The games we play

We rode the train from Florence back to Venice in silence.

It seemed like a really great idea, I consoled myself.

Ian’s gaze was fixed somewhere out the window, out of our train car.

This two-week trip to Europe was our farewell to east coast living.  It had been 11 days of pure perfection.  Zurich, Rome and Venice – each place more amazing than the last.

Until we arrived in Florence.  Florence underwhelmed.  Ian (new husband-cum-tour guide) took it personally.  After a single night I sprung it on him:  let’s go back to Venice.  His panicked face betrayed his response.

“Ok, sure,” he said, not wanting to disappoint me.  His wife.

Marriage.  I thought it meant we were free – free to show our true selves, secure in the knowledge that someone chose us, someone loved us.  Our game of musical chairs was over.  He thought it meant we were bound – bound to our plans, bound to our commitments, bound to the version of ourselves that stood on that altar.  Our game of truth or dare was over.

It wasn’t Venice that made him nervous, it was my expectations.  You see, we already had a plan.  Hotel reservations, dinner recommendations, dog-eared pages of Rick Steves’ knowledge.  Why was I threatening all of it now?  His eyes searched the Italian landscape, desperately looking for clues to understand the woman-with-a-new-name sitting next to him.

The early days of our marriage became a two-player Jenga match, and as far as Ian was concerned, this suggestion to ditch Florence was consistent with my strategy.

In January: “Let’s get a puppy!”

I slid a piece out from the center. 

In February:  “You should quit your legal job and try out the business side of entertainment!”

I knocked out a bar down low.

In March:  “Let’s move from New York to Los Angeles!”

I removed a corner piece.

Now, in April:  “Let’s go back to Venice!”

Steadily I had been deconstructing the lives we built while dating, daring it to grow higher on its new and unstable foundation of untested vows.  I hoped each bold move we made together would make us stronger, but he didn’t care much for my mercurial tactics.

The train conductor announced our imminent arrival while our virtual Jenga tower wobbled from side to side.

“La prossima tappa di Venezia” he called.

It’s always the smallest move that makes the tower fall.

Are you happy now? I chided myself.

We will have to start all over again.

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About Carinn Jade

Mother, lawyer, yogi, writer, non-sleeper. Published @NYTMotherlode. Contributor @Mommyish @Moonfrye @HuffPostLive. I like beer (not wine) & tea (not coffee) & being a contrarian.
This entry was posted in Creative Writing, Non-fiction, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

82 Responses to The games we play

  1. My first marriage always felt like a power struggle or some kind of intense game. You portray that feeling so well!

  2. I have always been that way, deconstructing our lives, making abrupt turns out of nowhere. The funny thing is that I am a complete planner and like order, yet sometimes I have this uncontrollable urge to shake things up a little! Don’t know if it is the Gemini in me (split personality), or some deep seeded mental issue for which I need therapy…one day I’ll figure it out. Great post!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Perfectly written. Having been married for 11 years now I wonder why we have such different views on what seems like everything and I ask myself if it was like this before the wedding.

  4. elsapelle says:

    I love this! Spectacularly expressed.

  5. miss Red says:

    “Marriage. I thought it meant we were free – free to show our true selves, secure in the knowledge that someone chose us, someone loved us. Our game of musical chairs was over. He thought it meant we were bound – bound to our plans, bound to our commitments, bound to the version of ourselves that stood on that altar. Our game of truth or dare was over.”
    I believed that marriage its mean to be free to show your true self in relationship with your partener .. and also is a compromise.

  6. Carinn, what a beautiful piece of writing. You expressed the struggle and compromises of marriage so simply and graphically. I look forward to reading more of what you have to say.

  7. LaCaraVita says:

    Well..I understand you perfectly.. I never have liked Florence…and I’ve always had the upper hand in my relationships (or at least, in my eyes).. and there ain’t nothing wrong with that 🙂

  8. The Smile Scavenger says:

    Take it from the structured one in my relationship: we need you to do these things. If my partner Sara hadn’t taught me to push my comfort zone from time to time, I would never have the courage to do it myself either. Hang in there!

  9. iRuniBreathe says:

    All you need is a good soundtrack and this would make a fantastic movie.
    Congrats on the FP’d!
    Glad to have found you here.
    iRuniBreathe

  10. HourglassAndBloom says:

    I don’t know what made me click on this from the “Freshly Pressed” page, but I am so, so glad that I did. This entry was so poignant, and a mirror of how I feel marriage will be with my now-boyfriend. And how I, myself feel about marriage. Incredible. And, thank you – I wish more admitted relationships are this way, and are what they are. I admire you, and I’ve only read this.

