In the wake of the 30th anniversary of my marriage I thought I’d write about what makes a good marriage, but more than a month has passed since the momentous occasion and as I put hands on the keyboard in the hundredth attempt at doing so, I find I know very little. And I know everything.
People who’ve been married or together for decades will tell you though. The truth as they know (or don’t know) it.
Why stay together?
Love? Yes, of course it’s love, but, really, what does love mean?
I don’t know.
But I do.
Therefore I have no advice to give and I could go on all day, giving you thousands of tips on how to formulate a lasting relationship that will bring you happiness and fulfillment. Or not.
I read once that spending a lifetime with one person goes against the natural tendencies of human nature. Taking into account some of the humans I spent time with when I was in the dating world, I totally get that, but even given the propensity of people to pick the wrong human, I disagree.
Look. We are basically alone on this carnival ride known as Life. I, personally, have been confused about almost everything from inception. That I met someone when I was 11 years old and have loved him from the start seems like the way to go if at all possible. I mean two heads are better than one, right?
Not that there haven’t been hiccups.
There was that time when I was 13 and standing on stage with my cousin and brother, in the gym, prepping for a talent show performance. Mark came strutting in(and those who knew him back then will be able to visualize this as well as I), his arm around his girlfriend and greeted me across the room with a, “Hello beautiful.” My father, who’d been sitting facing us, heard this, stood up and turned around slowly with a murderous look on his face. (Those who knew my father will be able to visualize this as well). I thought it was all over right then.
Thanks Dad, for not killing my future husband.
There was the time when I was 15 and expressed my love for Mark via a letter and he said, “yeah, thanks but no thanks, jail bait.”
Fine. He was sweet and kind but the result was the same. My ego and my heart were shattered.
There were the weddings. Ours. To other people. Ironically, in the same year. The marriages lasted about the same amount of time as well – which is to say not long.
The hiccups our first few years together came rapid-fire and left us both wondering why, when we had loved each other for so long at that point, it was so difficult to meld our lives. I mean it’s not like Mark thought he knew everything and I was stubborn to a degree most commonly documented in mules. What attracted us to each other sometimes repelled us and many times in those early days the thing that held us together was the thought that if one left, the other would be alone and at the mercy of the short people we were so good at creating.
I can’t say that the hiccups ever stopped. I mean, it’s life. Somewhere in there, however, we found a groove and I can sum it up in one word. Communication. We talk and it depends on the day, month, year, millennium, moon cycle – whatever – who talks the most. I mean, you’d think it would be me simply by virtue of the fact that it’s me and, obviously, I talk a lot. Granted, some of those conversations are between me and, well, me, and the diatribe is pretty much never ending, let me tell you, but no. It’s not always me. Mark has a lot to say as well. That means one of us has to listen, which is harder. When Mark and I were first married I’d pour my heart out about a frustration, hurt, anger – basically I just needed to talk. He’d listen for a while, sum things up for me and offer a solution. Then we’d fight. I’d tell him he wasn’t listening and he’d tell me I was out of my mind because that’s all he’d done for however long we’d been sitting there. It took years of practice for him to understand the difference between problem solving and listening. It took years of me listening to him for me to understand that his intentions were good. He wasn’t trying to shut me up.
It was a classic Mars/Venus thing.
Now we set aside time for just talking and just listening. Sometimes we spend days that way. Sometimes we cobble together a few moments because our schedules keep us apart.
And that’s hard because we like being together. We’re buddies.
I remember when it dawned on me how much I love Mark. I mean, I always knew I loved him. But that all-encompassing never want to be without him ever again and can’t remember a time when it wasn’t that way thing. That you’re stuck with me now dude, so don’t even think about trying to get away, realization that had nothing to do with the five children, mortgage and car payments we’d racked up.
It was around our 15th anniversary and it came to me that almost all the memories I had were of Mark. Or if they weren’t of him, they were made within the time I knew him.
And it didn’t scare me.
I had been the one afraid of commitment in the beginning. I had been the one to run away. I had been the one who could not believe that another human being would love me just for me and that all I was required to bring to the party was – me.
I was enough and he was enough and around year 15 the realization dawned that I believed it. I guess what I saw was the difference between the beginning and the present. I slowed down long enough to pay homage to the process that was us and to acknowledge the beauty of life and this extraordinary gift of love I’d been given and was still allowed to participate in…..
…..And then a kid threw up or threw something at another kid and as quickly as the first 15 years passed, another 15 went by.
We are now entering a new phase with freedom involved that we have never experienced as a couple. It’s so new, in fact, that we’re not quite sure what to do with ourselves, though we’re determined to figure it out, one adventure at a time. Nude beaches have been mentioned but the reality verses (my) fantasy has us sticking with hiking in Montana – fully clothed – and sitting on beaches where everyone is at least strategically covered.
I, personally, am so jazzed by this phase, it’s almost hard to process. I feel like a grown up – like someone who is ready to explore a part of life I didn’t think I’d ever experience.
I feel open.
Believe me, I was not even close to the neighborhood where open lives when Mark and I started out, let alone knocking on doors that might actually do just that. It’s another gift choosing to build our relationship has given me. Given us – because Mark was fairly walled of as well. We learned and earned trust that has, more than anything else, released our hearts, minds and souls and enabled us to progress together and as individuals.
It’s a process has become our watch-phrase and it is a process we cherish. It is a relationship we nurture and never, ever take for granted. We have been married for 30 years, together officially for 32, in love for 40 and friends for 44. As much as I’ve learned and as little as I know, I realize fully how special that is and how blessed Mark and I are.
So, to answer your question. Wait. There was no question. It was my proclamation of how to stay married and do it well.
I have no idea.
Or, at least I have no road map.
Honestly, it’s a process, is the best I’ve got. Let it be a process and stay in the moment thereof. It’s kept Mark and me sane. Or at least together. And if we’re together and happy, how effing important is the sanity?
I’ll let my kids write that chapter in another 30.