Radio listeners in early 1971 were treated to something rare for that time — a song that dealt with adult relationships like an adult. The song began with just a piano and a woman’s almost wispy voice singing of her parent’s in-home estrangement and how it had impacted her. It was remarkable for a number of reasons, not the least because the woman singing was only twenty-six.
My father sits at night with no lights on, his cigarette glows in the dark
The living room is still, I walk by, no remark
I tiptoe past the master bedroom where my mother reads her magazines
I hear her call sweet dreams, but I forgot how to dream
After a chorus of sounding less than thrilled at her boyfriend’s proposal, she goes on to sing of all her friends from college and their equally dismal married lives. A theme is developing — she doesn’t think marriage is quite what it’s cracked up to be.
They have their silent noons, tearful nights, angry dawns
Their children hate them for the things they’re not
They hate themselves for what they are
The last verse goes back to her boyfriend, who’s obviously been making an argument that they’re going to be different, they’re going to beat the odds. She’s not so sure.
You say we’ll soar like two birds through the clouds
But soon you’ll cage me on your shelf
The final chorus finds the singer resigned and giving in, because, after all, that’s the way she’d always heard it should be. Her boyfriend might have been excited, but no one else paying attention had a good feeling about where things were headed.
The song would catapult Carly Simon to stardom and win her a Grammy, and she would spend the rest of the 70’s at the top of one music chart or another, and, after the release of the greatest put-down song ever recorded1, at the top of pop culture conversations.2
I’ve thought a lot about that song over the last week. First, because it came up on my very random playlist a few days ago, but second, because hearing it happened to coincide with a small group discussion about how many marriages around us are in trouble. Everyone in the group knew at least a one or two couples who were on the ropes or who had just stepped out of the ring completely. It was, like the song, slightly depressing.
Too many of us, thinking that’s the way it should be, enter into the most important of human relationships without understanding what’s involved. We all stumble over a variety of things as we try to maneuver our way through life with another person. Two of the biggest are things Carly touches on.
I’ll never learn to be just me first, by myself
We begin as a couple without really knowing who we are as a single. And we discover that, if we didn’t already know it, it’s extremely difficult to discover it after the fact. Regardless of the difficulty, it’s required — we can’t ever be a good spouse to someone else if we don’t know who we are. If you’re still unsure about this, talk to your spouse and get some space and start working on figuring it out. If you need help doing so, then get help. Only when you’re wholly you by yourself can you be you to someone else.
Close the wound, hide the scar
Equally damaging is our attempts to “hide the scar,” to evade discussion about the things that bother us, to go silently into the night when we need to be dealing with the issues at hand. No one likes confrontation, mostly because we don’t have very many good role models of how to do it, but it doesn’t have to be a yelling match. It’s possible to talk about what’s bothering us and bring healing to a hurting situation. It just requires listening and patience and listening and honesty and listening and grace and more listening.
Are you one who has hid the scar? Get it out in the open. Talk about it. Don’t be the stranger who, as one of the other great relationship songs3 of the 70’s put it, kicks your spouse right between the eyes. It’s hard, yes. Trust me, I have first-hand knowledge — divorce is harder.
Marriage is one of God’s greatest inventions. It really can be the way you’ve always heard it should be. You just have to work at it, with each other, and with the Lord in the middle. But if you do, things can turn out like a song with a little more encouragement.
Move a little closer Take in the view, lower the light I wanna be your lover To find the truth, and bring it to light