The Big Ocean of Marriage

Originally published in the Chesterfield Observer - February 2013  

February has a men’s holiday (the Super Bowl) and a women’s holiday (Valentine’s Day).

I say this for two reasons. One: I want to generate some letters to the editor, and if that results in women protesting that they like football or men insisting that they like Valentine’s Day, so be it.

But, seriously men... I mean, seriously?

My second reason is to introduce my annual Valentine’s Day column, which this year is about how we often romanticize marriage and how blissful it is supposed to be. That is not to say marriage isn’t blissful. It is! (Or can be.) But there’s more to it.

In his song Mañana, Jimmy Buffett sings, “Don’t try to describe the ocean if you’ve never seen it.” Years ago I spent five weeks crossing the Atlantic on a 53-foot sailboat. Prior to the trip, I had preconceptions about the ocean (mostly from movies and television). But after a couple of weeks on the North Atlantic on our boat Jaska, I began to understand Buffett’s point: you may not know what you think you know... about the ocean, and other things.

My most surprising discovery about the ocean was that it could be utterly still and flat, without a ripple or a whisper of wind. On these days, we could look over Jaska’s rail and see a perfect reflection of ourselves in the ocean.

Other times (usually when a storm was a few hundred miles away), the ocean undulated beneath us, with hundreds of yards separating the rounded tops of each eight-foot swell. This teased the inner ear – I could sense Jaska rising and falling, but my eyes reported flat seas.

More frequent were short, choppy waves. Day and night for the first week out of St. John, we plowed through four-foot waves that seemed to come from ahead, astern and either side, all at once. I didn’t eat much that first week.

Most exhilarating were days and nights with moderate seas of six or seven feet, a good breeze and clear skies. But there also were times when the ocean was exactly as you’ve seen it in the movies – steep swells of frothy gray sea water, irregularly spaced and rolling powerfully by.

How Jaska rode these 15-foot waves depended on luck and timing.

If we happened to slide down the backside of a wave at the right time, we might smoothly roll up and over the next one. But if the previous wave set us down at a funny angle, the next wave might catch us with our rail down, and explode like a colossal water balloon along the length of the boat. The result: several thousand gallons of cold, dark ocean water crashing across the deck, sweeping into the ocean anything – or anyone – that wasn’t tied down.

Handling the wheel in these conditions was nerve-wracking, and sleeping could be difficult. One night I awoke to the feeling that Jaska was suddenly tilting upward. And she was, as we climbed a steep wave. As we crested the wave, Jaska’s pointed bow pitched sharply downward. Our cabin was toward the front of the boat, so as my bunk cushion fell away from beneath my body, I briefly floated in midair. Then the angled underside of the bunk above smashed down, crushing me like a hanging curve ball and sending me rocketing across the cabin.

The ocean – and for that matter, marriage – can be many things: choppy, rolling, exhilarating, terrifying, even as flat as glass. Sometimes several of these simultaneously.

However, often a young couple expects continual wedded bliss (like in the movies), and then they are surprised by difficulties. Thinking their marriage is failing, they abandon ship rather than riding out the storm.

Marriage is a big ocean, with many different faces – including occasional stormy weather. And surviving the journey becomes even more meaningful when you overcome challenging situations together.

So don’t generalize about marriage because, as Buffett warns, “you just may wind up being wrong.” But feel free to generalize about men and women and how they feel about football and Valentine’s Day. Particularly if you’re looking to generate letters to the editor.


Retrospective Notes for The Big Ocean of Marriage

  • This column did not generate a single letter to the editor. Not one. Draw your own conclusions, but none of them are good.



Chuck Hansen’s books are available at Nose-Sucker Thingees, Weeds Whacking Back & Cats in the Bathtub (a collection of humor essays) and Build Your Castles in the Air: Thoreau’s Inspiring Advice for Success in Business (and Life) in the 21st Century