Certain milestones simply make me pause. Today is a big one – our 25th wedding anniversary. By any measure, that is a legitimately long time to spend marching through life next to the same person. It has me looking back in wonder about how we got to this point, looking forward trying to guess what is ahead, and reflecting broadly about what I know now about the two of us together and the life-long project of building a marriage. Unsurprisingly, I have a few thoughts.
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff, because there will be plenty of big stuff. The subject of our first, full-blown, who’s-going-to-sleep-on-the-couch fight: light switches. Him: Turn off the light when you leave the room, otherwise it wastes energy and money (that we didn’t have). Me: Why do I have to turn the light off if I’m just going to go back in the room ten minutes later and, seriously, who cares if it costs a couple of cents? But the broader undercurrent that I remember is this – how are we going to live under the same roof in wedded bliss if we are fighting about the damn lights. The answer is that we eventually had to let it go. In the “small stuff” category, how you sort the laundry, who re-loads the empty TP holder, whose “turn” it is to shuttle the kids around, and whether the junk drawer ever gets cleaned simply does not matter. From experience, it is better to save your emotional energy for coping with a company closure and subsequent unemployment when you’re 7 months pregnant and have a mortgage to pay, or when a parent is diagnosed with a terminal illness and you are barely holding on. There will be big stuff to tackle, save it for that.
2. Your partner deserves more than leftovers. Depending on age and stage, school, careers, kids, illnesses, errands, exercise, moves, remodels, social and other obligations conspire together to consume our days. When life’s demands are overwhelming, it’s easy to find yourself letting your spouse start to slip to the last in line. When you’re busy falling in love, you purposely carve out time to spend together because you can’t stand being apart. Hopefully, that draw is still there after you say “I do” but as grown-up responsibilities creep in, it’s important to be purposeful in protecting time together. For us, from the start, the TV went off during dinner in favor of nightly meals at the kitchen table, walks with the dog took the place of retreating to individual spaces, and, for the past several years and with very rare exceptions, my husband and I have had a standing Friday lunch date. We know that if we don’t guard our time together, and if we give everything and everyone else priority over us as a couple, then our marriage would be resigned to get the dregs of what is left over. We each deserve better than that.
3. Don’t call me “Baby” unless we’re at mile 23 in a marathon. I don’t know why this pet name triggers me so much. It is perfectly fine for many couples (you do you – no judgment here), but either I watched Dirty Dancing too many times (“No body puts Baby in a corner”) or I’ve seen too many episodes of Amazing Race(“Come on Baby … I’ve got you Baby …”), but the otherwise loving endearment just sends me. We are not babies, we are goddamn, full-fledged adults with equal, actual, grown-up, decision-making responsibilities in our marriage. Over the years, we’ve slipped into almost unspoken divisions of labor but, fundamentally, providing for our family and our future, raising children, caring for our home, and making sometimes difficult life decisions are equal and shared responsibilities. There are no babies in this relationship. There is one and only one appropriate call me “Baby” exception: a sly, well-timed, “come on Baby, you’ve got this” from my husband at mile 23 of the CIM, and then only because humor and laughter were the best ways in the moment to get through that marathon wall.
4. Support each other’s wildest dreams – even if (and maybe especially if) it does not involve you. When we joined our lives together in marriage, we did not become one person, and promises to give up our individual dreams were not part of our wedding vows. Over the past few years, among other things, I’ve announced to my husband that: I’m going to run the NYC Marathon, I’m going to start a blog, and I’m going to go Oregon for a few days to run and write in a forest with a bunch of women I have never met. Each time, the pronouncements have been met with encouragement. It took a long time for me to look inward and to recognize and articulate what I need to feel like I am leading a more purposeful life. It took no time for my husband to validate and support me in these and other pursuits. As long as you are making plenty of room in life for each other (see 2, above), also allow each other room to pursue individual passions with your full blessing and encouragement.
5. Fall in love again and again. When I married my husband, I did not think I could love him more. Fast forward 25 years and I do. He is both the same man that I married, and a very different, grown up version of himself. Seeing him hold our children for the first time, witnessing his dedication to his profession, watching him doggedly and determinedly train for a marathon PR at almost 50, and so many every day little moments give me reason – again and again- to remind myself of why we fell in love and why we still choose to be together. Take notice, smile, flirt, continue to discover life together. Fall in love all over again.
Here’s the deal. Anyone who says marriage is easy is either lying to you or lying to themselves. Not every marriage is meant to be or meant to last. There are committed relationships that are beautiful and everlasting even without the benefit of a paper certificate issued by the local county clerk. And, importantly, no two partnerships are the same – we all are unique in our relationships.
I can only speak to mine.
I am very lucky to be married to my best friend. After 25 years, he still fuels my spirit, challenges my intellect, makes me laugh and feel most at home. After that length of time, it’s safe to say that we have a pretty damn good life together. And I am grateful for it every day.