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The Fine Art of Marriage

By Brian Panowich

Hey kids, let’s talk about marriage. And by kids, I mean full-fledged adults, because trying to discuss the complexities and subtle nuances about the institution of marriage with anyone under the age of 23 is akin to trying to swap recipes for rhubarb pie with a spider monkey. It’s just downright pointless. So all of you married types who have a few years of being in a sacred partnership under your belts, listen up, because you might find this helpful, or at the very least, mildly entertaining.

The going consensus on successful marital advice—or at least the piece I hear the most from couples who outwardly look to have a solid handle on things—is that “marriage takes work.”

My Mom and Dad were married more than 40 years before my father passed away and I can’t begin to tell you how many times they both had given me that little nugget of wisdom—normally through gritted teeth. “Marriage takes work, Brian. Lots of work.” Now, I’m only 10 years into my own marriage—to the absolute love of my life—and I’ve come to realize that although there may be some aspect of truth in that infamously overused piece of advice, it’s only true to a certain extent.

Let me explain.

I think the word “work” in that arbitrary statement comes with a little too much stigma for my liking. It’s not like marriage is some kind of factory job where you clock in from nine to five and then go home. It’s also not like spending the day washing windows from some creaky old scaffolding outside a skyscraper or tarring the roof of someone else’s duplex. It’s your house you’re building. And y’all, that’s a totally different kind of work altogether. My Dad—wise man that he was—also used to tell me that a truly lucky man gets to do what he loves for a living. I agree with that. I also think that’s the type of work that goes into a successful marriage. It’s the kind of work you don’t need an alarm clock to get you out of bed for. You’re already awake and raring to go because you can’t wait to get started.

A great example of this came from a friend of mine who’s been married for 30 years. As you can imagine, there have been a lot of highs and lows along the way that comes with the territory of being in such a long relationship. He’s also a big fan of nice cars—fast cars. And although he could easily afford one for himself, he’s much too pragmatic a fella to ever take that kind of financial plunge. Knowing this about her man, my friend’s wife had the opportunity to borrow a car—a brand new sporty convertible BMW with all the high-end bells and whistles. She had the car for a week. Her plan was to hand over the keys and let her husband drive them wherever he wanted to go completely at his leisure—no strings attached.

My buddy chose the lake, a place that meant something to both of them when they were younger—a place also veined with the kind of curve-hugging back roads that were meant for bending the speed limit—just a little.

He told me all about how amazing it felt to be behind the wheel of a machine like that, but more importantly, he told me how it made him feel that his wife took the time to make it happen. She watched my friend from the passenger side of that car as he transformed from the practical man who always put his family first into a younger version of himself whose only care was that eighty-mile-an-hour wind blowing his hair back under a Georgia sun.

Something else happened that day as well. An unexpected side effect of the surprise his wife had planned for him. Her own inner schoolgirl emerged, right alongside him. And as she watched him drive she leaned over and said, “You know what? Something about this car—about seeing you drive it—is making me feel a little frisky.”

My friend didn’t miss a beat as he peered over his Wayfarers and with a wry smile on his face, this practical man who is known for being somber spoken replied, “Well Baby, that’s why they call it a panty-dropper.” The car filled with a juvenile laughter that trailed behind them for miles, but it wasn’t the sound of a couple that was fast approaching the 30-year mark of their marriage. It was the sound of two kids falling in love—again—for maybe the 30th time over.

So sure, making the arrangements, lining up the schedules, planning ahead? That took some “work.” But in my humble opinion, it had a lot less to do with “work” and a whole lot more to do with “magic.” And I make no apologies for believing that’s really what marriage is supposed to be. Right?

Now—let’s all get to work.