should they even look like they’re going to repeat a story. And, that’s okay. It’s human.

To me, the problem with familiarity is a bigger one; it concerns what’s left&#151and that brings me to Webster’s “C: a state of close relationship.” A couple’s state of close relationship is a combination of all those titillating tidbits describing who they are and how they got there (the dog, the bicycle), plus the second part of a close relationship; one’s differences, idiosyncrasies, and irritation-inducing habits&#151which you, like everyone, possess. And that’s okay too.

In the beginning, and for several years as a couple is learning about each other, the excitement of simply knowing you actually are with that person is a high. You can’t wait to get up the morning so you just be with that person. His or her repeated stories and all the things they did in a former life are not only welcome they’re anticipated. You can’t wait to hear again that story about he or she being locked out of the house in their underwear, or about the homework paper that wound-up in the washer. You laugh your butt off every time you hear it, anticipating his or her “punch line,” relishing how the other delights retelling it. Differences-smifferences! Irritating habits and quirks? Pshaw! Who cares? You’re in love!

BUT, when what was once new and refreshing becomes old and familiar (B: absence of ceremony), the things that remain&#151those irritating habits, that irritating thing they do, those quirks now driving you nuts&#151they come to the forefront. They are what’s left. They are what you most notice. It makes sense, doesn’t it? In the beginning, the mystery, the excitement of love, the mere proximity of the other far outweigh whatever irritating habits or quirks the other has. Hell, in your love-is-blind state you probably didn’t even notice them! Later on, however, as amorousness wanes, the two begin to equal each other. Still no big problem, right? But, later&#151 10, 15 or 20 years&#151when you’re both in Webster’s “state of close relationship,” things don’t&#151they can’t&#151be new and exciting…because they’re not new&#151they’re not exciting. Let’s face it, only someone with Alzheimer’s could find what you say new and exciting every day.

So…you’re left with the differences…the irritants. They never grow old, do they. They’re always new and irritating, aren’t they.

So what do you do? We’ll talk about that in my next Mayor’s Muse. ‘Till then, keep the sharp knives in the drawer and the fireplace poker safely in its place.

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