Notes on Marriage

[Editor’s note: While it is an article on relationships, it does contain material than may be upsetting to people who are against hunting and all of the components that included in this outdoor hobby.]

I have a friend whose husband is big into hunting. Not just your garden variety hunting like you see in this area, deer, rabbits, pheasant, but the kind of hunting where you get on an airplane and fly to different parts of the United States and hunt things like bobcats, coyotes, wolves, elk and other animals that we don’t typically see in New Jersey. She has upwards of a dozen dead trophies posing in various places in her home – a couple of bears, a full wolf, some animal my friend thinks might be a wild ram, deer and so forth. There are countless firearms, field equipment, cameras and other tracking devices as well. Said husband spends most of the weekends during the winter months in the great outdoors as he works his way through the various rotating game seasons. Incidentally, he is also an award-winning fisherman, owns his own boat, and plans to retire to run charter fishing excursions, but that is the topic of a different blog. The point is this guy should be on the cover of some magazine called All Things Outdoors, Games and Guns, or something like that.  

If you look up the definition of tolerant, I am pretty sure you will find my friend’s picture right there next to the word. She herself is not into hunting or outdoor sports.  She was well aware that she was marrying a hunter when they said their “I do’s”; however, I think she might have pictured autumn meals that include a little venison stew, simmering in a cast-iron pot with harvest root vegetables, paired with a bold, burgundy wine. Instead she now lives in a fortress which also serves as museum for large dead animals. That said, my friend does think that her husband should have the freedom to pursue whatever his little gun-loving-kill-happy heart desires with a couple of very, in my opinion, minor provisos. The first proviso is that he must pursue all this hunting through legal means. No illegalities. Fair enough. The second is that the pursuit of his hobbies cannot negatively impact their current life style. Said more specifically, no second house in some isolated area of Montana under the pretense of the two of them “vacationing” and getting in touch with their off-the-grid selves.  My friend does not want to find herself spending her days in frigid temperatures, leaning out a second story window, with a hair dryer on full blast trying to defrost an antiquated satellite dish, while hubby is in the woods hunting whatever there is to hunt in Montana.  You get the idea. It totally falls in the category of for-better and for worse. 

That is how things were until the day my friend arrived home from work to find that UPS had delivered a full-grown wolf posed on top of a large bolder sitting right there in her living room. My friend has a fairly stressful job where she is often submitting product approval requests to the FDA. I don’t have to tell you that dealing with any bureaucracy can be a nightmare, but the federal government is almost never a walk in the park. This particular day had been one of those days that seems to go on endlessly, and you are just so grateful to finally be in the car on the way home. The kind of day where you just want to walk in the door, take off your make-up, put on your jammies, eat dinner and watch mindless TV for the rest of the night.  Unless, of course, UPS had just delivered a full-size wolf mounted on a bolder. My friend walked into her living room to find the wolf perched up there on his bolder as though it were on a trail in Colorado instead of in her townhouse in Bordentown, New Jersey, and, behind the wolf, was her husband, smiling, in fact, beaming with pride, unable to contain his delight.

“Get that thing out of the living room!” was the first thing that came out of my friend’s mouth.  

It wasn’t as though this was the first dead animal to arrive to their humble abode, but it was the first to take residence in the living room. And, long, hard experience had taught my friend that you have to act early in all matters concerning the placement of large animals.  

Her husband, now deflated, possibly bordering on heart-broken, just looked at her. He was too stunned to answer.

“Seriously, what is that?  And get it out of the living room!” 

Unable to contain his incredulousness at his wife’s lack of appreciation for this addition to their home, he tried to reason with her. “It’s a wolf! It’s a full-grown wolf! It’s beautiful! I couldn’t wait to show you.”

“Not. In. The. Living. Room.” 

What I would like to say is that my friend then went upstairs where she proceeded to the make-up removal, the PJs, dinner and mindless TV portion of her day, but that is not what happened. That is not what happens in most marriages. What happened is that there became a now high-stakes negotiation of where exactly the mounted wolf was allowed to reside. At first, my friend’s husband dug in about the living room, but soon decided that, if the wolf were in the den, then it allowed for optimum viewing opportunities. While the living room does provide shock value to guests when they first arrive, plus, if placed strategically it can be seen from the street, thus acting like a backup security system, people generally sit in the den, so guests would get to spend more time with this beautiful animal if it lived in the den. Of course, for this very reason, my friend objected to the den as well. Somehow, and to her husband’s amazement, she did not think that sharing time and space with this 100-pound stuffed creature added to their quality of life. Or at least not to the quality of HER life.  

As is often the case with people who have hobbies about which they are passionate, my friend’s husband was not easily dissuaded; however, they did manage to strike a deal. The husband was allocated an entire room in which to keep his trophies and all his other paraphernalia, some ridiculous number of guns with handles custom made to fit his hand, equipment to make his own ammo and, of course, the dead animal trophies. In exchange, my friend did not have to decorate her home with animal hides of any sort. It was a perfect compromise, except, of course, when one hunts large animals, one lone room fills up quickly and, when the hunter is head over heels in love with his wife, the natural tendency is the continue to share and to expect the love-of-his-life to share in his excitement. It’s a dance. 

