“You know what we haven’t done for a while?” I asked, immediately regretting the set-up. But Michael did not go for the low-hanging fruit.


“We haven’t had you give me a back rub.”


For those unfamiliar with Michael’s verbiage, “uhhhh-huh” is his way of expressing exasperated amusement. Or perhaps amused exasperation. We’ve only been married a year, so I’ll need more data to be sure.

“You know . . . we could have you give me a back-rub,” Michael counter-proposed.


In his surprised silence, I thought about how much effort that would take and how comfortable I was laying on the couch right at that moment.



“I have no intention of giving you a backrub.”


And I don’t. Backrubs are exhausting and my hands are tiny and . . . I have a lot of excuses. But I also have a fair idea that Michael will surprise me with a backrub sometime in the next week or so.

Michael is not an ideal husband—though he tries, and I’m beginning to suspect that’s the crux of it all. But damn I’m not an ideal wife. I have flashes of it, or at least I have the picture of it straight in my head. But then when I go and try to be good at marriage, everything falls apart. Sometimes literally.

A couple weeks ago Michael had a cold—headache, sore throat, and aches. A couple weeks ago, oh, about that same time, I realized I lack empathy. A cold? Seriously, that’s it? It was his first cold in years. They say painful experiences are supposed to grow your empathic muscles. I just stand on mine like a pedestal: flu, ear infection, a couple colds, and an ACL tear in the last four months (and four months=four periods) alone. And he complains about a cold?

I didn’t say all of this, but my eyebrow game is strong.

(Also, I said some of it.)

When I got home one day and saw him pathetically trying to work, I summoned up the vision of the ideal wife and did what she would do.

“You want a smoothie?”

Michael looked at me like I was some kind of ministering angel and croaked, “Yes, please.” I took that as a sign that a) setting the bar low is a solid marriage strategy and b) I am a pretty awesome wife.

Banana. Frozen strawberries. Milk. Ice. Easy. Getting the blender lid on and the blender jar onto the base, not so much. A string of obscenities and smashing the blender jar against the ground didn’t immediately work, but eventually I slammed down a cup full of obnoxiously pink semi-solid in front of Michael who sat quietly on the couch.

“It’s not very liquidy,” I snapped. “Wait for it to melt.” Then I stalked off into the next room to angry-cry. When Michael tried to come ask me what was wrong, I yelled at him to go away.

A lot of things are wrong. Not the least of which I tend to bottle up emotions and take them out on an innocent blender and husband.

We had an ideal anniversary weekend—our favorite food, drinks, dessert, Guardians of the Galaxy, Hamilton, and a relaxing hike at Starved Rock State Park. And yet, amidst all the good, there were moments of staring—out the window during the car ride, at the ugly boomerang pattern on a diner counter—in hopeless doubt. Should I have said that? How are we supposed to fix it? Can I stop feeling like this so I can help him feel better? Or should I just fake something and hope the feeling follows?

The ideals laugh at us from far away. They laugh at us from imaginary places, from wherever it is that dashed hopes and once-pure dreams go to watch us make a mess of things. I hate their smugness. I hate their perfection. I hate how frequently I fail to live up to my potential, how insistently I ignore the moving target of my ideals.

Because smug and incessantly annoying as ideals are, we need them. We need their vision of what we could be. What we will be if we stay humble and keep trying.

Elaine Schnabel

Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).

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