The first birthday gift my husband Jeff ever bought me was a glass head, the kind electronics stores use to showcase headphones. He worked at Pier 1 at the time, and he told me he got me “the weirdest thing” that the store sold. Keep in mind we had only been dating for a few months and he was presenting me with a head-size box. Ah, the red flags ignored by young lovers.
A few years later, when we were living together, I returned the favor by purchasing ten polystyrene mannequin heads for Jeff at eBay. He was going through a phase with his photography wherein he was obsessed with taking pictures of two things: raw meat and mannequin parts (again: red flags). I thought about getting him some steaks, but that seemed unromantic. Luckily, he loved the heads. He stored them in our office closet along with our mullet wigs and Christmas ornaments. Without fail, every December when I went looking for tree lights I would startle upon finding ten white faces staring out at me. It was like living in the movie Cocoon.
In those salad days, we let a lot slide. I turned the other cheek when he hung cow eyeballs from a tree for another “project” and forgave him one night when he compared my pubic hair to one of the Little Rascals; in turn, he accepted my idiosyncrasies, such as my habit of getting tipsy and rearranging furniture, my compulsion to hoard and wear his boxer briefs when I ran out of clean underwear, and my tendency to occasionally throw out dishes when I didn’t feel like washing them. Over years of dating, we cultivated our intimacy until it was so bizarre and specific that it all but guaranteed no one else would ever want us.
For example, there’s a scene in one of our favorite movies, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, in which Chevy Chase’s Clark W. Griswold is counting ballots in an ad hoc election for “president” of the family. “That’s two for Clark,” he says with a smug smile as he reads the last vote. I’m not sure exactly when it started, but at some point around the four-year marriage mark, every time Jeff had more than one bowel movement in the course of a single day, he would emerge from the bathroom with a swagger and proudly announce, “That’s two for Clark!” This on top of our already established sign language for having just pooped, which is to raise both arms in the air like a football ref calling a good field goal. We are truly ruined for all others, so we have no choice but to work on the marriage we have.
Before we had a child, Jeff and I didn’t fight very often, and when we did it was over things like which was lamer: engaging in an America’s Next Top Model Fantasy League or watching Mythbusters while playing Internet war games. Literally the biggest altercation we’d had in years was over an incident in which Jeff had moved an errant Tootsie Roll from the floor of the kitchen that I had planned on eating on my way back to bed.
So that was then. For years we had the time and energy to spend arguing over who ate or moved whose secret hoard of junk food, or whether we should get stoned, have sex, and then watch the Planet Earth episode about seasonal forests, or get stoned, watch the Planet Earth episode about seasonal forests, and then have sex. Now, we high-five when we both remember to buy toilet paper.
Having a child, for our marriage, was sort of like reversing The Wizard of Oz so that instead of stepping off the broken-down porch of the farmhouse and into a candy-colored world of endless possibilities, Dorothy gets bitch-slapped by a Munchkin and thrown back up into the eye of the tornado. I want to stress that it is not like this for everyone, and that we both love each other, and our son, to an extent that is possibly not healthy. But we were a straight, codependent line that was forced to become a triangle, and so we had some . . . growing pains. As such, our fights these days can be roughly divided into five categories.
- Whose Life Is Worse
Have you ever seen the show Queen for a Day? Unless you were born before 1950, the answer is probably no, so let me briefly recap: On this TV show, women would compete to see who had the most hardships, and an applause-o-meter would decide which one of them won. These women would break down sobbing while describing their destitution, hunger, crippled children, etc., but only the saddest one would win a new dishwasher and get to sit on a throne during the credits. Isn’t that so fucked up?
And yet, Jeff and I have been playing a heated game of Queen for a Day for over two years, except our lists of hardships include things like “chapped nipples” and “can’t smoke pot in the house.”
- Who Is More Tired
This is sort of a continuation of Queen for a Day, but with added bouts of dramatic narcolepsy. Oh, Jeff, I see you’ve face-planted onto the sofa at seven p.m. still wearing your coat. Hm, interesting. Excuse me while I just fall asleep on the toilet while brushing my teeth with a tube of diaper rash cream. Your move, Rip Van Winkle.
- Who Is Less Interested in Sex
At some point, especially when sharing responsibility for a small child, even the most passionate of lovers will begin to find the idea of sex too exhausting to consider. But since no one wants to shoulder the blame for a carnal flameout, I have found that it becomes a game of chicken to see who can disgust and/or avoid the other person more.
“I’m horny,” I’ll announce, applying acne cream while absentmindedly picking the gnarled bundles of hair off my fleece sweatpants.
“You want a piece of this?” Jeff will yawn, gesturing to his body with his eyes closed. He will invariably be wearing old boxer briefs and a T-shirt he got from the busboy at the Indian restaurant down the street, which is hand-illustrated with a Sharpie.
“Totally, but I forgot to shave.” I turn and wink at him, trying to ignore the Pretzel M&M’s scattered across his chest. “I hope you like stubble.”
“Rrrrowr,” he growls. Then, a pause. “I’m gassy.”
“I bet you are, bad boy. Did you eat Chipotle for lunch again?”
Burp. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom. But then get ready, ’cause you’re in trouble.” At this point, he can hardly move.
“Why don’t we cuddle for a while, set the mood?”
Within seconds, we are asleep on opposite sides of the bed, happily at a stalemate.
- Whose Turn It Is to Comfort Our Child in the Middle of the Night
It’s hard to summon the neurological clarity to fight while asleep, but Jeff and I do a pretty good job. Something about a child’s inconsolable wailing jump-starts the brain’s Blame Center, I think.
“The baby’s awake,” Jeff will groan.
Swimming up from the depths of my slumber, I cannot comprehend this sentence. “No, he’s not. He can’t be awake. I just put him down.”
“Well, he is. . . .”
“Baaaaahhhhhh Fuck. Fuuuuuuck. Fuck everything.”
At this point, Jeff usually rolls over and plays dead, and I am forced to resort to bribery.
“Can you go? I’ll give you a hundred dollars.”
“I think he’s hungry.”
“No, he’s not. You’re being an asshole.”
After a few of these incidents, we transitioned to a family bed, which conveniently killed two birds with one stone, as having a child sleep between us ensures we can never have sex again.
- Whose Emotional Response to Stress Is Correct, a.k.a. Who Is More of a Sociopath
Picture Ramona Singer from The Real Housewives of New York City after two bottles of wine and a wasp sting interacting with Buster Keaton and you will get a sense of how Jeff and I complement each other emotionally. Sample dialogue:
Me: I am having feelings.
Jeff: . . .
Me: You are not validating my feelings.
Jeff: . . . ?
Me: Now my feelings are that you are a dick. On top of my original feelings.
Jeff: I’m sorry?
Me: What are you sorry for, being a dick or not supporting me emotionally?
Jeff: . . .
Me: [collapses in sobs]
Jeff: I love you?
Me: Why would you say that to me right now??
Sometimes I feel like we’re one of those cutesy news stories at the back of People magazine, about how a tiger cub and a tortoise have become best friends at the zoo. The pictures are always adorable, but then you’re, like, This cannot end well. It goes against nature. What will happen when they grow up, and one of them eats the other? And then, through the gloom, there’s that little optimistic Jiminy Cricket voice that chirps, Y’know, maybe love really does conquer all.
The jury’s still out, though. I might decide to eat Jeff one of these days. He’s got this really delicious Chipotle musk going on.
 This is a trick question, as they are the same thing.
From Unabrow by Una LaMarche published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright 2015 by Una LaMarche.