Which brings us to this latest trip. This past Saturday my friend and I were at the movies when she got a phone call from her husband. He was in Kansas on one of his big game hunts. He sent home photos of their trip and what you could see in the photos were miles and miles of wooded area covered in snow, and big men dressed in camouflage gear trekking through the field. This brings up all kinds of questions for me. For instance, there are the obvious questions about the logistics of getting across the country, guns and ammo in tow, finding a guide, hiking through the fields and all of that.  I wonder how, with all the possible hobbies on the planet earth, one decides that big game hunting is the hobby of choice. But none of those are the big questions for me. The big question for me is what it is like to be married to this person. 

You see, even though I was not there, I know how these things work. It was very likely that this whole thing started in a once-upon-a-time scenario.  Two young people fell in love, they stood at the top of the aisle, in a small church with stained glass windows and, in front of God and everybody, they professed their love. You know the drill – to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, all the days of our lives. The problem is that when we say that, we don’t really know what any of that is actually going to look like. And even if we think we know, we have no idea what it is going to be to experience that every day. Knowing something intellectually and actually having an experience of something are two dramatically different things. And even more elusive than any of that is the idea of just how long “until death do us part” can be. It is, essentially, forever. 

While I do not have a husband that hunts, I do have a husband with what I like to call big-ticket hobbies. When we got married, there was no hint that he had any big-ticket interests. In fact, when we got married he brought the following to the table: two young boys, a small apartment’s worth of used and not very nice furniture, one very nice bedroom dresser, an Acura that was financed, and many thousands of dollars in college loans. And here we are, almost three full decades later and he has the following essential components as part of his life: an entire room dedicated to music, a sports car, enough hiking gear to take a family of four camping in any weather, in any season of the year, and a nano-brewery. 

But let me paint a more vivid a picture of what this looks like on the court.  The stereo room has what I call a full-rig of speakers, sound absorbency panels painted to match the wall color, specifically designed wall hangings, again to assist in maximizing the sound quality, a dedicated computer, three thousand albums stored digitally, a dedicated iPad, a variety of remotes, two chairs positioned perfectly to hear all sound frequencies as they were intended to be heard, and one small table positioned between the two chairs. After all, one needs a surface on which to put one’s beer while listening to a Ravel quartet. The nano-brewery has equipment I cannot even begin to identify. There are large round silver pots that buckle shut and have gages that measure temperature or pressure or something. There are several large square buckets that hold sterilized water, some small stove-type thing that actually cooks the beer, other containers that hold the beer as it is fermenting and, wait for it, two coffin sized refrigerators, complete with keg set ups so that you can have a choice of about four or five beers, should you be a beer drinker, which I am not.  

I’ll spare you the details of the hiking gear and the sports car, but you get the idea. I am talking hobbies that are all-consuming. Hobbies that have lives of their own, requiring care and maintenance, routine technological upgrades, specialty insurances, and their own individual budgets that renew each year.  When Hubby and I moved into our new house, we had the choice between finishing the basement, which would house the music room and the nano-brewery, or the space above the garage that I would use as an office, and out of which I would run my business. It was not entirely clear to Hubs that the income generating project should be first because, without the stereo room, poor Hubs was listening to music on what I call a half-rig of speakers that are housed in our den, which is insolated for weather not sound. He considered this sub-standard listening a sacrifice he was making in the name of being flexible. I considered it yet another music related expense that we did not need. It’s a dance.  

Now, to be crystal clear, although it may not seem completely obvious, I am not complaining about Hubby’s high-ticket hobbies.  And my friend with the big game husband is also not complaining. My husband adores me, cares very much about my happiness and the overall quality of my life. If I need or want something, his general position is that I should have it.  Our relationship has all the elements that you want in a marriage – long lasting love, honor, respect, similar values, enjoyment of the same activities, and all of that. I bet if you ask my friend, she would say the same thing about her husband and their marriage. The point is how unpredictable life can be and how, when you are young and in love, you stand right up there in front of God and everybody and make those promises, while, in reality, you have no idea what is coming down the pike. The terms of the contract are not spelled out in a way that is very clear and, on some days, I tell Hubs that I want a refund. Or at least a rebate. I was seriously misled. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I cannot help but think that the not knowing may actually be the part of the deal that is the most magical. It might be that the unpredictability of life, is what we are really talking about when we take those vows. We may actually be saying, not for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, and all of that, but we might really be saying that any day with you is better than any day without you. That the WORSE possible day with you is better than the BEST possible day without you. And we may make that promise fully unaware, fulling uninformed, with no real idea of the potential disaster that can happen in a lifetime. I just have to wonder if, in fact, THAT might be the real variable that has people stand up there and make those promises – the obliviousness of how wild the ride can be whether you actually purchased tickets for the ride or not.