Today is the 18th birthday of my marriage to The BreadWinner, who wasn’t always the sole breadwinner in our team. I used to have a job in corporate communications (doublespeak) for a couple big national companies before I decided to stay home with the kid/s.
We dated three years before getting engaged and were engaged one more year before getting married. I was 26 on my wedding day three months shy of 27. He was 27, two months shy of 28. When we met, I was in my junior year of college. I knew about eight weeks after we started dating that he was The One for me, but I knew it would also take some time. He was temping at various companies and knew that he wasn’t going to make a formal move until he found a stable job, work he loved with a company he enjoyed. Once all that dovetailed and I graduated from college and we dated a couple more years, it was time. We were both ready.
The day we wed in Northern Virginia happened to be amongst the hottest on record in the National Capital Area in decades. The DC area is basically a swamp, think Manhattan without all the concrete. We were engaged on the banks of the Potomac in Harper’s Ferry, WVa. I recall his weird, tentative and crazy obsession with finding a perfect place to picnic. I was irritated and hungover from what was a wonderful night with a great, longtime friend couple who’ve been married a year longer than we have. I remember the way my ring sparkled when he popped the question under the dappled sunlight. I remember him telling me that he loved me for many reasons but his favorite one of all was that I made him laugh. I remember the geese hissing and honking angrily when we wouldn’t give them our food that he had waiting in a cooler overnight in the car (along with the ring!) and I remember my downing and entire liter of Orangina in two swigs due to my dehydration. I was classy like that. He was a nervous wreck. I had no clue that he was going to propose that May Sunday afternoon.
In retrospect, I have to say that it takes serious guts to ask a woman to marry you. Traditionally, women don’t propose and they don’t have to think of the compelling reasons why they are making the pitch to the gal; they don’t have to show their beloved that they’ve been paying attention all those years.
There is a look in a man’s eye, of tremendous vulnerability, “Will she say no? Will she say yes? I love her so much, does she love me that way? Can I trust her with my heart? Will I do my best to not break hers? Every morning for the rest of my life? This is it… will it work? Can I do this? Can she do this? Can *WE* do this?” that takes my breath away. No actor can do this look right, I’ve seen it a hundred times on the movies and watched it not really matter a handful of times on reality shows and I can’t say it seems right; it looks somehow staged.
The one time I saw that look, since I have been engaged, was about a month ago at the amazingly chill-giving end of the now-viral video of Issac Lamb’s proposal to his beloved: 42828824
If you rewind a smidge to when he’s on his knee, you can see that look in his face: hope and fear and love and doubt and plea and beg and want and have and take and give and yes.
Here we are with both of our parental units. My mom is not the woman on the left wearing the other white dress, that’s The BreadWinner’s mom. Notice instead, my mother’s subtle outfit. She had no intention of garnering more attention from me that day, I am certain of it. That hat meant she wanted to hide, I know it; why look at the brim, it’s undeniable, it screams, “PLEASE! Don’t LOOK at ME!” (Every once in a while, when I say something like that, some of my friends and relations either give me a hard time or completely pretend I don’t say those things like that about my mom, but all I can say to them is: feel free to walk in my shoes, plan a wedding and then have this be your wedding picture and tell me how it goes for you.) My mother is her own creature and that’s what the friends and relations try to remind me. Oh, I know. Trust me, I’m well aware. Her fun, laissez-faire attitude is great until you need a band-aid. I think the book she’s holding in her hand is the little white bible she gave to me “Something Old and Something Borrowed” and oh, yeah, she was wearing the “Something Blue” too now that I think of it. The Something New would be my gown.
Being Catholic, both of us, meant that in order to marry in The Church (deepen your voice when you say that), you had to be engaged for at least six months and you also had to have a church-sanctioned pre-wedding learning experience: either a weekend-long couples retreat with other couples and a priest or several weeks of the same curriculum spaced out over a two-month period. We chose the latter option because we thought longer was better. It was better. It opened our eyes to new thoughts and experiences and helped us revisit some old ones. We opened up some old wounds and scratched and itched at a couple vulnerable places to get to the meat, if you will, of what we were considering doing.
We had to talk about finances and bring each other up to speed with where we both were; we had to talk about kids, and pets, and jobs and travel, and vacation ideas and five- and ten-year goals, what about twenty-year goals. What about major illness? What about death? What about insurance and real estate? Layoffs? Flirty friends? Career growth jealousy? Where do you want to retire – in the country or in the city? Hobbies, would you support someone who likes to work on motorcycles in the kitchen? What about broccoli casserole every night – would that be a problem? Socks missing the hamper? Mess in the front hallway? Diapers in the middle of the night? Toothpaste on the counter? Shaving bits in the sink?
None of the goals had to be hard and fast, but you had to really think about what was before you: fifty or more years perhaps sixty together with that same person day in and day out: stinky and sweet, mad and happy, fluid and inflexible, nervous and calm… He may look awesome the moment you meet, but in fifteen years he could be injured, broke, angry, loud, forgetful and have a super hairy back. She might look hot in those shorts when you meet, but her uncle’s an arsonist, she hates hair in the house, her moods are not just hormonal, she likes to sharpen knives and when people are forgetful, she takes it personally. I’m being flip, but this shit’s not a joke. KNOW WHO YOU ARE MARRYING. And I get that people change: we can become sullen or depressed or manic or mean, yes. But … part of this is knowing truly, what you are in for. I’m not here to talk anyone out of getting married. What I’d rather do is prevent a divorce.
