To Stay Married, Embrace Change

Sometimes people feel betrayed by this change. They fell in love with one person, and when that person doesn’t seem familiar anymore, they decide he or she violated the marriage contract. I have begun to wonder if perhaps the problem isn’t change itself but our susceptibility to what has been called the “end of history” illusion.

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished,” the Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert said in a 2014 TED talk called “The Psychology of Your Future Self.” He described research that he and his colleagues had done in 2013: Study subjects (ranging from 18 to 68 years old) reported changing much more over a decade than they expected to.

In 2015, I published a book about where I grew up, St. Marks Place in the East Village of Manhattan. In doing research, I listened to one person after another claim that the street was a shadow of its former self, that all the good businesses had closed and all the good people had left. This sentiment held true even though people disagreed about which were the good businesses and who were the good people.

Nostalgia, which fuels our resentment toward change, is a natural human impulse. And yet being forever content with a spouse, or a street, requires finding ways to be happy with different versions of that person or neighborhood.

Because I like to fix broken things quickly and shoddily (my husband, Neal, calls my renovation aesthetic “Little Rascals Clubhouse”), I frequently receive the advice: “Don’t just do something, stand there.”

Such underreacting may also be the best stance when confronted by too much or too little change. Whether or not we want people to stay the same, time will bring change in abundance.

A year and a half ago, Neal and I bought a place in the country. We hadn’t been in the market for a house, but our city apartment is only 500 square feet, and we kept admiring this lovely blue house we drove by every time we visited my parents. It turned out to be shockingly affordable.

So now we own a house. We bought furniture, framed pictures and put up a badminton net. We marveled at the change that had come over us. Who were these backyard-grilling, property-tax-paying, shuttlecock-batting people we had become?

When we met in our 20s, Neal wasn’t a man who would delight in lawn care, and I wasn’t a woman who would find such a man appealing. And yet here we were, avidly refilling our bird feeder and remarking on all the cardinals.

Neal, who hadn’t hammered a nail in all the years I’d known him, now had opinions on bookshelves and curtains, and loved going to the hardware store. He whistled while he mowed. He was like an alien. But in this new situation, I was an alien, too — one who knew when to plant bulbs and how to use a Crock-Pot, and who, newly armed with CPR and first aid certification, volunteered at a local camp. Our alien…

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