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The Best Thing I've Ever Done
Getting married didn't fix me, but it didn't break me either
Last night, as Nate got under the covers and I lay on the end of our bed delaying teeth-brushing and bathroom going and other pre-bed rituals, I turned to him and said, “You look handsome,” and then, “Eight years. Wow.”
The truth is he did look handsome. It’s been three years this month that, sans ability to go to the barber, I began cutting his hair. At first I was tempted to buzz-cut the whole thing because I was terrified of messing it up. But then I realized if there was ever a time to learn how to cut hair, it was on the threshold of a who-knows-how-long-this-will-last pandemic. No one would see my butchering of his very nice head of hair. And so I learned and have been continuing to learn. Last year he decided to start growing it out, which was a turn we both liked, but two months ago I was trimming it up and realized he was looking distinctly more Little Lord Fauntleroy instead of Bradley Cooper a la A Star is Born. Mea culpa, mea cupla. So back to regular haircuts again. Yesterday’s might have been my best yet, and so yes, yes I did say, “You look handsome” about fifteen times more than necessary. But also, eight years. Nearly a decade. Our second date was at a Maundy Thursday service, and we were married less than twelve weeks later, so this time of the year always reminds me of that first layer of love.
Sometimes we look at one another and can’t remember life before each other. Other times we look at one another, shell-shocked, at all the life we’ve lived in less than a decade. Sometimes I think, in the grand scheme of things, we’re still in the infancy of our marriage. Other times I look at our peers who are all nearing their twenty-year anniversaries or graduating their babies from college, and think, “There will never be a time when I’ve caught up to them. I will always be behind.”
I try to not write about my marriage too often. It’s for a lot of reasons. Mainly it’s because we have an uncommonly good one, and it has nothing to do with the length of time we’ve been married. It’s mainly because my husband was married for more than a decade before and went through an awful divorce and had his feet knocked out from beneath him before we met. And it’s also mainly because we didn’t get married until I was 34 and I’d lived a whole adulthood before we met and learned no one would ever complete me and even if no one ever loved me, I would be okay. I’m not saying those two things are the recipe for a good marriage—I know people who are still in their first and only marriage who wed one another at 20 and have it good, too. I’m just saying, if ours is good, those reasons are why.
I also feel a bit tender writing about our marriage though because there are so many really hard marriages out there and I know the sort of pang one feels when another has what you want. I can say that because someone once told me that if we had kids, our marriage wouldn’t be as uncommonly good as it is. It would just be common good, I guess. I take umbrage at that, though, because the lack of kids can and has taken just as a significant toll as the presence of them might have. (Sidenote: if you think that about your childless friends, please don’t say it out loud to them.)
Another reason I’m tender about it is because my dearest friend and others I love aren’t married and wish they were. I don’t want to pour salt on their wounds. Simple as that.
One day, less than a year after we’d married, but over the threshold of not one, but two cross-country moves, one career shift, one six month stint of unemployment, two miscarriages, a devastating church split, and being witness to the violence I wrote about in my recent posts, I wrote a piece about marriage not being the hardest thing in the world. It might have been premature, but I still stand by it. For years I heard married people say, “Oh, marriage is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. It’s the most sanctifying thing.” I was witness to my own parents marriage and divorce, and so words like those merely settled the matter in my mind: if I ever found someone to love and be loved by, plan on it being a lifelong drudging, uphill climb.
Never, not in my wildest dreams or plans or hopes, did I imagine that it was possible to have a really good marriage. Not a perfect one: we snipe at each other occasionally, we misunderstand one another about money or schedules, we always promise to have more sex and never do, we have different preferences for rest and relaxation, and more. But a really good one. One where we almost always assume the best about one another, where we stumble over one another to apologize first when we’ve been snarky, one where no matter what, we don’t say or do things to intentionally wound the other, one where we trust one another to do what they say they’ll do, and more.
“We’re a year past the seven-year-itch,” I said to Nate last night. “Isn’t it more like five-year-itch now?” he asked. Yeah, I thought to myself as I brushed my teeth, thinking of all my friends whose marriages petered or fizzled or totally bombed in the first few years.
Marriage is hard, I concede now, but it doesn’t have to be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. It might be for someone and that’s legitimate. We all have one thing that actually will be the hardest thing we’ve ever done. But it doesn’t mean that marriage unilaterally is the hardest thing. For some, maybe for you, it might be the softest place you’ve ever found or the safest or the happiest. Or maybe you haven’t found that yet, haven’t had that mysterious knowing that everyone who’s happily married talks about (“When you know you know”—which I always doubted to be true until I knew that I knew.), but you know that you know that you won’t settle for anything other than the best one for you. It’s beautiful when it happens and it happens more frequently than our children-of-divorce generation expects. I hope it’s that way for you.
As for me and our marriage, I’m so glad I didn’t marry all the guys I dated (all of whom are actually very good guys and have made very good husbands to their now wives). I’m so glad I decided that I would rather marry my best friend than the hottest guy with the most money or the guy with whom we just couldn’t quit one another. I’m so glad I didn’t marry the guy I had a little crush on because he’s the guy who introduced Nate to me. I’m so glad I said no to a second date with one guy because he’s the guy who tapped Nate on the shoulder two years later and said, “You should ask Lore out.” I’m also really glad that both of those guys are still some of my favorite men in the world and some of our best friends still. I’m just really glad for all the noes in my life leading me to this lifetime of yeses with Nate. The best yes for me. The best yes for him.
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