Jones County, NC – Years ago I picked up a neighbor's social work journal and read an article that claimed that most marriages have an hysteric person and a compulsive person. The expert wrote that usually the wife is excitable, talkative, and over-reactive. Usually, the husband is orderly, unemotional, and quiet. The expert wrote that this was generally a good thing, since the couple balanced each other and made a more stable relationship.
I wrinkled my nose in distaste. Just another tired relabeling of male/ female stereotypes, I thought. But in another moment I had thought of a dozen couples who could-- in short-hand -be described as the hysterical wife and the compulsive husband. Even my marriage (on some days) could be characterized like that. Well. So what? - Opposites attract. Everybody knows that. "She's got enough personality for two people and good thing married to that man! " People used to say about a live-wire married to a stolid, sensible man.
This new template for marriage was fun to apply. The exceptions proved especially entertaining to regard in this light -- the two compulsives competing for control of every little thing, the two hysterics competing for attention. The exceptions made the rule seem true. The idea even seemed to offer the possibility of insight that would allow me to moderate my drama and to begin to understand my husband's neatness. It was a new way to think about the marriages I knew best.
Not long after I was watching an old Smother's Brothers routine on TV. It hit me at once: Comedy teams are composed of an hysteric and a compulsive, a funny, chaos- creating character and a straight man trying to impose order. Examples quickly came to mind. George and Gracie, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Ernie and Bert from Sesame street, Neil Simon's Odd Couple, Laurel and Hardy, sometimes Lucy and Desi Arnez. The humor of each pair came from the audience's delight at the disorder and high spirits of the silly guy and the exposure of the straight man's ridiculous rigidity and his inevitable frustration with his partner.
The connection was irresistible. Married couples consist of an hysteric and a compulsive. So do comedy teams. Therefore married couples are comedy teams!
This has been a liberating idea for me. What a relief from conflict! We should be laughing at ourselves and each other. People are funny. We're playing out some cosmic comedy routine that we didn't recognize before. We must play our parts, but we can play it for laughs. All seriousness aside. Always amusing. Always amused. That is my motto.
With affection and understanding we can realize that our dust ups and disagreements are mainly just silly. Both win or both lose. We must step outside the moment to see the humor and laugh.
"Say Good night,' Gracie." "Goodnight Gracie!"