Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s is a reprint from 2010, as I am taking some down time for the summer. Let’s talk about that grass is greener syndrome and marriage!
In West Knoxville, Tennessee, Lee Miller has the best lawn in the neighbourhood. The uniformly green grass is always 1 ¾ inch high. People stop their cars to touch it. Dandelions don’t invade it. Grubs don’t munch the roots. And Lee never, ever has to turn on the sprinkler. But though the grass may be greener on Lee’s side of the fence, the grass also isn’t real.
I have killed so much grass myself that I have dreamt of a fake lawn. But I’d miss the robins digging for worms, and the bunnies that gorge on the greens that grow under our bird feeder. A fake lawn may look nice, but there’s no life there.
That doesn’t stop the envy, though. When we’re in the midst of a season where all we see is the grubs, it’s easy to turn and look at Lee’s lawn and think it’s superior. It’s beautiful. It’s easy. And so we’re tempted to abandon our own lawn for another.
Big mistake. I have known so many who have walked out on marriages and families to take on all the problems of another family. I’ve known men who have abandoned families they have cherished and cared for for twenty years, only to start all over again with another woman with toddlers. They often realize, after they have wrecked their relationships with their older children, that just because you start fresh doesn’t mean it’s easier. That first family doesn’t go away; you still have to work out custody issues and vacations and university plans and even eventually weddings. But you’ve burned bridges and caused ill will in the meantime.
Why are we so easily enticed to stray over that fence? I think we’re naturally lazy. When we’re in the midst of a difficult period in our relationships, and we feel like the other person doesn’t value or understand us, to work through that seems exhausting. And then we meet someone we can talk to, who’s new and therefore exciting, and we convince ourselves that life would be easier if we could jump that fence.
That’s a very short-term view. We forget the value of the history that we have built up. I don’t think I could ever leave my husband because nobody else has walked my life with me. He has been a witness to every major event in my adult life. If we were to split, I couldn’t talk about them in the same way anymore, because others wouldn’t understand. They weren’t there when Rebecca was born. They weren’t there when we laid my son to rest in the cemetery. They weren’t there when my grandfather died, or when my first book was published, or when I learned to drive. Those shared memories are worth something.
Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, in their study A Case for Marriage, found that couples from unhappy marriages who split up were far less likely to be happy five years later than couples who stayed together. Even those who found new partners were less likely to be happy than those who worked on their own marriages. That’s probably why second and third marriages fail at rates far greater than first marriages.
Life is messy, but that’s only because it’s real. If someone else’s grass is greener, it’s either because it’s fake, or because you’ve never been up close and personal with it. Get up close, and you’ll see that it has just as many flaws as yours does. Remember, the difference between a beautiful garden and a wilderness is the time that we spend caring for it. So if your lawn is straggly, maybe instead of leaving it, you just need to care for it a little bit more. And while you’re at it, fix the fence.
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