My husband, Will, loves to read instructions. Especially the rules to a game. The way I play games is in exact opposition to the way my husband likes to play games. When we first played Monopoly during the first few months of our blossoming romance, I saw major red flags the color of hotels rise when he questioned my move as I placed my Monopoly money into the center of the board when I had to pay taxes.
"What are you doing?" Will asked.
His slightly raised voice didn't scare me. During one of our first conversations, even before we'd started dating, while we were in the mail room, back when he worked at the library with me, we got into an argument over whether or not a movie about a marital affair, in this case The End of the Affair, should be classified as a "great" movie. I said yes. Will said no. My inner voice said, "Who is this guy, being all cute and foolishly naive about intimate relationships?"
Turns out my inner voice was totally wrong. Will's not naive about relationships at all. He takes relationships seriously. He's known his best friends since they were six, when he moved to the city in first grade. Will genuinely believes in the traditions of marriage and children and home ownership and lawn maintenance. My husband is ten years younger than I am, but he acts like a grandpa to my angsty teen.
Will had better role models for a happy marriage than I did. My parents divorced when I was twenty-one--long after they should have. The first time my mom mentioned that she was thinking of divorcing my dad was when I was four. It took seventeen years for her to finally listen to me, my other siblings, and anyone else whose advice she sought regarding her shitty marriage to my dad.
Will's parents on the other hand have been married since 1978. Thirty-seven years. Most of their lives. And they still giggle and swoon when they sing to each other. Will's dad posts Facebook status updates that say how he loves his wife mind, body, and soul. The most romantic thing I ever saw my parents do is the time my mom leaned over and pecked my dad's cheek when he said goodbye. He was getting ready to leave for a six-week business trip, and the best they could do is a cold cheek kiss.
I'm glad I found Will. He's taught me how to love in a healthy, balanced, meaningful way. Will's one of the most mature, grounded, most reliable men I've ever known. He just doesn't know how to play board games. Or so I thought.
When Will asked me what I was doing as I set my Monopoly money in the center of the board when I had to pay taxes, I said, "What?"
"Why are you putting your tax money there? It goes into the bank."
I laughed. I'd heard about these kinds of game players, sticklers. Rule followers. Instructions readers. I'd never encountered one in the flesh.
"What are you talking about? Everyone knows you put your tax money, and your Community Chest money, and all that stuff in the center so when someone lands on Free Parking they win the lottery and get to collect all that money," I explained. Will was looking at me like I'd suddenly ripped off my mask and revealed my Scooby Doo bad-guy face.
"Becky," he sighed. "That's not how the game goes."
"That's how everybody plays it."
"It's not in the rules."
"Well it should be."
"No, do you know why? Because then the game would never be over. Everyone would keep winning money and then they wouldn't go bankrupt when they land on Boardwalk with a hotel on it. They could just pay for the stay and move on. Where's the fun in that?"
Similarly, my pre-Will high-drama intimate relationships started out fun, but they drained me, leaving me lying prone across the table, exhausted and confused and just wanting the games to end.
I still don't read instructions to games, but my rules-loving husband has convinced me to at least follow them when someone else takes the time to read them to me and helps me understand.
Like today, when our nine-year-old daughter called out to me from the kitchen table, "Mom, did you know that when you land on 'night school' you can draw a new career and salary card?"
"Huh?" I replied. "No, I never played it that way. That's cool. You wanna play it that way the next time we play Life?"
"Uh, yeah. I mean. Those are the rules, Mom."
Just like her dad. Plays by the rules. Lucky for me.
Katie, age 9, reading the rules for The Game of Life