The games we play

We rode the train from Florence back to Venice in silence.

It seemed like a really great idea, I consoled myself.

Ian’s gaze was fixed somewhere out the window, out of our train car.

This two-week trip to Europe was our farewell to east coast living.  It had been 11 days of pure perfection.  Zurich, Rome and Venice – each place more amazing than the last.

Until we arrived in Florence.  Florence underwhelmed.  Ian (new husband-cum-tour guide) took it personally.  After a single night I sprung it on him:  let’s go back to Venice.  His panicked face betrayed his response.

“Ok, sure,” he said, not wanting to disappoint me.  His wife.

Marriage.  I thought it meant we were free – free to show our true selves, secure in the knowledge that someone chose us, someone loved us.  Our game of musical chairs was over.  He thought it meant we were bound – bound to our plans, bound to our commitments, bound to the version of ourselves that stood on that altar.  Our game of truth or dare was over.

It wasn’t Venice that made him nervous, it was my expectations.  You see, we already had a plan.  Hotel reservations, dinner recommendations, dog-eared pages of Rick Steves’ knowledge.  Why was I threatening all of it now?  His eyes searched the Italian landscape, desperately looking for clues to understand the woman-with-a-new-name sitting next to him.

The early days of our marriage became a two-player Jenga match, and as far as Ian was concerned, this suggestion to ditch Florence was consistent with my strategy.

In January: “Let’s get a puppy!”

I slid a piece out from the center. 

In February:  “You should quit your legal job and try out the business side of entertainment!”

I knocked out a bar down low in the middle.

In March:  “Let’s move from New York to Los Angeles!”

I removed a corner piece.

Now, in April:  “Let’s go back to Venice!”

Steadily I had been deconstructing the lives we built while dating, daring it to grow higher on its new and unstable foundation of untested vows.  I hoped each bold move we made together would make us stronger, but he didn’t care much for my mercurial tactics.

The train conductor announced our imminent arrival while our virtual Jenga tower wobbled from side to side.

“La prossima tappa di Venezia” he called.

It’s always the smallest move that makes the tower fall.









Are you happy now? I chided myself.

We will have to start all over again.


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41 thoughts on “The games we play

  1. Are you kidding me? You just out-Jenga’ed Jenga. The graphic is perfect. And the use of Jenga and geographical back and forth was expert. How lucky the Ian character is in this story! I loved the last line.

  2. You perfectly captured the beginning of a marriage, the give and take, the struggle to relearn yourselves as a married couple.

    My husband and I lived together for two-and-a-half years before we were married. I thought nothing would change. Everything did.

    Loved the Jenga graphic and the way you worked it into the story. Well done!

  3. Oh I was sitting next to you on that train! So well told, Carinn. I enjoy you each week and I am so glad you decided to go for it this week. I hope you don’t mind me saying so but Florence is one of our most favorites in Italy! It’s funny how we each have such different perspectives on things. Yay!

    • Ha! You know my friends give me so much grief – Florence is their favorite too. It was beautiful and we had the best dining experience of our lives at the famous Il Latini. But we were there in late March, early April – the weather was cold but the stone streets and narrow walkways of Venice were warm and cozy. It was just so romantic. Florence never had a shot in my eyes. Maybe another time…

  4. Love your comparison of early marriage to Jenga. How fitting. It takes time, patience and commitment to find the right balance in that game. My husband and I have been married 15 years next month, and we can still be found playing a round or two of Jenga, from time to time!

  5. This is so beautifully written Carinn, I really love this. It seems like every new phase and season of relationships brings new challenges, especially when it comes to communication, learning about yourself and the person you are with. And since we are always changing, it just never ends. I agree with everyone else here, the Jenga reference was genius. I could picture you guys on the train, both lost in thought and trying to figure out what to do or say next. Awesome post!

    • Yes! That is exactly what was happening. A stalemate of sorts where neither one of us wanted to be the one to have to pull the next block.

      I love what you added — since we are always changing those challenges, those expectations, those ‘givens’ are too. Communication is everything.

  6. Scott is the same way – even still sometimes. And yet, I have to believe that a lot of the things he perceives as impulsive I perceive as the ones that made something right. I dragged in a dog when he didn’t want pets. Guess who cried harder eight years later when it died? I absolutely celebrated your decision, and I was sad that you were chiding yourself at the end. (But the wording was still perfect. I loved the piece.)

  7. Definitely true feelings on marriage. Expectations can crumble, but that doesn’t mean the end. More building can come!

    I thought the piece got going really well at the listing of her moves. Great use of that with the game analogy. I thought the beginning was great writing, but I get caught up in short paragraphs. It’s the old English teacher in me!

    Thanks for the words my thoughts needed on this topic! I plan on using it when trying to get in my husband’s brain and show him mine. 😉

  8. This was one of your best posts and so timely. My marriage is still fairly new, and oh man, it has been one of those days…weeks…months. haha Jenga is a perfect analogy. Absolutely perfect.

    • I think about the benefits and the disadvantages to having children early on in your marriage and I can never decide which side of the fence I’m on. Hang in there, with each tough spot you mow over you get that much stronger. And when no one has the energy to tackle it head on, just try to not let it fester. That’s what has worked for us since having kids.

  9. Why does a marriage, even between two people who are together for so long prior, threaten the stability? I am an Ian, I totally get it. I’d be there suggesting different pieces to pull out of the the Jenga tower, more centers, less corners. Great analogy, great writing.

    • I think about it a lot and I have my theories. What I know for sure is it is far from “just a piece of paper” – the way people describe marriage when they want to minimize the transition. In hindsight I see the benefits to being “an Ian” and over our eight years of marriage we have come a little closer together on the spectrum.

  10. I loved so much of this. Not the least of which was the fact that you used the word “mercurial”–an awesome word. But aside from my fixation on vocabulary, this post was both clever, moving and insightful. Well done.

  11. Been meaning to comment for a few days. This felt right out of ‘Modern Love,’ MY single favorite part if the NY Times, btw. Anyway, I love your self awareness and how you know that you’re taking the journey you have to take. It seems that no matter what point you are at, in the game of love, you can always lose your footing. I guess all we can really do is breathe deep, trust our choices and try and enjoy the adventure. Thank you for this lesson/reminder.

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