For the first several years of my marriage, I was fond of paraphrasing C.S. Lewis on the difference between romantic love and friendship. In The Four Loves, I'd tell whoever might (or might not) be interested, "Lewis points out that friends stand side by side and look out at the world, while lovers stand face-to-face and look at each other." I often cited this concept in support of date nights; there's nothing like candlelight and a little eye gazing to bolster a marriage.
But time, as the song says, goes by. Eventually, I found myself wondering just how many years of marital experience C.S. Lewis actually had.
Don't get me wrong, Lewis is still my literary hero. And my husband, Mark, still has highly gaze-able eyes. They're blue with gray flecks, or gray with blue, depending on his mood and the color of his T-shirt. When he's angry, his eyes turn cold; it's like the sun's been lost in cloud cover. But when he's content, his eyes are warm and alive, and I, to quote a hundred corny love poems, get happily lost in them.
Still, when two people are face-to-face for an extended period of time, they start to notice things. My husband, for example, has observed over the years that I'm never on time for anything, that I don't fold towels correctly, that I leave a trail of half-consumed Diet Pepsis in my wake, and that I'm incapable of backing the car into the garage in an appropriate fashion. (Three side-view mirrors have been sacrificed to date.) I, on the other hand, have come to realize that Mark never remembers to turn on his cell phone, that he keeps our bedroom at Icelandic temperatures, that he reloads dishes I've already placed in the dishwasher (according to his exacting specifications) when he thinks I'm not looking, and that he's unnaturally legalistic about backing the car into the garage. (Driving in nose-first works just fine, thank you, and not a single mirror need be lost.)
Every marriage has its quirks, of course. Two humans can only cohabitate for so long before weak spots and rough edges start to show. But add in a couple kids, stir in life's stresses and pressures, mix with some trauma and tragedy, glaze with the basic selfishness of human nature, and voilà—you've got a recipe for trouble.
A Radical Shift
A few years ago, Mark and I cooked up some trouble that no amount of eye gazing could fix. Neither of us intentionally sabotaged our marriage, but over-extended schedules, miscommunication, and conflicting goals gradually boiled over into estrangement and confusion. I cannot remember a more miserable time.