by Connor Kreger
A lot of my adult decisions are based on convenient parking. Maybe it sounds silly, but it holds my marriage together.
Jamie and I don’t usually fight. We’re not that kind of couple. We’re on the same page about most things to begin with. Sometimes we disagree about things, but we always manage to debate an issue without making it personal or taking it personal. We communicate respectfully and lovingly. Last year we each did a personality test and got the same result: The Peacemaker. “Harmonious” hardly even begins to describe the atmosphere of our home. We’re two peas in a pod.
Generally, things are great when we’re driving, too. I usually put on a playlist or podcast, and we don’t talk much. Jamie looks out the window or at her phone and I just focus on the road. It’s not awkward, tense, or uncomfortable – we’re both quiet people and are used to sharing silence. I cherish long drives with Jamie. Sometimes she reaches over and picks up my hand, or I’ll rest my land on her thigh. Sometimes, when we’re driving together, I wish the trip would go on forever, and we could just keep driving. Obviously, the journey is not the issue.
The critical moment, the potential tipping point at which everything may or may not turn to shit, is our arrival at the destination. As I said, on the road we’re both perfectly docile, complacent, and loving, but as soon as it’s time to park the car, something changes. The activity of looking for a parking space is a sort of trigger for Jamie. And for me, too, I’ll admit. Somehow, being in the situation of having to find a parking space activates the “fight or flight” response in each of us, and suddenly we’re at each other’s throats over the most mundane and inconsequential thing imaginable.
I should say that it’s not every time we park that things get out of hand. At home, I pull into the drive way and not a word is said between us, everything is hunky-dory. If we arrive at the destination and there is a parking space available directly in front of the entrance, perfect, it’s no problem. Large, spacious parking lots are usually fine, unless it’s particularly crowded. We’ve talked about it, and we think the determining factor is ambiguity – the question of whether or not this particular parking space I have chosen is the best parking space, the correct parking space.
Imagine that you pull into the movie theater parking lot on a Saturday night. You pull around to the entrance, and then turn down the row that is centered with doors – the first few spots are handicap, but the next spot is the Best parking space, the Correct space. If it’s free, I take it, and all is well. But now if that space is occupied, the next closest space is next best, and therefore the Correct space. Obviously, the Correct space is the first unoccupied space in that row, right? If only it were that simple.
Think about it. At a certain point, if the first five spots in the middle row are taken, you begin to wonder if maybe you’re just in the wrong row. At what point do you give up on your current row and pull around to the next row in hopes that there’s a closer space available? Most people don’t think too hard about this question, and they shouldn’t, but for Jamie and I it feels like our relationship hinges on it. Pair this with the fact that parking lots are constantly changing – cars are always coming and going, spaces are being vacated and others are being taken – it’s a clusterfuck!
So I pick a space, because I think it’s probably the closest available space, the Correct space. But wait, Jamie disagrees, so she makes a snide comment, or maybe she says nothing and it’s just communicated by her body language that she is not satisfied with my decision of where to park. So I’m already on edge, and I offer a bitter and resentful reply, and it undoubtedly escalates from there. The thing is, if I hadn’t chosen to park there, we would have had the same exact argument, except I would be over me passing by what Jamie had deemed the Correct space.
We have said awful, horrible things to one another while trying to find a parking space. I’ve been called an idiot, an asshole, a coward, and I’ve called her unthinkable names. There have been a few times when I literally parked the car in the middle of the lane, got out, and walked away with the car still running, Jamie cursing me through the window, a line of cars behind us honking. Once, Jamie literally threw her wedding ring out of the car, and we later spent twenty minutes looking for it.
I know what you’re going to say now: we obviously aren’t addressing underlying tensions in our daily lives, and since we have no healthy outlet for our aggression, we let loose on each other, something to that effect. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably true, but knowing this hasn’t solved anything. We’ve been to couple’s counseling. We’ve tried exercising, roleplaying, meditation, and hypnosis. We were prescribed Xanax, Klonopin and the rest of them. Trust me, we’ve thrown the kitchen sink at this thing, and with no results.
We tried psychotherapy for a while, and that was a trip, and an expensive one at that. One expert suggested that Jamie’s criticism might be rooted in her own underlying fear of scarcity, having grown up in a low-income home. That one never made sense to me, but maybe she was on to something. It’s been speculated that my defensiveness may be tied to my troubled relationship with my mother, or perhaps my insecurity about the size of my penis (I strongly object to this theory). We eventually abandoned counseling and therapy because we weren’t getting anywhere, and also because all of the facilities seemed to be located in strip malls with tiny, crowded parking lots.
These days, convenient parking drives many of the important decisions in our lives. We moved from the city to the suburbs, because you can’t even imagine what parallel parking was like for us. Our new house has a massive driveway and a 3-car garage. Our favorite restaurants are those that offer valet parking. We picked our church based on the parking lot – we’re Baptists now. When we’re invited somewhere, we always arrive at least twenty minutes early, because then we’ll at least have first dibs. Some places we just avoid. We’ve figured out a system that works for us, and I think we’ve both accepted it.
Some days I feel like, if given the chance, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, this weird quirk in our relationship. Our dedication to our marriage is constantly tested, and I think that makes us a stronger couple. Other days, I think about jumping out the second story window in hopes of becoming a paraplegic and winning the ultimate prize – the handicap parking permit.
Today is one of those days.
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