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As a kid, I always used to wonder when I’d hear my parents (who will be married fifty years next month) talking in their bedroom, “Why can’t I be in there too?” or “What are they talking about that’s so funny?” or “When will I hear about this too?” or more likely, “When are they gonna stop talking, get out of there and make me some food?” And the fact of the matter is, I think it’s a good sign that parents stay in bed in the morning talking. On the weekends, my husband and I do that: slowly awaken with soft whispers and chat about the noisy birds outside our open windows and determine whether we slept through their dawn reveille despite their arduous insistence that we see the periwinkle skies with them. Then invariably, the conversations turn to one of the kids or what we should have for breakfast or a comment about the previous evening or what’s on the agenda for the day and before we know it, forty minutes have passed. Sometimes the kids will knock or come in, but not lately so much.
During one of those conversations recently I said to my husband that our marriage is about to be old enough to vote now. Two years ago it was old enough to drive a car in the Commonwealth of Virginia (I like to say “Commonwealth” it has a nice distinctive ring to it). Last year is was graduating from high school.
When our marriage was one year old, it possibly was able to walk; a little unsure, still new, getting used to itself and its people referring to each other as “my wife” or “my husband.” We got a dog, Maggie, our first golden retriever ever. She was the best. A little nervous, but a loving dog to our eventual three kids.
When it was two, it was walking and talking and likely a little ornery. Perhaps demanding and pushy. Don’t neglect it in that second year; don’t get too comfortable ever.
When it was three, it could run and skip and climb.
When it was five, it was off to kindergarten: learning how to assert itself amongst a sea of other marriages and finding ones it could agree with. I had just quit my job and decided to stay home to raise our son who was a year old, just learning to walk himself. I started writing for clients at home.
When it was seven, it had reached the “age of reason” and permanently established its personality. This is when a lot of marriages fail, at seven years, and I was all over it like an eagle: watching and waiting to see if ours would crack. There wasn’t any real threat at all, it was 2001, but I was pregnant with Thing 2 and we were moving from one place to another one about eight miles away. That SUCKED.
When it was 10, it was prepubescent: stretching the limits, talking back a little, but still needing closeness. Thing 3 was en route and I stopped writing for clients at home. We bought a minivan. That was a sign that we were in the thick of it.
When it was 12, Maggie died. Our first loss as a couple, a family. That was hard. It had witnessed the dissolution of other couples’ marriages, wondering with one eye closed and the other one looking into the distance if it would be OK in the storms.
When it was 14, it was heading off to high school, as my oldest son will be doing in less than three months. Our marriage was going to be a freshman in high school and the people in the marriage were squarely in their 40s and along came Murphy, our next golden puppy after a couple unsuccessful attempts at rescue dogs. Back to an SUV, allelujia.
When it was 16, it was driving and asking for money for gas to keep driving.
Today, it can register to vote and to serve in the armed forces.
I met a woman while I waited in the doctor’s office last week and she told me that her marriage is about to celebrate its 43rd year. And I told her about mine. I said, “Wow! Yours is about to have a mid-life crisis and mine is legal to get a tattoo!” We laughed.
So, when I think of our marriage that way, it puts a certain extra gravity to it. It regards it as a living thing that requires attention, patience, work, nurturing, care and growth. The parallels of life’s opportunities and challenges at certain cultural or evolution / age-related benchmarks helps keep my eyes on the prize: staying together because of so much of what we’ve achieved as a couple and now a family. Why would I treat a vow I made any differently than a child or human being especially in light of the fact that kids are involved?
I realize I say these things at risk of chafing people who’ve had struggles in their marriages and who have likely divorced because of those struggles. I do not mean to sound insensitive: am not sitting in judgement. I can’t possibly know what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes and experience the things that drive one to dissolve a marriage. I have seen it more than a couple times now and I know the decisions were not simple ones and I know the circumstances in more than a couple of them were untenable, the Triple A of marriage: abuse, addiction and adultery. The children come first: if a child is being harmed, then things must change. If things don’t change then things must stop. I get it. It’s not easy. There were also weddings I attended when there was no chance the couple was going to make it. One was annulled in seven months. But you go to the wedding anyway and bring them the toaster because you want to believe what they do.
I read a compelling blog post the other day about the politicizing of marriage: between a man and a wife and all that and my opinions are my own, but the gist of this post was overwhelmingly correct in that blaming the same-sex marriage proposals (no pun intended) as a threat to traditional marriages in this country is absurd because the fault of marriage decline in the US falls squarely on those of us who’ve tied the knot and then untied it. We can’t blame people who aren’t legally able to wed for the health of the sanctity of marriage. This post, written by a conservative Catholic public servant in Oklahoma perforated me. She was totally right. Theological and moralistic discussions aside, she was right.
Enough about that.
I love my husband as much as I did that day eighteen years ago when I said I would take him in sickness, health, richer, poorer, in good times and in bad. My love and support of him is as strong today, if not stronger, than it was that day. It is work, it is commitment, it requires patience and kindness and not being proud or boastful. It is putting that other person’s needs ahead of your own and that sucks sometimes, but if we both put the other person’s needs ahead of our own, for just that moment or time when it’s required, then it balances out. It just does. There have been years when I have not been a picnic. We have struggled through our own issues together sometimes like a dance. We are growing everyday together and he’s like the coolest person on earth. One of my friends said point blank to me last night: “You know Mol, it’s all about Dan; if it weren’t for him, none of us would be your friend…” and I laughed because she was kidding, RIGHT?!, and because she wasn’t. Dan is the rock to my storm, but he knows he can count on me to kick it up a notch when he gets a little too comfortable. We keep each other going. He props me up when I am blue and I drag him along when he does too.
Onward. Today my marriage is old enough to vote. It could buy cigarettes too, but it can’t drink. It can apply for a credit card, or get a bank loan to buy a car. It’s a good thing to be eighteen.