    “Marriage. I thought it meant we were free – free to show our true selves, secure in the knowledge that someone chose us, someone loved us. Our game of musical chairs was over. He thought it meant we were bound – bound to our plans, bound to our commitments, bound to the version of ourselves that stood on that altar. Our game of truth or dare was over.”

  11. finnegan2749 says:

    Marriage is what transpires on a daily basis some good some not so good. It is a union we build upon to achieve the best result. Come visit my blog and links leave some comments.

  12. lauras50by50 says:

    I’ve been married for 26 years and this still resonates. For me it was my husband asking to cut our anniversary trip to Ecuador short earlier this month (it was a 25 year anniversary trip…so you know it was a tough trip to negotiate/plan). I felt caught off balance. He had a great reason (he travels all the time for work and just wanted to be home and we really had seen all the key places we wanted to visit). You capture the mood so well!

    Congratulations on being Fress Pressed! I look forward to reading more of your work.

  13. Hmm…thought provoking post. I must admit that I’m like you and I wonder if I can expect the same sort of response in marriage. Makes me think I should be careful to show my spontaneous side in dating so that he knows who I am as well as possible. 🙂

    • I don’t think it matters if you show that side, it will take on a different meaning once you have promised one another a lifetime together. In fact my spontaneous side is probably what made my husband fall in love with me initially. He was thrilled by the ways I would drag him out of his comfort zone. When we got married I think he expected I would “tone it down” but unfortunately I went the other way and kicked it up a notch.

  14. minisparrow says:

    Wow, very true and well written… Congrats!

  15. Giselle General says:

    Thanks for the post. As a soon-to-be graduate from university, it feels like there’s a huge shift in one’s life stage. And that’s only for my personal or we can call it professional life. With my current boyfriend for two years now, I both daydream and dread about many things progressing forward. I’m taking him to my home country next year for three months and I know it will cause a shift in how we undersand each other, emphasize our differences and learn how to deal with them without even the bond of marriage yet.

    • I write a lot of posts on identity and struggling through transitions – it’s a topic that resonates at many stages through life. Daydream and dread is a great way to put it! Letting someone into your home will give them an entirely new perspective but you’ve got the kind of awareness that will help get through those transitions.

  16. Scribbler says:

    This was a lovely, wonderfully written post! You captured the complexities of married life so simply and delicately, painting a beautiful picture of the insecurities that marriage brings.

  17. Beautifully written, poignant.

    My marriage lasted almost 24 years, my husband never played Jenga. He always preferred the sport of trolling, oooops, I meant to say hunting, for prey.

  18. marymtf says:

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. ‘Ridiculing the stork and other horrendous myths of motherhood’ indicates that your blog is going to be an interesting read. I’m looking forward to finding out.
    I’ve only had a chance, so far to read your most current article, ‘the games we play’ so I hope you don’t mind if I begin with a negative comment. You say that what marriage means to you is that you are free to show your true self, secure in the knowledge that someone chose you and loved you for yourself. And here’s the thing, I hope you won’t be offended, but it seems to me that the self that you were before marriage was different to the self that you revealed once you were married. So what then was the basis of the true relationship that got you to that altar?

    • Very interesting interpretation. My spontaneous nature was something that made my husband fall in love with me so I certainly wasn’t hiding it. However I believe he thought I would “tone it down” when we got married whereas I thought it meant he accepted that part of me so fully that I could be completely free. My behavior didn’t change, but our expectations of what happens in a marriage certainly did.

  19. muddledmom says:

    Yay, congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Great post!

  20. Yay you!!! Congrats on being FP’d! I’m dying to know how many hits you got from this. Yes, I’m nosy (and Grumpy and Sleepy and Doc) … Enjoy!

  21. Nice post! I can completely relate to being a somewhat type-A planner and yet also, a total agent of chaos within my family. As I get older it makes me wonder if I’ll ever be content with anything or if I’m bound to dwell in the land of permanent dissatisfaction.

  22. cathynd95 says:

    You should have talked to him on the train instead of just writing a blog about it.

