Every couple has one core fight that replays over and over again, in different disguises, over the course of their relationship. In this series, couples analyze the origin and mechanics of their One Fight. To pitch your own One Fight (we’ll also accept pseudonyms, if necessary), email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catherine Baab-Muguira and Chris Muguira have been married for 11 years and split time between Richmond, Virginia, and Brooklyn, New York.
Catherine Baab-Muguira: You and I can’t agree about where we’re going to live. At the moment, I want to move to L.A. or Brooklyn full time and you’re on the fence. Is that fair?
Chris Muguira: Yeah. That’s what’s up right now. In the past, we’ve had this fight every few years—when we moved to New Zealand in 2007 for your graduate school, when we moved to the D.C. area in 2010 so you could take a job, when we moved to Australia in 2013 so you could take another job, though I was excited about that move, too. And again last year, when we started splitting chunks of time between Park Slope and Richmond, because you felt you had to be in New York to get ahead, writing-wise. Those are just the notable examples. I would say we’ve had this fight once a month for as long as we’ve been married.
Catherine: The emotional issue is that I’m a novelty-seeking, best-case scenario thinker, forever sprinting out on a limb, and you’re a safety-craving, worst-case scenario thinker, constantly sniffing the wind for danger. But the actual turf we fight over is physical. It’s place. It’s also not one fight, but a Russian doll of fights, an infinite regression—turtles all the way down. It’s what we’re actually disagreeing about when we’re disagreeing about something else. You’re like, “Do you want to go to Home Depot?” while I’m like, “Can we move to Chile?”
Chris: I think you are portraying yourself as the fun one, and that’s not totally fair. I just like to think things through. I tend to be more deliberate in my decision-making than you are. That’s not a judgment about what’s better or worse, but it is a big difference in … I don’t know, styles? It is not true that all I want to do is go to Home Depot.
Catherine: That’s fair. Wow, I feel like we should be able to subtitle this conversation with stage direction and descriptions of our expressions, because your face and tone are conveying this whole extra meaning. Dude, I know. I think you are very fun. I have so much fun with you.
Chris [interrupting]: That’s what I’m saying. I’m an optimist, too! [Arm gesture to suggest he has many other good qualities but for brevity’s sake will not list them]
Catherine: I agree. We should talk about how this began on our honeymoon, though. We got married all of a sudden, and then for our honeymoon we took a road trip because we hadn’t planned anything else, and in the best way it was like being on the lam, but in another way was something we saw a little bit differently, right off the bat. I was content to just go where the mood took us, which turned out to be a series of crappy hotels—and yeah, not-quite hotels—as we ambled up I-95 toward Coney Island. But you were, kind of jokingly, saying, “How do I tell my family I spent part of my honeymoon at the Greenpoint Y?” And I didn’t care that we spent a couple nights at the Y. I thought that part was funny and fun.
Chris: I will say I had not pictured staying at the Greenpoint Y at any point on my honeymoon. With a little bit of planning, we wouldn’t have ended up with a communal-shower situation or a door that barely locked. So for me, it was about some planning versus no planning at all. You say, “It’ll all work out,” and a fair amount of the time you’re right, but not always. But I haven’t been obsessing about that ever since or anything.
Catherine: I had been backpacking around Southeast Asia the previous year, so I get that my standards were a little skewed. But we had the best time on our honeymoon—and now it’s like this whole store of inside jokes. The time I accidentally tried to check us into a room over a strip club in Providence, and the proprietor-slash-possible-madam said [puts on offensive Rhode Island accent], “The Hilton, it’s not.” Or getting drunk with those old Polish guys at the bar where no one spoke English, how they all fed you malt liquor when they figured out we’d just gotten married. The whole thing was funny and weird and memorable. Would you really rather have gone to Sandals Jamaica, seriously?
Chris: Yeah, but you do have this tendency to be glib and even careless about situations that could be dangerous. Being aware of the downside kind of gets outsourced to me. You’ve gotten a lot better about this over time, we both have, except it’s still a thing for us.
Catherine: See, I disagree a little bit. I’m not unaware of the risks, it’s just a different view of what the big risks are. I see risk-aversion as banality, boredom, giving into convention or family pressure or something like that. I hate this idea in our culture that you’re not an adult unless you feel frustrated and stifled and you hate your life. We equate maturity with the wrong things.
I just sometimes feel like I’m the one holding the bag when we take a leap. Holding the bag when something doesn’t go right, you know? When it’s my idea to go to Istanbul, to name one memorable example, and we take in these sublime, life-changing sights but then you get a spider bite in part because I wasn’t careful in picking the hotel. In those moments, I feel so defeated, hopeless, and wrong. Maybe that is my overactive Catholic guilt. It’s also true that there is a dimension to our life that is like the Green Acres theme song, except a lot less glib and with less of the anachronistic gender attitudes. We’re like the city mouse and the country mouse—a variant of the two-body problem.
But anyway, and I will put this in a jokey way … sometimes the feedback I get from you is not superpositive, like you really do think I am always trying to make you vacation in countries that have just experienced a coup or something. I feel like that’s a stereotype of what I’m really like. I do measured things all the time—a lot of the math, cooking, and laundry. But I don’t even want to focus on what’s going wrong here, because I think so much is going right. Our thing is not always easy, but I think it’s probably pretty functional. Sometimes you can spot couples who, like, seem to share something pathological, and I don’t think that’s us, though I know nobody can see their marriage from the outside.
Chris: I don’t want to get stereotyped either, like I’m some boring homebody. Part of the issue is, a lot of times, you frame things in terms of what you want, when it should be about what we want. I just don’t want to get swept away by you. We have to get there together. For a long time, my role was to smooth this all over, to calm you down when you were feeling restless and angst-y or when a problem seemed unsolvable, but you’ve started doing it, too. You’re a little bit calmer and more thoughtful now. You found this apartment in Brooklyn we both love.
Catherine: I get that, and I am trying. I think, in general, even after 11 years of marriage, we’re still learning to trust that we really are going to work things out. I know we have worked out so much, and lived through a lot of difficult shit together. Deaths in the family, being broke when we were young, etc. At the same time, doubt is the most natural thing in the world and I think it would be dishonest not to admit to feeling it sometimes—I think most people do. On the one hand, you could look at this as though we’ve ingeniously contrived to get denied the thing we each want most: for me, adventure and stimulation, and for you, feeling calm and settled. In some dark moments, I’ve wondered if that’s true. But I love the life you and I have built together. Your life has probably been a bit more creative and professionally successful because of me, and my life has been more responsible, grounded, and clear-eyed because of you. Maybe I’m rushing into the mushy stuff. Just saying, like, I definitely want to see you flower, too. I love seeing it.
Chris: I get credit for making sure you don’t work too much, or maybe just not as much as you would if left to your devices. And for disciplining Tuna (our conniving, 20-pound cat), carrying the heavy boxes, and tech support. I think I have definitely made your life more professionally successful, too. It’s not a one-way thing. We have both encouraged each other.
Catherine: Yeah. Looking forward, like, I don’t know the solution to this problem. Are we any more or less happy than other people we know? If it were possible to know that, would you even want to? I have no idea if we are doing a great job, just muddling along, or still don’t have the magic secret answer figured out that every other couple has figured out. What if it’s completely normal for the wife to be so much cooler and hotter than her husband? I KID.
Chris: I think we understand each other, mostly.
Catherine: Which is probably a huge part of the battle, or so I would guess. I love you.
Chris [unable to resist a Star Wars reference]: I know.
Read other entries in Slate’s Our One Fight series:
• The Scorekeeper vs. the Pitcher-Inner