Last week, blogger, writer, singer, dancer and all around lovely spirit, Amy Sundberg wrote a post about her life as a single person. On Being Single was—as is usual for Amy’s posts—an honest and beautiful ode to the joys of living solo. (If you’re not reading Amy’s blog, what is wrong with you??) I’ve been meaning to inflict my thoughts about marriage on you for a while now and Amy’s post kicked that thought into action.
I am shocked I am still married. August 25, 2015 will mark seventeen years that Prez and I have been together, eleven of those years as legal husband and wife. In fact, I typed that sentence and then had to stare at it for several minutes, with my jaw hanging open.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband but my track record prior to us connecting did not scream “I’m the person you want to make a long term commitment to!” I was my own worst enemy. One half of me believed all the fairy tales I’d been fed since birth. You know, all the “And they lived happily ever after” baloney. I believed that I was supposed to find a man and fall deeply in love and then live happily ever after (even though no one in those stories ever explains what happily ever after actually looks like). The other half of me, the half that existed in reality, wanted to be free to explore and learn and have adventures and figure out just who the heck I was without forcing myself to be one half of a partnership at the same time.
Predictably, the result was always disastrous. I was a serial monogamist with terrible taste in men and a thirst for novelty that ensured no relationship survived more than a few years. Oh and let’s toss in bucket loads of low self esteem, just for good measure!
After an ugly marriage and divorce from an abusive alcoholic, a well-armed ex-boyfriend who stalked me for years, and a guy I fell head over heels for who told me that he couldn’t commit to me because he thought I was a whore, I finally decided that maybe I wasn’t marriage material and that was just fine.
Then I met Prez.
Empowered by this new understanding of myself, I decided I was going to start our relationship with blunt honesty and if that ended things so be it.
On our second date, I told Prez my terms: “No marriage, no kids, no butt sex.” Shockingly, he did not run away screaming. Six years later, he asked me to marry him and I said yes. A very enthusiastic yes.
Seventeen years later, here we are. Guess I was marriage material after all.
So what changed?
Mostly my understanding of what marriage is. But there’s also some dumb luck in there too.
For those who are single and think you might want to be married one day, let me explain what happily ever after looks like.
First, it’s not always happy. With all the romance boiled off, marriage is, quite simply, a legal partnership. For better or worse the two of you agree to join forces, stick it out, and go through life as a team. Oh, and there will be lots of “worse”, trust me on that. And you marrieds with only three or four years under your belt, telling me that it’s all rainbows and kittens every day, you can shut up now. Come talk to me in ten or fifteen years. Come talk to me after one of you has lost their job that pays most of your bills. Come talk to me when you’re so exhausted from raising your children and/or working that sex seems like more trouble than it’s worth. Come talk to me after one of you gets seriously injured or ill. Come talk to me when one of you puts on a lot of weight and suddenly doesn’t feel attractive and is consumed by self-loathing and jealousy. Come talk to me after mental illness makes your spouse a stranger. Come talk to me after life has thrown you some of its nastiest curveballs and you’re still together.
Second, you may always love each other but you won’t always like each other. Even best friends have rough patches and falling outs. When you are best friends that also live together 24/7, the chances for rough patches rises faster than a helium balloon escaping the sweaty fist of a toddler on a summer day. Unlike the cute little disagreements that mark the early years of a relationship, complete with super hawt make-up sex, these rough times can last weeks, months, or years. It may not even be anger behind the rough patch. As we age, we change. Sometimes our changes may not align well with the changes our partner is experiencing, which can make things tense. Some marriages don’t survive these changes and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Third, you will each have to compromise and sacrifice for this to work. It may be you doing all the compromising now and your partner doing all the compromising a year from now, or each of you compromising a little bit, but if you stick around long enough then you will both have to give up something you want at some point. If Prez was single right now, he would be on a beach somewhere, living in bare feet and happily spending every day fishing or diving, even if he was penniless. If I was single right now, I would be an even bigger hermit and spending even more time writing and reading than I already do. Together we have chosen to stick it out in Canada at least until a tropical opportunity presents itself that we can both agree on. He’s definitely making the bigger sacrifice right now but I’ve had my turn in his position and will again.
Fourth, you will both fail at some point. You will fail because you are human and humans are flawed. You will let each other down, hurt each other, and mess up to a degree that your relationship will be forever altered. When it’s you that messes up, you will feel as if you are standing in the Louvre with a can of paint in your hands and you are looking at the Mona Lisa, which is now covered in in globs of red because of you. Even if the rest of the art is undamaged, you have still ruined a masterpiece and there’s no looking back. The offenses span a wide range. You might lie, cheat, take a risk that negatively impacts you and/or your spouse, cause problems with your spouse’s family or friends, withdraw emotionally, physically or sexually, rack up debt, or succumb to an addiction. There is no limit to the ways in which humans can fail.
That’s probably enough for now but believe me when say I could go on for pages about the less pleasant realities of happily ever after.
At this point, you are probably wondering how I could possibly be happy if all of the above is true. Why do I love being married? Am I crazy?
I begin with a caveat: I don’t love being married. I love being married to Prez. Marriage to the wrong person, as I can attest, is painful and soul-draining.
I love being married to my husband because, as Amy so perfectly explained, he makes my life even more amazing than it already was when I met him.
I married someone who was different than me in a lot of ways, which means I get to do, experience, and learn loads of things I never would have on my own. He challenges me to constantly step out of my comfort zone. He learns from me, as well, and tells me how grateful he is for the change I’ve made in his life. I love that we have a shared history that spans two decades and is uniquely ours. I love that we bear witness to our individual evolutions.
Prez was there on the day I announced I wanted to be a professional writer. He was there the day I sold my first story. He was there the day I won my first writing award. He was there when I held a copy of my novel in my hands for the first time. He was also there for all the days of struggle and doubt and frustration. He’s watched a big part of my life and my identity unfold in a way that no one else has and it makes our connection stronger.
I love being married to Prez because I can fart and burp and scratch myself inappropriately without worrying that I will not be seen as desirable–do not underestimate the importance of this! I love being married to Prez because we have failed each other but we have forgiven each other and there’s comfort in knowing that there’s someone who will accept your flaws and someone whose flaws you can also accept. I love being married to Prez because I don’t have to apologize for wanting an unconventional life. I love being married because comfort and familiarity create a safe space to unleash my lust monkey. (Enjoying sex does not make you a whore, in case you were wondering). I love being married to Prez because we give each other space to be ourselves, to have our own friends and pursue our own passions, and then we get to come home and share that with each other. I love being married to Prez because he tells me, almost every day, that I am smart and beautiful and he loves me as much as the day we first met, and that feels pretty damn awesome.
On the day-to-day level, marriage is messy and difficult. In the big picture, marriage is hideously romantic and achingly beautiful.
I aim to love my husband and be his wife for the rest of my life. Given the obstacles life likes to toss out, that is also a high bar to set but a good bar. And it’s only because I chose a man who makes my life even more amazing than it already was that I am able to have it.
p.s. Thanks for the inspiration, Amy!
p.p.s Happy 40th Anniversary to my dear friends Pat and Joyce, AKA Patty-cakes and Martha. xoxoxoxo