The right person

wedding-coupleIn group.  All women.  All wives. 

“How do you know,” Alice asks, “if you married the wrong person?”

The others frown. 

“Or the right one, for that matter,” Betty mutters.

“Good question,” Cathy says.

“Are these questions you guys ask yourselves?” I ask.

Everyone nods. 

“How do you go about answering them?”

“I’m in the process,” says Betty.

“I ask you,” says Alice. 

They all laugh.

“But aren’t they the same question?” Cathy asks.  “Whether you’ve married the right or wrong person?”

“Maybe,” I say.  “Maybe not.”

“Most people I’ve known don’t actually decide about this the way you decide which car to buy or what to have for dinner.  The decision sort of happens to them. 

“One wife I knew struggled with it for years.  We spent hours talking about whether she should divorce this guy she married young and who wasn’t very nice to her.  She was unhappy but scared, so she’d go back and forth.  She worried about the usual things — finances, how it would affect the kids, what the neighbors would think.

“Then one night she’s giving her kids a bath and, bang, it happens.  The decision appears.  She goes downstairs, tells her husband ‘I want a divorce,’ then goes back up to finish the bath.  Her doubts are gone.”

“How do you explain that?” Alice asks.

“I think all the work she’d done in therapy reached a sort of critical mass.  She’d spent years collecting emotional evidence — who she really was, how she really felt, what she really wanted.  Then this particular night that all came together, and some scale inside her tipped.  She just knew.

“Hm,” says Denise, who’s been quiet until now.  “What about the other question?  If you married the right person?”

“Well, I’m not sure the right person actually exists,” I say.  “Outside of movies and romance novels, I mean.  It can be a pretty destructive fantasy.  Some people marry in a blur of infatuation and excitement, and then, when the honeymoon ends and kids come along and things get complicated and difficult, decide Oh, I picked the wrong person and give up.  Ever see that?”

They all nod. 

“So maybe the best we can do, most of us, is marry someone able to become the right person over time.  Someone who’ll hang in with us through the rough spots, and work on themselves, and suffer and stretch and grow in the relationship.  And who makes us willing do the same.” 

I shrug.  “Couples grow together or they grow apart.  A healthy marriage is usually a work in progress.” 


Then Alice says, “That actually helps a lot.”

“Which part?”

“To stop thinking of my husband as the right or wrong person,” she says.   “To think of my marriage as a work in progress.”



Cover story by Steve.

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