What twenty five years of marriage really looks like

I break with tradition today, as I write this not with beer in hand, but cinnamon tea. Yes, tea, because I am trying to cut back on beer consumption. Why, why, why would one want to reduce the drinking of silky smooth, roasty stouts and black ales, you ask?  Well, most of you reading this already know why.  I am trying to reduce the bloat that also accompanies the hoppy deliciousness of said concoctions, because of a certain son’s wedding to take place in August.  I know, I know, it’s not about me, but it’s also a good reason to shed unwanted pounds.  Also, it’s Lent.  I should be practicing self-denial of some sort.

So far it’s a dismal fail.

I’m doing aerobics, but I think I’m making up what I’m not drinking by eating more.  I’ve pretty much given up my main fat burner, soccer, because my creaky joints are ready to blow out any minute.  And my feet hurt like hell, despite good shoes and inserts, so that’s not helping my activity level nor my sloth-like metabolism.  We shall see how many more excuses I can drum up while I continue this painful beer withdrawal façade.  This may be the most short-lived diet ever.

So all the talk and anticipation of the upcoming marriage has made me ponder my own journey there, twenty five years ago this July.  There are some things that haven’t changed much, like bachelor parties and gift registries, and some things that are new, like wedding websites.  (Who knew?)  But back then I didn’t joyfully pore over colors, flowers, and invitations. I didn’t get misty eyed over picking out a dress, though maybe my mom did.  I think I spent most of the time preparing for the wedding wondering if we were making a mistake.

Yeah.  Not a very auspicious beginning, and to say our road was a rocky one is putting it mildly.  We ‘d dated for a year and landed head over heels in love, but then we were off and on through my going to MSU and his going to Purdue.  At last I graduated, and he was set to do the same the next spring.  I was ecstatic at having graduated, but not because I could storm the work force.  I was ecstatic because I could finally follow him and we could be together all the time!  And I did, and we were, and guess what happens when couples are together all the time!  Yep.  I found out I was pregnant that fall before, with the boy that is to be married this year.

What followed were some stressful months and panic.  How was this possibly gonna work?  No nest egg, no house, no job, (for me), etcetera. We were both scared, and it made what should’ve been a happy time, not so much.  But even amidst the considerable tumult, I willed myself to be calm, for the sake of my developing baby.  Something told me to hang in, to trust that it would be okay eventually.  Without sounding too floo-floo, I think this voice reassuring me was the Holy Spirit.

And I listened.

Here I go again, sounding floo-floo, but when Sean arrived it was as though a magic wand appeared.  Every worry and fear for the future, every tearful argument and niggling doubt, was eviscerated in one baby powder poof.  I’m not exaggerating.  It really was that instant and that powerful.  Here was this tiny, gorgeous, red-haired perfect miracle, spreading healing joy to us and everyone around us.  I wouldn’t trade what happened for a second; the minute I held him was absolute heaven.  I’d have to remember that feeling for the many sleepless nights to come, but that’s how God works.  He also made us circle our wagons and put on our big kid pants.  We’d become a family.  We would make it work.

So for two years we toiled, built a house, loved on our little toddler, and somewhere in there got a wedding going.  And I’m not gonna lie, that process wasn’t very romantic either.  The “proposal” was us looking at each other and saying it was probably time to start checking out rings.  Which I know sounds laughably lame compared to where the guy gets the ballpark to pop the question on the scoreboard, but I really didn’t care.  I just wanted our still fragile roots to dig in deep and get strong.

In the meantime, we participated in the required pre-wedding counseling, and I knew I would convert to Catholicism.  This was no sacrifice for me.  Religion hadn’t been a part of my life, though I’d always wanted it to be.  I immediately felt at home with the rituals, the devotion to Mary, and the sacred Trinity.  There was never any pressure from anyone to take this on; I wanted to, because I thought it would be one more step to solidifying us and providing stability for our child.  I was right about this to a degree.

