Warning: Season-four spoilers ahead.
I refuse to think of myself as being in just a “marriage.”
Like First Lady Claire and President Frank Underwood (played beautifully by Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey) from House of Cards, I don’t want to just be husband and wife.
Not only is common sense “so common,” to quote Frank, but so are traditional spousal roles.
“We have made a choice to tackle everything together,” Claire stumps for her husband in South Dakota in a speech scripted by her speechwriter cum fuccboi. “We go beyond what’s pretty and perfect. Beyond what’s scary, difficult, and unknown. We’re not just partners on the ticket. We’re partners in life.”
This is what I would call a Beyond Marriage Partnership. And I am down with BMP.
Big Marriage is an industry, one with a universally recognized gender split and a reluctance that is pandered to in beer commercials and multi-camera sitcoms.
In a BMP, such placation is impossible. The bond is strong. Scary. Undeniable.
“We should be more like the Underwoods,” my husband suggests as we watch them hit a particularly mean streak in our fourth-season binge.
I roll my eyes at him, but as the Underwoods’ story arc progresses I, too, start to see their union as a relationship survival manual for the modern couple in 2016.
Learn from the Underwoods’ BMP, and use these tactics to build your own.
Lesson No. 1: Trust no one. Not even each other.
Onscreen, Frank is busy threatening Claire. “I will not allow you to become dangerous,” he warns her as she goes rogue early in season four.
He has a nightmare about Claire gouging his eyes out. He has another about slamming her against the mirror as she grabs a jagged edge to brutally attack him.
And that’s how you know — they’re going to make it.
This is a couple who is deeply emotionally intelligent and frighteningly in touch with both their best qualities (power, ambition) and their worst ones (greed, corruption). They mutually reject the stink and sameness of the status quo or complacency. In fact, their passion intermingles with their cynicism to such a degree that you don’t know where one ends and the other begins. Their investment — conscious and subconscious — in each other requires something beyond trust. It requires emotional transparency, even when it’s ugly to look at.
“He absolutely should not trust her,” my husband says of Claire.
“I agree,” I say. “And she shouldn’t trust him either.”
A strong BMP will survive even that primal bond falling into disarray. Because what is beyond trust? Faith. These are two fully realized individuals who don’t need to trust each other. They throw out the “you complete me” theatrics and greet each other as equals.
To be an equal is to be a potential enemy at times. This is not an insult. It’s life.
Lesson No. 2: Forget keeping up with the Joneses (or the Conways). Invent a new metric entirely.
The Underwoods’ goalpost isn’t just constantly moving — it’s being splintered into a million pieces and set on fire.
“What your wife said in South Dakota,” their creepy, avant-jazz-listening pollster Aidan MacAllan (Damian Young) gushes in a secret meeting at the White House. “Beyond what’s pretty and perfect. Liberation from convention, from the past. Beyond surface, beyond bullshit, beyond the election.”
“Beyond marriage,” Frank christens their partnership, getting onboard.
“Yes, exactly. You’re not just husband and wife. You’re not just running mates. You’re both and more. You’re what’s possible. The Conways are everything everyone wants to be. You’re everything everyone wants to become.”
Who would opt for the ephemeral kiss of the Conways’ sloppy and naïve spray-tanned honeymoon when the Underwoods’ Beyond Marriage Partnership is seemingly never-ending, never-defined? Not me.
These two even invite other lovers into their lives and their homes because jealousy accomplishes nothing. While my husband and I don’t go that far, we do aspire to acquire that level of “beyond jealousy.”
“I know you,” I’ve said to my husband. “I understand you want to fuck everyone in the world because I want to fuck everyone in the world, too.”
Simply speaking the unspeakable solders the joints of BMP. That’s a truth that is bigger than any possible lie.
Lesson No. 3: There is no greater bonding mechanism than sheer misanthropy.
I love people, but it is because I love people so much that I hate people so deeply.
There is a thin line, especially on House of Cards.
When Claire’s mother finds out her estranged son-in-law has been nearly assassinated, she spits back at her daughter, “I hope he dies.”
“Well, now we know where she gets it from,” I tell my husband of the seemingly impenetrable Claire and her equally brutal mother.
He agrees in his own special way. “The cunt doesn’t fall far from the cunt, does it?”
I laugh at the sheer terribleness of his remark. This is why we are together.
“Pretty much,” I say, scooting closer to him in bed.
I love hating people with the person I love most. Mutual disgust and hatred make for much stronger connections than shared loves.
Put that on a greeting card.
Lesson No. 4: Don’t let life happen to you. Make life happen instead.
The season-four finale brings Claire and Frank together in a Walter White–worthy speech where, for the first time, Claire joins Frank in breaking the fourth wall.
“We don’t submit to terror,” Frank says. “We make the terror.”
Let’s put aside the plot-point theatrics of starting a war to distract from an investigative article pointing out that you are a murderous psychopath and consider the key five words: “We don’t submit. We make.” In a Beyond Marriage Partnership, this is the most important principle of all.
There is no one “submitting” to any force in that BMP. All these two do is create: chaos and revenge, success and failure, life and death, history and disgrace.
“If you don’t like the way the table is set, then turn over the table,” the ever-seductive Claire quotes Frank as she cockteases poor old Senator Donald Blythe (Reed Birney) as he lusts after one drag of the First Lady’s illicit cigarette.
Thankfully for journalism’s sake, turning tables doesn’t generally lead BMPs to push ambitious young reporters in front of oncoming trains, but don’t let the core of this poignant Underwoodism escape. It is quite easy to feel like your destiny is written for you, and suddenly life has become a foregone conclusion. In a BMP, when one partner feels defeated, the other one reminds him or her who they are.
As the season comes to a close, a visibly shaken Frank is grieving as he realizes there are only three weeks until they lose the election, the investigation into their corruption begins, and their life is over.
And that’s when Claire reminds him: They are beyond such parameters. Because they say so. “We make time,” she says. “We can’t fight everything off one by one, Francis. But if we make this … we make it work for us.”
As they plot chaos and war and sundry devilish deeds, Claire goes on: “I’m done trying to win over people’s hearts.”
This line hits me — hard.
“Jesus, I have wasted so much of my life trying to do that with people who simply weren’t worth it,” I tell my husband as we watch. “I don’t want to do it anymore.”
“Good,” he encourages.
Of course, there’s plenty not to admire about the Underwoods. This is a couple who represents the very definition of evil.
But then again — why accept evil as the goalpost? Simply move it.