I heard a lot of well wishes around the time of my engagement. “Is it a shotgun wedding?” “But you’re so much shorter than he is.” Heartbreakingly, I did not hear those four little words that every bride-to-be longs to hear: “He went to Jared!”
It’s bad enough that our first kiss began with a cocktail, not with a “K.” Will I someday resent the fact that my diamond ring is not from a “galleria” of “jewelry”? Only my divorce lawyer will know for sure.
Perhaps it’s time I realize I have been chasing a dream that even Amazon Prime cannot deliver: the dream of the commercial American life. It is a dream that has loomed large in our shared imagination since the wireless first brought fireside chats and dish soap advertisements into our living rooms. It’s a dream realized during a Technicolor heyday while mom heated up TV dinners. It’s a dream that lives on through smart phone apps and YouTube. (You can skip this ad in 10 seconds…)
Could it be true? My laundry happiness, my husband’s lawn care success, and my children’s As-Seen-on-TV hopes are little more than a click and 11.9% APR away. But we live the reality in discount rack clothes — my husband in last year’s polo shirt. Will we never know joy, or own designer sunglasses?
I’ve found myself caught up in the dream because, really, who wouldn’t want to be the people in these advertisements? They are never unhappy or ugly, unless it’s an advertisement about something unimportant, like politics or charity or thwarting nail fungus. But even then, the ugliness is resolved in 30, 60 seconds tops. Then we can get back to the real work of a family, being joyfully beautiful in our joyful homes and beautiful cars.
But being really, really good looking and having teeth whitened at home isn’t the only prize. Our very security waits at the other end of a 15-minute call to Geico. Why, how have we made it this far, nearly 14 years into marriage, without friends who give us advice about our home and car insurance needs, borrowing the disembodied voice of a baritone actor? TV marriages have Jake (from State Farm). We have what? Jake from next door; he never once offered to help us with our insurance policy in the middle of the night.
My insurance woes pale in comparison to my luxury car problem. How much longer can I soldier on without my Christmas-gifted Lexus? Imagine my chagrin when on the morning of my first married Christmas I stepped out to the driveway and found an old newspaper, not a luxury crossover with an outsized red ribbon stuck to its top. That was over 12 years ago. I am selfless. I am devoted. I drive a used minivan and am still married to the same man.
It’s not the things I need, it’s the symbols of success. An Egyptian cotton, 400-thread count sheet set is nothing without the foundation of the top-of-the-line TempurPedic on which it rests. What is my marriage, my home life, my worth, if I can’t label it with a nationally recognized brand? How will I incite envy if not with my vacuum? That’s right, Mr. and Mrs. Jones. It never. Loses. Suction.
Alas, I live as an un-American in near squalor. When we got our dishwasher with an unmatchable energy efficiency rating and stainless steel finish, my kitchen did not transform into an HGTV after picture: no granite counters, no Viking range, no bespoke window treatments. When we replaced the faucets in the master bathroom, we had to come to terms with the fact that we do not run an elite spa. No one here will warm my hot stones. I have to warm them myself.
Maybe I’m not doing my part to earn my commercial life. If any number of home improvement store ads are to be believed, I am married to — I may even be myself — a handy person. Are my husband and I the kind of people who can achieve domestic perfection in a weekend with just two coats of a $59.99 per gallon paint? Our roof might be in leaky shambles, but the mudroom can be an Instagram-worthy drop zone in Lime Zest. Isn’t that what matters most?
Here’s where I get honest. The biggest threat to my marital happiness may well be our lack of outdoor plumbing. I am ashamed to admit this, but I do not have two bathtubs overlooking a ravine in my backyard. We keep our tub in the bathroom, and then, it’s just the one. If my husband should ever grapple with erectile dysfunction, I don’t know how we will conquer it. Perhaps a tire swing hanging in our backyard through which he can toss a pigskin in a perfect spiral, symbolizing the velocity and virility of his ejaculate? But no, we don’t even have a good tree from which to hang an erectile dysfunction tire.
It’s back to Amazon.com for me, where I can at least buy a ShamWow and some of those space-saving bags that collapse winter sweaters into teacup poodle sweaters with the application of a vacuum hose. I may not be able to save my marriage, but I won’t fall prey to sweater storage problems. Not this American.