Posted in Nonfiction

Marriage, in 30-Second Increments.

I’ve been seeing a little too much of this Subaru Outback* commercial these days.

I worked in advertising for nine months. It was my first salaried, full-time, post-college job. I was just a proofreader, and I spent more time blogging and working on a manuscript and IM-ing than I did circling typos. Most of the employees forgot I’d been hired; they were used to proofing their own stuff. And needless to say, I wasn’t what you’d call a go-getter back then.

Still, I learned a lot about commercials there. Successful ones sell you an experience, rather than a product. They make you desire a lifestyle you never considered. They make you long for an emotion you didn’t realize you missed, didn’t realize you could even feel. (It’s the same concept around which the entire run of Mad Men is situated.)

For those 30 or 60 seconds, there it is. Right upfront, right in your home, for you to see and feel and want. And as it flickers like a flash of what might be gold in your pan, then ends before you want it to, the advertisers have left you wondering: Now what are you gonna do about it?

If they’re lucky, you connect that call to action to their product. But when I see that Subaru Outback commercial, I want the experience. In any car. This idea of starting a new life with someone, cloistered in the woods, blossoms ringing my hair, drenched and laughing and escaping a collapsed tent… this is an idea worth coveting.

I had the same experience with this Mitsubishi Outlander commercial in the early aughts. There’s a very brief scene where rose petals are swirling into the face of the driver’s new bride; when I first laid eyes on that in ’03, it was pretty spectacular. (Incidentally, this commercial has some of the best subtle “face-acting” of any I’ve seen to date. And you really get the sense that you’ve watched a character evolve and mature in the minute you spend watching it. I’d enter this commercial as evidence in my argument that a well-executed commercial can provide the same narrative satisfaction as flash fiction.)

The point is: like most unmarried people, there’s a part of me that will always romanticize marriage. If I marry, I will have some minor, irrational expectation that roughly 75% of my marital experience will evoke the emotions these commercials capture. Ideally, I want to be with someone who makes me feel that, regardless of the unforeseen–triumph, tragedy, great gain, profound loss, joy, sickness, treatment, remission–there simply isn’t anyone else with whom I’d rather be.

I haven’t married, in part, because of this. I am expecting something more spectacular than I’ve experienced.

You hear these aphorisms, these “marriage is what you make it”/”it’s a partnership” cliches, and you know there is truth at the heart of them.

So few of us go into a wedded union with any concept of the mundane, of the dying down of euphoria, of the reality that we simply cannot be confident of how our partner will respond to certain of life’s curve balls. We trust that the love we feel in the moment, in the first months or years or even the first decade , will deepen into a mature and constant, if unexciting love, that will guide us into our golden and twilight years, that will end with us at the other’s death bed.

And sometimes, the person with whom we began that journey becomes unrecognizable as the same guy earnestly floundering under a honeymoon tent, willing to soak himself down to the marrow in order to deliver on the promise of a caring, devoted, monogamous, self-sacrificial life.

I find that kind of risk utterly terrifying, and I haven’t found myself in the eye of a relationship that felt worth it.

I just don’t want to marry someone because I long for the 75% these car commercials seem intent on selling me, only to find myself hiding out in a greenhouse, growing increasingly bitter as I mist the potted orchids, until:

*Those Subaru Outbacks are dope, though.