If every couple were given a reality show to document the first year of their relationship, they could easily steal the tagline from the new Bachelor spinoff, which debuts next week. It is succinct. It is ominous. It gets to the heart of the matter. “Ben & Lauren: Happily Ever After?”
Coming up on my own first wedding anniversary in November, I feel grateful to be past worrying about the question mark all the time.
That’s not to say it hasn’t made an appearance. In fact, the question mark can twist itself into your love life like an infectious strain of Zika if you’re not careful — the pressure on a relationship to live up to expectations of being something totally absolute can be disastrous. The tagline for the first year of commitment could just as easily be: “Together Forever?” “Having Sex?” “Still … Talking?” “Hate Much?”
When Jimmy Kimmel interviewed Ben Higgins and Lauren Bushnell after the season finale of The Bachelor on March 14, he told them frankly, “I’m always worried because there’s so much excitement and then there’s a vacuum at the end where it all kind of goes away and then you’re like, ‘Oh boy, here we are. We just have a couch and a bed.’”
Ever-steady Colorado-homegrown Ben replied, “We actually woke up this morning … We looked at each other, and we’re like, ‘Have you ever been concerned about the future?’ And not once has that crossed our mind.”
Except that’s absurd. Of course it crosses your mind. Unless you’re willfully being ignorant because you’re so dedicated to living up to the unrealistic pressures of what an ideal relationship should look like. Surviving the first 12 months of togetherness requires developing a brand of emotional intelligence and an openness to something kind of embarrassing and kind of lame. You have to actually try.
Over time, I’ve learned there are four primary first-year challenges for relationship newbs, be they midwestern Barbie and Kens like Lauren and Ben or New York misanthropes like my husband and me.
No. 1: Learn to accept your “Happily Ever Asshole.”
Ben confessed to Jimmy Kimmel that, yes, he and Lauren do fight. And what about? Prayer. You know, like to God.
“I like to pray for us before we go to bed. And I’m praying, and she stops me and she goes, ‘Could you not pray so loud?’”
He didn’t elaborate if other Lauren gripes included “Could you not give money to charity so selflessly” and “Could you not make me come so multi-orgasmically,” but it did give a window into the fact that if someone has a pulse, flaws will be found.
Of course, people can “pray quieter” — I mean, exactly how loud was Ben praying, for Christ’s sake — but overall it’s best to ask that Big Chris Harrison in the sky to employ what might be called “The Bachelor’s Prayer”: “God grant me the serenity to accept the rose ceremonies I cannot change, the courage to change the rose ceremonies I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Amen.
No. 2: You have to know you’ll never know everything there is to know.
In eerie matching gray outfits, Ben and Lauren told Entertainment Tonight about how they were going to couples counseling because, as Ben said, “We need a mediator.”
Lauren asserted, “I’m going to get married one time, and I want to make sure that I’m taking that very seriously, and just really crossing my T’s and dotting my I’s. And making sure that Ben knows everything there is to know about me, and I know everything there is to know about him.”
I guarantee them that one day an unforeseen circumstance is going to occur (say, Donald Trump will run for president), and you’ll discover that you disagree on something profound. You could run through every what-if scenario in the book, but life will still throw circumstances you never could have predicted your way.
You can’t forecast everything that will happen, but you can prepare for how you will react. Are you dedicated (in a beyond-the-first-five-dates kind of way) to working something through, even if it does mean using counseling?
No. 3: Learn to face all those little resentments before they stack up like casino chips you can trade in for a lifetime supply of toxic disdain.
My worst character flaw is my temper. My husband’s is his stubbornness. What we discovered after a while is that if we don’t stay vigilant, a small disturbance in the force becomes an unreasonable explosion later on. Both of us actually have scripts that we now try to use (again, that word: TRY!). I say, “Hey, I’m really mad right now but mostly I’m in pain.” He says, “I want to talk about this, but I need some time to cool off.”
On Kimmel, Lauren at one point brought up how Ben was a “very heavy mouth-breather” as Ben smiled dumbly on. It didn’t quite reach the level of contempt, but it was also clear that within the couple’s toolbox for dealing with grating nerves, solutions included seething disgust and public undermining.
It’s miraculous what happens when you turn the aspersion you’re casting on the other person inward. Ask instead, “I’m a very heavy judger. What can I do about that?”
No. 4: You’ll take each other for granted unless you fight it off like a zombie apocalypse.
Ben and Lauren told Kimmel the story of being forced to live in a hideout mansion together with no Wi-Fi, no TV, just a couch and each other before their finale aired. It’s a terrifying prospect for anyone who lives in 2016, but it also points out what can go wrong when you rack up some time together. You fail to realize, “Wow, that’s amazing. We have the only thing that matters right now: Each other.”
Sure, that sentiment is a little nauseating, but it’s so scary-easy to forget when someone’s face becomes like a reflection in the mirror.
You know how you don’t take each other for granted? By never losing that first-date feeling.
One night when I happened to be wearing one of my shorter dresses, I sidled up next to my husband as he sat on the stoop and asked flirtatiously if he lived in the building. He looked me up and down, and then back up again, but slower, which I rightly took as a “yes-and” to my game. We committed to it like Corey Feldman doing a dance number on a morning show. Was it silly? Sure, but after spending days working together on a frustrating project, it was like a quickie trip to sexual appreciation Magic Mountain.
Almost daily, my husband blows me away by providing some small sweet treasure that he knows will make me happy. The other day he brought me a souvenir mini license plate with my name on it because he remembered that I’d told him I’d never seen one for sale (it’s always “Amanda”; never “Mandy”). I told him as I propped it up next to me, “You do this kind of thing all the time.” He said, “Seeing your smile is everything to me.”
And while I refuse to use the Bachelor-saturated-phrase “I felt butterflies” (I wouldn’t be opposed to a ban on its usage, honestly), I did feel something incredible and game-changing: gratitude.
That’s your best friend in your first 12 months: appreciation for one another.
Because if you watch the first three minutes of the new Ben and Lauren vehicle, it becomes clear that perhaps the best metaphor for that first year as a couple can be encompassed by the fairly hilarious drop-off in production quality that occurs when it is not ABC but rather Freeform sporting the bill. The lavish sets are gone, the sound quality has plummeted, and the orchestrated drama by the best showrunners in town is buh-bye. Now it’s up to two people.
It’s like Chris Rock brilliantly says: “When you meet somebody for the first time, you’re not meeting them. You’re meeting their representative.”
And when you’re surviving that first year of a relationship, you’re not just firing that slick, fast-talking representative after an impromptu HR crackdown on employee fraud. You’re suddenly in charge of relaunching a brand-new corporation about to go public — together.