Marriage is NOT the same no matter where you live. I know this for a fact because my husband, Bill, and I moved from Washington, D.C., to the tiny Vieques Island located seven miles off the coast of Puerto Rico five years ago. Everything is different now.
For example, we haven't had a good old-fashioned, knock-down, drag-out screaming match in I don't know how long. OK, I'm the screamer and Bill pouts (every couple argues differently). But still, we don't even yell at each other if we can help it because we all live so close to each other that you can't have a fight without everyone on the island hearing about it. You have to whisper-fight. And if it's a serious disagreement, you have to get in the car, blast the air conditioning, close the windows, and drive out to the remote area by Green Beach to have a good argument.
Living on an island that is 5 miles by 20 miles is like living in a fishbowl. And not in a Kim Kardashian kinda way. More like we live in one of the smallest towns possible -- but we can never leave to get away just for dinner because there are no ferries or commercial flights on or off the island after dark. Really. It's totally a biosphere project from some 1980s movie gone terribly, terribly wrong. No wonder they shot a zombie movie here a couple of years ago. I cannot tell you how many nights we are dying to go out someplace where nobody knows our names -- Cheers in Boston didn't have anything on this little island.
Sure, there are perks to living someplace everybody knows you -- the delivery guys and the mailman stop to give you packages if they see your car. If I'm in a panic to get a marriage license and the office is closed, I know where the lady lives who has run the place for the last 35 years. On the flip side, everybody thinks they know your business all the time, and for people like Bill and me who have never lived in a small town and have always had the option of relative anonymity before, it's a little -- no wait, a lot -- invasive.
So how have we adjusted to it? Not easily, that's for sure. We've learned that a small town is no place to share your personal business with anyone other than your spouse -- and that if you do make the mistake of telling somebody something like your significant other is ill, you should fully expect to find out via Facebook within 24 hours that he or she is either dead or in critical condition, even if he or she sitting right next to you sucking down a Diet Coke.
And forget having a BFF of the opposite sex -- that's a complete no-no in a small town unless you're single. Coming from a professional background in politics and journalism, I always had a lot of guys friends back in D.C. and I really miss that. Here, you really can't hang out with somebody else's husband unless you have a good reason. Even if two couples are good friends with each other, and half of each couple works together, going out to lunch someplace public without your respective spouse is just asking for trouble. And for God's sake, don't ever let a married woman drive another man's car ... One Sunday morning I was grocery shopping when some random woman I recognized but couldn't name asked me "Is it true you're having an affair with the big black federal cop?" I was horrified and not a little on the spot, with everybody else in the grocery line staring at me too. "No! Of course not. Why would you say that?" And she gave me this look like I was an idiot and said "Because everyone knows you've been driving his Jeep." Oh well, hey -- that explains everything. A man letting a woman he's not married to drive his car in Puerto Rico -- I MUST be sleeping with him. Never mind the Jeep belongs to a good friend of ours who was kind enough to loan me his truck when mine was in the shop. The coconut grapevine is an active one, but not terribly accurate.
Being married business owners makes maintaining a low personal profile in a small town a lot more important than in a larger community. There are certain things certain people cannot do in public if they want to be successful in their business. For example, a wedding officiant probably shouldn't be seen drunk on a bar stool and leering at bridesmaids after a wedding. My favorite example of a lack of discretion in a small town: my own competitor our first year in business. She committed professional suicide when she and her defrocked gynecologist husband began advertising for other couples to "swing" with on Craigslist. On Vieques Island. Bad move. Too small a world, dude. And let's face it, "swinging" is not usually a quality potential clients look for in a good wedding planner.
So what has changed about our marriage after five years in a small town on a remote island? We are closer than ever before. My husband is my wingman for so many things I used to do with other friends back in the real world, and now that we work together we've developed a new rhythm that complements the original qualities that made us a good couple. We bicker more than we ever did when we each had our own jobs because now we live in a small town, in a smaller house and we spend all day together. But we're also more in sync than I've ever been with anyone and I couldn't live without him here. We've learned to keep our real lives very personal and let the gossips on the bar stools invent whatever crazy imaginary image of us that entertains them.
I'm still working on not caring about what people say or think of me, but Bill -- who has never cared what anyone thought -- finds things like the borrowed Jeep story absolutely hilarious. Only in a small town would anybody notice who was driving which car. Speaking of which, apparently the Jeep's owner is cheating on me now because I saw another woman driving it last week. Hmmm. Nothing is ever dull in a place where real life is stranger than fiction.