When we were married in 2005, I was educated, owned my own house, had a retirement account, and a whole lot of love for my future husband. In my head, I was an ideal age. Twenty-nine is old enough to know better and young enough to have children, if you want them. I had travelled, dated a sufficient number to realize that Dave was an extraordinary man, and knew how to live a happy, fulfilled life on my own. We had done pre-Cana, adopted a scruffy rescue poodle, had discussions about future children, and a system in place for handling our finances.
I wasn’t just settling for Dave, I was choosing him. And he, me.
I was also probably, most certainly, very much under-equipped for actual marriage.
I remember driving home from a friend’s lake house and telling Dave that fine, I wanted a divorce and hearing him respond in kind. We had been married a few months. Marriage was kind of hard work, if I am being honest. Aren’t we supposed to say the vows, have lots of sex, get pregnant easily, have two perfect kids, do well at our careers, and love each other always? If he was ‘the one’ it would be easy, right?
There was something humbling about that. You walk down the aisle and into this life you’ve never led before. You are completely inexperienced and yet, you think you know everything because we all come packing our own picture of just what the ‘good marriage’ is supposed to be. When it doesn’t hold up to Hollywood, or your grand-parents’ marriage of 50 years or, what you see from your best friend’s marriage, or your next door neighbors’ you feel like you must be doing something wrong.
DID WE JUST MAKE A MISTAKE??
Now, after nearly ten years of marriage, neither of us can recall what that first huge fight was about in the first place. We both remember that we sheepishly faced the reality that our argument had happened in the first fifteen minutes of our trip… and that we still had an hour trapped in the car with each other.
We were silent for about fifteen minutes and then,
Me: Do you really want a divorce?
Him: No. You?
Me: No. I have no idea why I even said that.
Him: We are idiots.
We talked. A lot. We realized that even though we had moved in together when we got engaged, being engaged or living together is not the same as being married. You might like to think it is, but it isn’t. Kind of like you think that having children will be the same as life before children.
Spoiler Alert, your life changes when you have children.
I learned quickly, you can’t just kick someone out when you get into an argument. Oh, I mean, you can yell, “GET OUT of my house,” but then you realize that regardless of who’s name is on the mortgage, it’s their home too and you will feel like an idiot. He learned that he had to communicate frustrations instead of ignoring them. We also figured out that the only people who belong in our marriage, is us. My sisters, his best friend, our parents, his boss, my Facebook feed… they don’t get a say, a vote, or to weigh in, and our marriage is not their business. Ever.
In the several hundred arguments we’ve had since then, we’ve both learned that a little empathy for your partner goes a long, LONG way.
I know this in no way guarantees that Dave and I will stay married forever. The reality is, marriages that I thought for sure would last forever, fail. Marriages that were bad ideas from the start have lasted for years. There are no guarantees, there is only the work, the love, the day to day, the fun, the hurt, the laughs, the frustration, the big stuff, the little stuff, and the fact that we’re both still willing do get up each day and choose each other. Even on the days when that choice might not feel as fun as packing up and moving to Aruba and surrounding yourself with pina coladas and room service.
Or so I’ve heard.