Tales from the Groom: The Konami Code

Carl learns the true secret to enjoying marriage.

Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, select . . . start.

Any guy between the ages of 25 and 35 will undoubtedly recognize the sequence above. (In case you’re not in that demographic, it refers to buttons on a Nintendo controller.) If you know the sequence, you were most likely introduced to it under a solemn oath of secrecy and a pledge to share its splendor only with the very closest of friends. In the summer of ’88, it was probably the first time in many little dudes’ lives that they felt like they were in the know. It’s like the unmarked bar with great drinks that your hip friend told you about, or when friends let you in on the hidden parking space in Adams Morgan where you won’t get ticketed on a Saturday night.

It was a secret, and it was cool. And having knowledge of it must have meant that you were cool, too.

Now, if I told you that the code was to beat the war game Contra, you probably wouldn’t think it was all that cool.

The Konami Code—more colloquially known as the Contra Code or the 30 Lives Code—was a cipher the Contra developers programmed into what is generally thought of as one of the most difficult Nintendo games of all time. Under the normal game settings, you have three chances to beat the game, which makes it practically impossible to play for more than five minutes before being obliterated. With the code, you’d get 30 chances, which usually meant you had a decent shot at beating the computer.

It didn’t guarantee you’d win the game—it was more an “enjoyment” code, which made it more playable and fun.     

I feel like I had a Contra Code moment the other night, while talking with a few married guys from my office about what has been the key to their long-lasting marriages. They all agreed on one piece of guidance I had never heard before, and they liked me enough to clue me in on a little secret: Never think you actually know your wife.

Huh? I felt like I had just gotten my first glimpse of the fraternity of married men, as if I’d been given their secret password that gets me into their speakeasy  

They weren’t saying “Don’t trust your wife” or “Don’t bother getting to know her because she’s a Rubik’s Cube.” Rather, it was a sage piece of advice that they had all stumbled upon at some point in their relationships that had allowed them to enjoy their marriages more. Seeing as they had a few decades of marriage experience between them, I took this to heart.  

They explained that it helped to prevent complacency, to put a more pragmatic lens on what it takes to make a marriage work, to prepare you for the fact that people change over time, to avoid unrealistic expectations of your partner, and to accept that no matter how long you’re with someone or how many of her sentences you can finish, there’ll always be situations that’ll reveal some new part of her to you. You have to know that’s coming and embrace it.  

One of the guys summed it up succinctly: “When you’re 60 and married for 30 years, you’re going to look back on what you think you know about your wife right now and laugh at yourself.”

Through all the ups and downs in life, you’ll need to know that the person you’re with—whoever he or she may become—will be there by your side working with you. This will help you not only enjoy married life but also savor it.

Which is pretty cool.

Read Carl's story from the beginning

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