Diary of a Marriage: Relationship Roles: Who Drives?

In every marriage, certain tasks fall to one partner. For me and J., that means he takes the wheel … and I sleep.


Since I went to school in Providence, I have lots of friends who live in New England. And, since I’m in my late twenties (okay, 29), I have lots of friends who are going through all the momentous life occasions that warrant a trip up north. This means J. and I ping-pong from Philly to Boston at least once every three months or so. In fact, our next-door neighbor has taken to asking us if we’re heading to Boston every time he sees us getting into the car. (Most of the time, if we’re hauling luggage, we are.)

This is what happens during a typical Goulet family car ride: We leave approximately 35 minutes after we said we would (usually my fault). J. drives. Not because I don’t like driving—I’ve done the trek to New England more times than I can count—but because the way I drive scares him. (I suppose what I lack in stature I make up for in on-the-road aggression.) I drive a bit fast (I have no patience at all for slow drivers); I have been known to have mild-ish road rage (there may have been one spat that involved another driver actually putting his car in park on the Boulevard and yelling at me); and I am an accomplished knee-driver, a skill I inherited from my mother that allows me to apply an entire face of makeup while driving. Hey, I’m not proud of it, but sometimes, it happens.

Anyway. Back to the family car ride.

I spend the first 25 minutes of our trip promising J. that I will stay awake for the entire duration of the drive. In fact, not only will I stay awake, I will provide such sparkling intellectual conversation that during no part of the drive will he feel the least bit bored or sleepy. He’s lucky to have me, I say. I grew up with a mom who not only fell asleep the second we hit the highway, but who actually planned for it by bringing along a blanket and weird neck rest thing. So many times I wondered how that was fair, how in the inevitable Marital Duty Shakeout my dad had landed the role of Driver For Life.

It’s these memories, I think, that give me the near-superhuman strength to stay awake until we hit New Jersey.

I always feel guilty when I catch myself fading, but something about being in a car—the steady rumble, reclining seats, low whir of the engine—is like Benadryl to me. And J.’s accepted his role, kind of like my dad has. I guess that’s what happens in marriage. Each of you assumes certain duties until they just become yours. Me, I change the sheets and do the laundry. J. does the grocery shopping and takes the trash out. We’ve never written it down, but there’s a definitive line between his jobs and mine.

Last month, J. and I headed back up to Boston for a wedding. This time, I was ready. If I had to pry my eyes open with toothpicks, I would stay awake. I fueled up pre-trip with a large coffee and I came armed with scintillating car games, like ‘Count The Number Of Different State Licenses We See’ (I think we counted 11 before giving up—would you believe we saw an Alaska plate?) and another one where we picked a word and had to come up with a song that included that word (FYI: ‘love’ is easy; ‘insect’ is not). After about four-and-a-half hours during which neither one of us fell asleep, we pulled into our hotel in Westford.

We sat silently in the car for a few minutes. And then J. turned to me, very solemnly, like he was about to announce something very important.

“I think this calls for a speech,” he said.

I, of course, agreed with him. So we sat there in the parking lot, in our car, and I gave a speech in which I thanked the guys who brewed the coffee at the Sunoco station, the people on the radio who played good music throughout that painful stretch in Connecticut, fellow drivers for being from enough states to keep us occupied during our car game, the person who invented in-car air-conditioning ,and Werther’s Original for making very tasty caramel hard candies. After a round of applause from my very proud husband, we checked into our hotel room. Whereupon I promptly took a nap.

Have you and your fiancé or husband figured out your ‘roles,’ yet? How was it that they came about?




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