I’ve Always Loved Movies About Married Couples Who Actually Like Each Other

a painting of two grizzly bears on a plain with mountains and clouds in the background. The grizzly on the left is standing on two legs. The grizzly on the right is down on all fours.
Image by Enrique Fernández / CC BY

It’s a very low-key Sunday afternoon. I’m a little under the weather, recovering from a stressful work week and nursing a slight hangover. Skyspook has been out late the night before at a friend’s bachelor party.

We’re hanging out on the couch watching movies from the 80s and 90s. Taking turns making suggestions.

It’s my turn next, but I’m out of ideas. “I could look at the list,” I say. “But frankly, I’d watch anything at this point.”

“Okay. I’ll figure it out,” Skyspook says. He peruses the list. Picks something.

I squeal involuntarily when the title comes up. The Great Outdoors. 

“I love John Candy!” I say. “That’s the one with the bear.”

“Yup,” he says.

“And it’s a movie where the husband and wife actually like each other,”I say.

It made quite an impression on me as a kid, I tell Skyspook. There’s actually a moment where John Candy’s character and his wife are getting amorous in the kitchen fairly early on. It’s a comedy, so of course someone walks in and interrupts them. Comedic hijinks and all.

But their dynamic is solid throughout the movie. Loving, respectful. A married couple who actually seems to like each other.

“Not to mention a movie that depicts a big guy who has a pretty good sex life. Fairly cutting edge for 1988,” I say.

“Totally,” Skyspook agrees.

As we watch the movie, I keep pointing out instances of this loving dynamic between Candy and his wife. I’m sure I’m being a bit annoying, talking over the movie.Saying the same things again and again. But Skyspook just smiles.

I can’t help it. It’s a welcome change from the begrudging tolerance of most sitcom marriages. And that of my parents’ relationship. Sure, my parents might have had a passionate or romantic spark once, long before I was in the picture. But as long as I could remember, they never seemed to like each other all that much. Their relationship was comfortable, like long-time roommates.

I was hungry for a different kind of love story growing up. Any sign that married people could like each other. Because my parents always seemed so bored and miserable.

When I hit middle school, my friends’ parents started to divorce, one this year, another the next. I braced myself for the inevitable, for my parents to split up. But strangely they never did.

And they’re still going strong. In their own way. These days, my dad copes by turning down his hearing aid while my mom gets whatever she needs to say off her chest.

*

In college I was set up by friends with the only other single person they knew. Saved from the threat of spinsterhood by a quick introduction. And Seth had a confidence about him that I definitely found attractive — even if it had a way of occasionally straying into arrogance. I was lonely, he was lonely, and we had the same sense of humor.

We became exclusive fairly quickly and married 4 years later, in a small ceremony at a country inn.

Though we definitely had some good times, we’d both settled in one way or another. He called me high maintenance and often told me I was being dramatic. To me, he seemed emotionally unavailable and detached. We still laughed at most of the same things but found we had very little to talk about, a reality that bothered me a great deal since I generally crave conversation.

Unfortunately, Seth found a lot of the interpersonal dynamics that interested me to be quite boring. We stuck mostly to discussing our shared interests, video games and philosophy, although not philosophy applied to real life situations, much to my chagrin. It was a continued cruel joke the universe was playing on us: Seth would find things tedious right at the point where they became interesting for me.

The overlap between our interests became even perilously thinner as the years wore on, and we continued to grow in different directions.

I realized that I had ended up in a relationship like my parents’ marriage. Seth and I were roommates.

At about this time, we discovered that close friends of ours had an open marriage and had been seeing other people for a few years without any of us knowing. Seth had expressed a desire to experiment outside our relationship for nearly the entire time we’d been together, but I’d always been reluctant since I’d never seen non-monogamy done responsibly and respectfully. But here was a real-life example. A couple I admired was making it work. It gave me pause.

So after some soul-searching, Seth and I opened our relationship, began to see other people ourselves. It definitely took some adjustment leaving behind my belief that monogamy was the only acceptable way to do relationships, but the first year Seth and I experienced a wave of passion that was unlike anything I’d experienced in my relationship with him up until that point.

I still have many fond memories of Seth being supportive of the relationships I had with other people. And we bonded when I helped Seth through a particularly rough breakup.

Of the 10 years I spent with Seth, I felt closest to him when we were supporting one another in polyamorous situations that didn’t directly benefit us. That’s when I really felt loved by him. And those are fond memories I’ll have with me for the rest of my life, even if we could never quite get the hang of us.

The courage that led to polyamory also led to one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make: Accepting the reality that we weren’t meant to be married. That we just didn’t make sense that way.

We both deserved to be married to someone we actually liked and who actually liked us.

And while it hurt to divorce, I’m happy to say that we both agree it was the right call. These days he has a couple of partners that he absolutely adores. And I’m married to a person who was my best friend prior to our dating.

*

My book is out!

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory

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