DEAR CAROLYN: My husband graduated from a military academy 54 years ago. As a healthy, happily married couple for 48 years, we have enjoyed the life we lived as a military family. We always supported each other and our children during our frequent moves, about every two years.
The problem? I have attended homecomings at his school every five years. They are always fun, full of celebrations and reflections. I thought the final event was the 50th … a big to-do.
I was wrong. Just found out 55 is around the corner.
I just can’t go. I’m finished. No more stories of glory days, seeing pictures of hundreds of beautiful grandkids, smiling until the jaws hurt. My spouse thinks I am not being supportive of this (his) special community. I know he can go alone and probably will.
I feel crummy that I want to spend my time doing what focuses on the present and not live in the past, even if it is only for three days. Should I stay or should I go?
DEAR HATE REUNIONS: Because it is only three days every five years, it’s entirely realistic for you to go wave the flag as a nod to nearly a half-century of happy marriage.
Because you don’t want to go wave the flag even though it is entirely realistic to, this is plainly not just about three days of perma-smiling.
And while only you can know for sure what the real obstacle is, I can piece together an idea from the likelihood that you wouldn’t “feel crummy,” wouldn’t have written to me, and wouldn’t have thought twice about skipping the 55th if your husband had said to you: “I understand. Thanks for being such a good sport about all the other reunions, and enjoy your well-deserved break.”
Right? You feel bad because your husband’s emotional calculations here apparently don’t include any banked goodwill for your effort toward those 10 prior reunions. And of course that would feel lousy.
No doubt he feels lousy, too, that you won’t rally for one of his top, nearly lifelong priorities by grit-smiling for three of every 1,826.25 days.
I also don’t doubt that a half-century marriage has involved a lot more issues than this one where you’ve each approached the same problem with two different scopes, and therefore come up with radically different emotions in response to the same set of facts.
It’s incredibly common. Example: You express annoyance at the wet towel the other left on the floor this morning, while the other is annoyed that you chose to complain despite other’s being guilty of roughly zero prior wet-towel leavings in the entirety of your lives together. It’s a matter of scope: You see a day, the other sees years.
Cases like these are when the seemingly impossible is possible: when both of you can be both right and wrong. Yes the wet-towel-leaving is wrong and taking exception to it is right — and fussing over a single negligent act by a considerate partner is wrong and taking exception to that is right.
Please talk to your husband with this framework in mind. Suggest that he’s seeing one reunion while you’re seeing all of them, and ask if he’d be willing to discuss the 55th with you both on his terms and on yours.
Whatever you agree to as a result of this conversation, it will feel a whole lot better just for being understood and agreed to by both.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.