Our wedding day came, and we were both nervous wrecks.  I wasn’t one of those blissful bawling brides sashaying down the aisle, searching out the gaze of my soul mate.  I was actually trying not to throw up.  My heart threatened to beat itself out of my chest.  I thought maybe I was having a panic attack.   My dad took my arm and patted it, but all I could think of was, “I don’t know if this is right. I don’t have a fucking clue about whether this is right..”  And someone said later that John’s foot wagged frantically back and forth when we kneeled at the altar, to the point they were laughing.  I remember during the ceremony bending down to a statue of Mary and desperately praying:  “Please, please, help.  Help me, and help us to make it.”

We were both deer in the headlights taking a blind leap of faith, and we were hardly the first couple to feel that way.

Fast forward twenty five years later.  We didn’t crash into the windshield, but we took some hits, and have emerged together relatively unscathed.  Understanding how we managed this feat is truly a complicated endeavor.  People (and I include myself) can’t get enough of finding secret formulas to making relationships succeed (Do these five things for a hot marital life!), but much of it is bullshit.  So if that’s the case, what wisdom can I pass along?  Well, it may not work for you, but that’s okay.  I think it kind of boils down to this:  Pray a lot, have sex a lot, and don’t be an asshole more than you can help it.  I know, it’s inspiring enough to bring tears to your eyes.  But seriously, you can agree on religion and money and kids and in-laws, and still end up not together, or worse, trapped in an empty shell.  Making marriage work is a mysterious mixture of faith, luck, and not throwing in the towel when you want to snap him or her in the face with the thing; preferably wet, so it stings.  It’s acceptance for who the other is, and being okay with what that is.  In the beginning, I found John to be rigid and demanding, and carped at him endlessly for being so judgmental.  He in turn found me to be financially careless and questioned my commitment to make the long haul without bolting (no doubt magnified by my proclivity for fleeing during disagreements).  We were living out our birth order roles of the bossy oldest and the irresponsible baby, but throwing in the towel was never an option.  Some days that may have been the only thing we did agree on.

I think it helps if partners have a longer memory for all the shining moments, and a shorter one for the dark times.   Practice having amnesia then.  It works, trust me, unless you reverse the two.

Here’s another reality.  There is no such thing as giving “50/50” in a relationship.  It’s more like 60/40, or even 80/20, and I’m not talking about just for a day.  The scales can be unbalanced for a looong time, and in our narcissistic culture that’s a hard concept to wrap selfish heads around.  The key is knowing, having faith, the burden will be shifted in the other direction at some point.  And if it doesn’t, there’s a choice to be made.  Have you noticed how often I’ve used the word faith here?  I’ve no doubt God has been with us all along, and will be to the end.  There can be no other explanation for overcoming some of the hurdles we encountered over the years, because we’re sure as hell not superheroes.  We are imperfect and vulnerable to the same frailties as everyone else.  And sometimes, for a host of ouchy reasons we already know, a person has to pull the plug and walk away because they must.  And that sucks.  And it’s hard. I would say to this, the same mantra about writing I have mocked in the past yet still know of its’ truth:

No love is ever wasted.

The proof is there, whether through beautiful children or painful lessons. I hope you believe this, and aren’t throwing a shoe at your computer.  Well, go ahead and throw the shoe if you need to, but steer clear of your valuables and the dog and the cat.

I am so excited for my son and future daughter-in-law and their new life together.  Weddings truly bestow hope on all who attend, and as they say, if you’re lucky enough to be part of an Irish one, you’re lucky enough.  You may be wondering if we’ll be doing any celebrating of our own in July.  The answer is yes.  Exactly what, I’m  not sure of yet, but we’ve talked in the past about renewing our vows.  Something quiet and simple.  It’d be nice to walk down even a makeshift aisle as a more fully developed person, a person who declares, “I choose you.  Again. With humble gratitude and not gnawing fear.”

Cheers and God’s peace to all you lovebirds.  May you enjoy a long and prosperous life together, and if you do make the walk down the proverbial aisle, may you not be afflicted with nausea.  Now how’s that for an Irish toast?