  23. dinkerson says:

    It sounds like your husband needs to take off his panties and learn how to speak for himself. Lol!
    By the way, this was brilliantly written. You really do write very well.

  24. Wow. You’re kind of brilliant. You’ve kind of given me incredible insight with this post.

    No, I’m no closer to figuring out your gender. But at least I can identify some colors now.

    So, thanks.

  25. thegreenlatina says:

    Personally, I would take Florence over Venice any day. I loved how authentic it felt and how there were so many areas to go and be around locals rather than tourists. Great piece though!

    • Many people would agree with you. I am not sure my feelings about Florence were really about Florence anyway. Not to mention we were there during Spring Break/Easter and Venice was all locals while Florence was teeming with drunken college students. Just like most things in life, timing and perspective play a huge role.

  26. jeffitron says:

    I think I am lost here. I guess because I never understood expectations, and I struggle to expect things. Expectation. Having a preconceived notion about how something will be. My wife and I have recently moved back to her home country Japan. She is pregnant. Due sometime soon. When we first came to Japan, we came to talk to her parents about our decision to marry. We had not told them. On the plane ride over the Pacific ocean, my mind was occupied with imagining that I could walk on clouds. We landed, and we went to her parents apartment. They were parents. They had worries, they had prejudices, they had moments of immense kindness, and dissatisfaction. They were people. Osaka was like any other large city. Concrete and cars and traffic lights and people everywhere. The trees were trees. The sky was blue. I do not know. Maybe I missed something. But marriage is a word. An idea that someone sometime posited into the minds of others. So why your marriage be as what this person thought it to be? Marriage is what you make of it. Right? I cut my finger. Now what?

    • I think you are 100% right. The trick is “marriage is what you make of it” applies to two distinct people coming together. What one might want to “make of it” may no longer suit the other. It’s a simple concept but there is often struggle, especially in the beginning.

  27. Nader Nazemi says:

    Very interesting read.

  28. ghummakkad says:

    Yeah, this stuff can happen to newly weds. I remember my first trip (post our marriage) to see some beautiful temples in India. I am a perfectly planned trip kind of a guy and my wife is more spontaneous. It was tough at first, but after a couple of years of the marriage, I am glad that I have become more like her. Life is better this way!

  29. I may have accidently bumped on to your blog. But your blog has raised good amount of noise in my head.

    While your take is related to the marriage, aren’t we all doing something like this with our lives on an ongoing basis.

  30. Maahir Shah says:

    OMG! This was some epic writing. You deserve the praise.

  31. Miss Bellini says:

    Loved this post. Also loved your reaction to Florence because I had the same one and I get so much shame for it. People love, adore Florence and I thought it was not all that and way too crowded. Food was great, but city was not for me. Glad I’m not alone.

  32. I love your analogy to a Jenga game. I hope your marriage going forward is more like Lincoln logs — a little sturdier as you build it. How did the trip turn out?

  33. xerith says:

    Great post. And glad that it was 7 years ago which seems that you two have mastered the “game” 🙂

  34. Jennifer says:

    Just beautiful! So glad I clicked on your blog. I love the happy times, of course, but the trying times — I think THOSE are the moments that define a marriage. Thank you so much for expressing that perfectly.

  35. mysweetestwords says:

    Hilarious, and so true!! I feel like in a partnership, the best case scenario is where you manage to ground each other yet push each other to better horizons at the same time. Congrats on FP!

  36. Colleen V says:

    This is a very well-written piece. I appreciate your honesty.

  37. rachelocal says:

    I love this. It makes me wonder why marriage vows make every small thing seem so filled with weight.

    • I am amazed by those people who think it’s “just a piece of paper”. For us, everything changed in that first year or two. We learned to navigate the waters and the ship sort of righted itself, but the changed expectations really threw us for a loop to start.

  38. rant4u says:

    Great post congrats on freshly pressed!

  39. Roshni says:

    I could relate to this post so well. I’m currently with someone who does not like the idea of marriage, and it’s not like I want it either. But while reading your post, I realized that sometimes, marriage could mean ‘deconstructing the life we build while dating’. Loved your post. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

    • My aunt and uncle have been together for nearly 30 years without ever getting married. It works for them. It would have never worked for me. The weight of marriage can “speed things up” in a way, or bring things to the forefront that might not have been addressed for years, but I wouldn’t take this as a treatise against the institution itself.

  40. lorenawebber says:

    Wow! That was amazing!

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