Gorging on the buffet of love

“A second marriage is like your second time down the buffet line.”

So decreed a colorful coworker of mine at a work-sponsored pre-wedding “luau” a few months ago, who’s well into a euphoric second marriage herself.

I didn’t quite get it at first. I was less hungry? There was less food?

No, she pointed out. I knew what I wanted and I was a lot smarter about loading up on the right food, the delicious and nutritious stuff–and I was way smarter about managing that serving.

Which got me thinking that so much in relationships, like in anything, comes down to practice. The more you do something with the intention to improve, the better you (usually) get. (My surfing ability is a notable exception.)

But it’s really hard to practice being a terrific partner. Because if you mess up–which inevitably happens with any new skill–you get dumped. In early-stage partnerships, there’s no room for error.

To continue the buffet analogy, it’s like getting a half-scoop of mashed potatoes before the kitchen shuts down.

Nobody aims for a second time down the buffet line. We all want our marriages to last as long as we do.

But I think we have a societal duty to be far more up front that mastering marriage — and the buffet of love that comes with it — is one of the most complex challenges many of us will ever face. Nobody expects you to be a world-class driver in a few weeks or even a few years. So why should we expect you to be a master wife or husband without a terrific coach, tons of resources and years of practice?

We don’t talk about these things. There’s a lot of shame involved with discussing relationship mistakes, and much of the ground is seen as private and thus not available for educational purposes. And it’s no wonder–the few who do discuss their mistakes risk being attacked and pushed away by the people they need support from most.

Marriage is a kaleidoscope of complex emotional and practical variables, many of which are subconscious or really hard to discern. We use generalities like “marriage is work” because it’s impossible to encapsulate it all in a simple summary. But we could say in order to be a world-class partner, we all need a coach, we all need training and tune-ups. We could set the standard of regular counseling, create a tradition of marriage review, invite friends and family to share in the process.

We glorify the commitment of love in so many wonderful ways, from rings and ceremonies to speeches and dances.

It’s time to codify ways to improve our skills with the same level of magic.