My marriage is not normal. First off, my wife and I are happy together, which numbers would suggest only half of married couples are. We have been together for twelve years, which I like to remind my wife is more than a third of our lives (you can do the math as to how old we are, roughly).
Beyond that, my wife is not normal. She loves video games. (It's always fun when guys are simultaneously confused and infatuated by her walking with her PSP or putzing around the local GameStop.) She absolutely loves football. Not only has she won our fantasy football league three years running, but for our anniversary she suggested we get DIRECTVs Sunday Ticket as a present. The best way to sum up my wife would be with a T-shirt I bought her for her birthday a couple years ago. It reads, "If I had balls they would be bigger than yours."
For all of this, however, she is an absolute lady. She cries when she's frustrated, loves to snuggle, and is the queen of chick lit and chick flicks. She loves when I do the small chivalrous things that have slowly disappeared from society (holding doors, positioning myself on the lower portion of the stairs in order to catch her if she falls, placing my hand on the small of her back so she knows I'm with her when navigating crowded spaces).
The biggest way we are an abnormal couple, however, lies in the times that I can be of no protection at all. My wife works in law enforcement.
The first thing you have to understand is, when I say "law enforcement," I mean it in a capacity in which I cannot use her real name or say specifically within what agency or capacity she functions. There are days, in fact, when I honestly have no clue what she does.
Most any law-enforcement spouse will tell you that the biggest adjustment is acknowledging the dangers of the profession -- then immediately forgetting them in order to maintain both of your sanities. Seldom spoken of, however, are the plights and fears of a man married to a woman in law enforcement.
The role of a law-enforcement husband is an interesting one. I am no longer the protector or guard of the family. My white-knight myths of saving my wife from peril left me when she brought home her gun and badge. I am no longer the warrior men envision themselves to be; instead, I am the nurturer. I am the normalizer and the decompressor. I'm the hours spent pretending that there are no bad men, no guns, no drugs and no death. I listen to the work stories, take her memories, and throw them in the closet until it's time to dredge them out the next day.
In the meantime, I play the "what if" games. What do I do if she gets hurt? What do I do if she has to hurt somebody? What do I do if she doesn't come home at all? In my mind, I have tended my wife's wounds, both physical and psychic. I have eulogized my wife and raised our yet-to-be-born child. As morbid as it sounds, it's a cathartic exercise (for me, anyway).
I will never forget being vetted by another agency before my wife attained her current role. I sat in a small office as the man on the other side of the desk said to me, "She at some point is going to come home with horror stories. She eventually will not be the woman you married, and you have to be ready for that." He then proceeded to tell me a story, which I pray was meant to scare me, of a child he had to remove from a microwave.
The day-to-day nuisances become reliefs. I take the phone calls that I might otherwise ignore because I'm either busy or just because I hate phones. I chitchat despite my aversion to idle phone conversation because I'm grateful that it's not a superior calling me in the dead of night with bad news. I help her bring up her gear at the end of the night and laugh to myself as she tells me her bags are too heavy. (I have seen her bench as much as the average man and do pull-ups as her recovery.)
There is probably something emasculating about having a wife who makes a living in such a "manly" space. I joke at times about being the "little man" who sits on the couch waiting for the relief of safe arrivals. In a walkup building with eight families, I know the cadence of her footsteps on the stairs like I know the shade of her almond-brown eyes.
As I write this, she's out on a night operation, her team (whose diligence and expertise I rely on daily) by her side, chasing bad guys who do dangerous things for high -- and not-so-high -- stakes. I will stay awake until I get an all-clear message from her. I'll sleep on the couch till she walks through the door. We won't say much; we probably won't even hug because I know she'll be too exhausted to bother, and that's fine. Her weight on the other side of the bed is all I need.
We live in a violent country. There have been more gun-related deaths in Chicago this month than soldiers lost in Afghanistan. NYC Mayor Bloomberg is fighting to stop the flow of guns from Southern states as hard as he is trying to stop the flow of 20-ounce sodas off bodega shelves. The Trayvon Martin case is gearing up for trial as protests abound over New York City's stop-and-frisk policy. In the middle of it all is a little lady whom I am blessed to call my wife, fighting alongside thousands upon thousands of dedicated professionals who try to instill safety in an unsafe world -- and thousands upon thousands of spouses who pray for that weight on the other side of the bed.
For more by Shane Paul Neil, click here.
For more on becoming fearless, click here.