I read something the other day in The Economist that really struck me, and I'm still thinking about it. It was an article about the "changing face of European socialism", or some such journalistic hoo-ha, and much of it was dedicated to comparing European and American business practices. There was a quote by some French politician that said (more or less--I'm not going to hunt down the exact quote): "We Europeans are Americans who didn't take the boat. We have less tolerance for risk, and a stronger need for security."
Without getting into all the PC issues of non-European Americans, the use
of "America(n)" to describe the United States of, and the inevitable
inaccuracy contained in any gross generalization... that comment brought me
up short. I'm fascinated by the concept, the thought of a sort of natural
selection taking place between those willing to face the perils of discomfort
and disease in a transatlantic crossing in search of a better life, and those
who preferred the more familiar devils at home.
Of course, there were plenty of people who were quite happy and secure and well-off right where they were, thankyouverymuch, and so there was no stimulus to emigrate. Like all theories, it's imperfect, but I'm still attracted by it.
I think at least part of what interests me about it is how it brings into sharp relief certain issues in my marriage. Our marriage. You know what I mean.
On a very literal level, I'm the one who "took the boat". After
endless negotiation and discussion, and plans that constantly failed to materialize,
I went out and bought a wedding dress and stuffed it in my suitcase and got
on a plane to start my new life.
(Really, sometimes I have to shudder at the thought of this well-traveled but utterly naive 22-year-old taking such a huge step with relatively little forethought. It also makes me smile indulgently at my former self...)
The original plan called for Dario to move to the United States. I have no
idea why, and can't recall just how we (I?) arrived at this decision, since
it really made no sense at all. I had been sufficiently uprooted that I already
didn't have a "home" to go back to, not one that felt important
to me. Dario at the time spoke basically no English at all. I didn't even
have a job I wanted to keep.
Not surprisingly, in hindsight, his arrival kept getting postponed. He was going to come over in March, then in January he told me it would be no sooner than April, which gradually became May. It took a while, but I finally got it through my head that he didn't want to come. It was crisis time.
I flew over for a week, most of which was spent in bed--not intimately, but
with such terrible abdominal cramps I was convinced I was going to die. The
doctor diagnosed "nervous colitis", and asked whether I was under
any stress. I giggled hysterically in reply.
"Only the stress of deciding the rest of my life."
We had a decision to make. Did he not want to come because he wasn't certain of his feelings for me? Was it because he didn't want to leave his parents? Was he worried about not being able to find a job and make a life for himself in another country?
I'm not sure we ever really answered those questions. But on a subliminal
level, that was when I realized that my (perhaps) husband-to-be was not a
No problem. I could handle that part; taking chances didn't scare me. Three months later I'd arrived to stay, with my wedding dress and silk bouquet tucked in my luggage.
Aside from the beginnings of our marriage, our different levels of risk tolerance affect so many aspects of our life. There is a constant, underlying tug-of-war going on between us, with me pulling in various directions and him straining to hold back. I don't think of myself as reckless (most of the time), but I definitely require less certainty before leaping. Dario leaps only when forced to do so, and with his eyes clamped shut until he lands safely on the other side. Even then, he peers around suspiciously until he's absolutely certain this new situation is sustainable.
Sometimes, I get frustrated with his hesitation. He needs to feel in control,
and anything that shatters his boundaries is perceived as fearsome. For all
my constant self-doubt and insecurities, only rarely does it occur to me that
I'll be unable to handle whatever changes the new situation may bring.
In turn, Dario is occasionally exasperated by the constant upheaval I tend to strew in my wake (and not just in terms of household messiness, although I suppose that may be emblematic).
We periodically have arguments about risk-related issues, and the interesting part is this: I often moan that we have no sustained periods of tranquility, while he yearns for more adventure. He worries that he drags me down, and I despair at being unable to provide him with a soothingly calm home life. We both seem to seek the opposite of what we bring to our relationship, while simultaneously rejecting part of the adaptation it requires.
Hmm, perhaps this little tension is part of why we're still together after all these years. It's a risky business, marriage. Just like life in general, I guess.