One summer my boyfriend and I went on vacation with another couple. We’d all known each other a long time but had never traveled together before. The four of us rented a cabin at a ranch in Colorado, and it became clear the first night that we were two different kinds of couples. They were sweet to each other, offering to sign up for fly-fishing or whatever the other wanted. They were gentle and kind, even after two bottles of wine. We, however, weren’t that kind of couple. After two bottles of wine, we were all watching TV and I mentioned I liked a certain actor on Saturday Night Live. My boyfriend made a rude comment, and I said, “Aren’t you a smug dick.” The insult hung in the air like a dad fart. After a few seconds of silence, the other couple excused themselves to go to bed. (“We’re so tired. Must be the altitude.”) But instantly we heard the TV go on. They had left so my beau and I could fight it out privately. A few minutes, a few insults and a few “Well, maybe your tone needs work” type of comments later, and we were fine. The next morning, the two of them tiptoed out of their room not knowing if they were going to find one of us on the couch, but everything was great. We were ready for some farm-fresh eggs and genuine maple syrup. My boyfriend and I had more flare-ups between us on the trip, but our friends weren’t fast enough with their excuses to avoid all our arguments (you can check the horseback-riding schedules only so many times). So they had to watch us ride the fights out. Sometimes a short ride. Sometimes a long ride. But we did try to be entertaining. When fights go public, you step up your game. (“We don’t have to guess. Let’s ask them if they thought the lube story was funny!”) I think the other couple got used to it. In my head, it was a lovely trip. It’s also possible they remember the weekend as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with s’mores. But I don’t regret it. I’m always going to be in the couple that fights.
The reason I will always be in the couple that fights is because I’m moody, prone to PMS and a little bitchy but also because I actually think fighting is a good thing. Everyone knows the joy of cooking and the joy of sex, but I think a real joy comes from fighting in your relationship. It’s like two chess masters playing each other. You both know the game so well, you know each other’s moves. Anyone can win, and it can be very satisfying at the end. But you do need two to play.
I once got into a fight with a newish boyfriend at an upscale brunch place where we were literally rubbing elbows with the people at the next table. After hitting a sour note in a conversation about how friends of ours were raising their baby, I started raising my voice. He proceeded to shush me (motioning that people could hear) and told me we’d talk about it in the car. That was the worst thing he could have done to prevent a scene, and so I caused one. I wasn’t cussing (much) or throwing things (other than a sugar packet, which was more of a toss), but I did express my opinion loudly and with feeling. We broke up soon after. If a guy is going to hide behind a short stack of ricotta pancakes (which we went dutch on), I don’t want him. I want a guy who can hold his own and not wait until we get to the car.
We’ve all been in those relationships when you know something has gone horribly wrong and you dread the car ride home. You just know when that door closes behind you and seals you from the outside world, the rest of the night is toast. But why let it build? Why not just get it over with? I once got into a huge fight with my boyfriend at an Indian wedding. I told him not to chew with his mouth open, which I admit was condescending. (In my defense, though, saag paneer is not a food you want to see someone eating.) He got mad, and we argued in front of some Indian aunties. He didn’t talk to me for an hour, but by the time the dancing came around, we were back on and “Jai Ho”–ing to the best of our ability. We didn’t have to wait all night, tension and passive-aggressive comments building until we were finally in private. We got it out and enjoyed the rest of the (very long) wedding.
I think “getting along” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you spend the majority of your time with one person, that person is going to get on your nerves. He or she is going to hurt your feelings. It’s only natural. So stop “yes, dear”–ing her and avoiding fights. Don’t keep it in. Stop and smell the war of the roses. Go public. Get it out. Get fired up. Be passionate. Be heated. Hey, there’s a reason all those terms are also associated with a great sex life.