I nodded without looking at him, and set my coffee down in disgust.
"But I guess," he mumbled, turning his cup in his hands, "I guess I just can't stay mad at her." And then he looked up at me with finality, as if that simple admission was some special Illuminati secret, closing this and all conversations on the topic for all time.
"That ... that's it? 54 years because you couldn't stay mad at her?"
"Yes," he said, smiling. "There's just something about her - no matter how mad I get, I just can't stay angry for too long."
Something of my disappointment must have registered in my face, because he then added with a chuckle, "I think it's because she always knows how to make me laugh."
I've carried that conversation with me for several months now: She always knows how to make me laugh. The wisdom is obvious, I suppose, but easier said than done. The reality of life and of relationships is that knowing how to make someone angry is usually much easier to figure out.
In the intervening months, I have, however, figured out one thing that always works. (Okay, two things.) Sometimes when he's Really, Really Mad - when he becomes eerily silent, the hairs on his neck stand at attention and he's so flummoxed he can barely spit out a complete sentence - I'll ever so quietly hum the first couple bars of "Ode to Joy" and accuse him of having "Extreme Fever." That never fails.
Like many people, I'd always feared that marriage inevitably destroyed the individuals who participated in it; that, as time t approached infinity, "I" and "me" must evolve into "we" and "us." Creepy, staged Christmas photos would invariably sprout on the walls like mold, I'd start involuntarily using endearments instead of real names and all of our sweaters would eventually begin to match. It's one of the reasons I waited so long to get married to the man I've been dating since I was 19: I didn't want to be assimilated into the Borg.
But as I've been pleased to discover over the past year, a healthy marriage doesn't demolish your individuality - it improves it. I'm happier and more confident in myself and my abilities, as if a weight I didn't even know existed had been lifted.
In a large part, that feeling of freedom depends on preserving clearly defined boundaries, explicitly demarcating what is mine and his. We expect each other to maintain certain privacy standards: to close the door when using the toilet, to never share a toothbrush and to refrain from touching the other's electronics.
This last rule came into focus in the first months of our marriage, when he bought me a new DS Lite as a replacement for my first-gen DS Phat (which he later claimed for himself). My new DS was wonderful to behold, a thing of slender beauty and gaming grace. He'd even bought it in hot pink, because "hot pink makes it go faster." I loved it and him all the more because he'd thought to get it for me without even asking.