Leading up to our wedding, Nick and I spent a few days staying with family before checking into the hotel. On one of those days, Nick said or did something that aggravated me. I don’t remember exactly what it was now, but I’d guess it had something to do with him not tackling the remaining tasks on his wedding to-do list as quickly as I might’ve liked. Or maybe it was because he had made his way over to the TV while I was still in front of the computer, panicking over the seating chart. What I do remember is that I snapped at him, then literally winced at how it sounded. Did I always sound that shrill? No one else seemed to notice, but I was left wondering just when I had become such a grouchy, impatient nag.
The funny thing is, I probably would not have given this exchange another thought if we had been alone, as we usually are these days. Over the past few years, we’ve been all over the place in terms of living arrangements. Back when we were spending every night together but still not officially on the same lease, we embraced each other’s roommates as our own, along with all the chaos, hilarity, and occasional drama such living situations can entail. After graduation, we crashed with family for over a year while we worked on finding jobs and becoming financially stable. In relatively close quarters with parents and soon-to-be in-laws, a relationship can start to feel a bit exposed. A harsh word might garner a raised eyebrow, and if we behaved like bickering children on occasion, well, we could expect a gentle parental scolding, just as if we had been having the spat with a sibling instead of a significant other.
Then we made our big move to an island where we didn’t know anyone. I hadn’t specifically noticed the sudden absence of listening ears, and I definitely hadn’t noticed any impact that might be having on our relationship or the way we spoke to each other. But on our first extended trip home, surrounded by people, I unexpectedly felt hyper-aware of our interactions. We were on display in a way we hadn’t been for over a year. While we didn’t exactly feel the need to be on our absolute best behavior, we did resort to some old habits, like getting our spats out of the way on quick drives to the grocery store, or having whisper-fights in the dark after everyone else had gone to sleep.
While living out the early years of our relationship with relatively little privacy had its challenges, it certainly wasn’t all bad. We’re blessed that we had couches to crash on in a difficult year, and genuinely loved the time we got to spend with our respective families. We have hilarious memories of the years we spent with roommates, dealing with eccentric subletters, and witnessing awkward late-night romantic encounters. (Although, the day you wake up to a find a kiddie pool in your kitchen is a good day to start thinking seriously about getting your own place.) Besides, in retrospect, there are certainly benefits to having multiple witnesses to your occasional bad behavior.
When it’s just Nick and me, it’s all too easy to hit the snooze button and skip that morning workout. It’s not like anyone will know! Plus, let’s say I have a bad day on Monday, and talk Nick into grabbing pizza for dinner because I don’t feel like cooking. But then on Tuesday, it’s Nick’s turn to have a rough day—and I can’t really turn him down for takeout when he indulged me on Monday, right? If I snap at Nick for something minor, there’s no one there to roll their eyes at me and make it painfully obvious that I’m overreacting. When we’re alone, there’s no check on our behavior—real or perceived—and it can be all too easy to start to let these things slide.
Maybe it’s good to have people around that will make me occasionally cringe when I say something more sharply than I intended, or lose my patience a little too quickly. Wasn’t that kind of the point of having all those wedding guests—people who listened to us make our vows, and promised to hold us to them? Meddling is one thing, but being a quiet witness, just perceptible enough to keep a couple on their toes, is another.
Now that we’re back home on our island, in relative isolation with only the occasional coffee shop employee or grocery store cashier to observe our interactions, I’m going to put a bit more effort into self-regulation. After all, we didn’t promise to “love, honor, and cherish… but only when other people are listening.” Perfection may not be the goal, but I don’t need listening ears to guilt me into being a little more patient and kind toward my husband, and we certainly don’t (or at least, shouldn’t) need witnesses to shame us into getting to the gym. I’ll have a good opportunity to practice patience this week, as we work through our respective lists of wedding thank you cards. In return, I hope Nick will do his part to keep me away from the snooze button and out of Domino’s Pizza.