This month, Jeff and I will celebrate 17 years of marriage. Seventeen years sounds like a really long time, and it makes me feel both old and awed. It is tempting to feel a sense of accomplishment, but I suspect there is no room for that sort of pride in the daily work of marriage, which, in my experience, seems to require high doses of humility, grace, and forgiveness. When we first got married, had you asked me what I thought our lives would look like after almost two decades, I am not sure I would have even been able to call up a mental picture for you. When you’re starting out at something, 17 years sounds like a really long time. When you look behind you, it feels like the blink of the eye, and you stand there wondering where the time went. It feels like we have been married forever, and yet it feels like just yesterday that I walked down the aisle to my groom.
We were just kids when we got married, really, both 23 years old at the time. I remember when we got engaged, my parents and all their friends would shake their heads and say, “but you’re just so young to get married!” We felt really indignant when we heard these comments. I mean, we had both finished our undergraduate education (Jeff graduated a mere 2 weeks before our wedding, I had graduated and been a working woman for 2 years at that point, so worldly I was). Lots of our friends hadn’t even waited until they finished school to get married, finishing out their senior year in the “married housing” dorm. My dad almost lost his mind about how we could possibly support ourselves. But I had a little apartment in the upper part of a home that cost me $400 per month in rent and utilities. We bought a second car and took on a second car insurance payment. Other than that, especially compared to present day, our bills were pretty minimal and our expectations for grandiose living were very low. Aside from the stifling heat that overtook our small apartment in the summer and my ongoing power struggles with the landlady who lived downstairs, we were happy there, and we felt like we had everything we needed.
There is lots of scientific research out now that indicates that your frontal lobe, important as it is in higher-level decision making and executive function, doesn’t even fully develop until your mid- to late twenties. So I think about that time in our lives as a time where we literally grew up together. It is easy to romanticize those years, but I remember they weren’t always easy. We had enough money to get by, but it wasn’t much. We used to joke in those years that we were experiencing the “poorer” part of our “for richer or poorer” wedding vow. Both of us took our turns in grad school, launched our careers, endured a long and frustrating process to obtain our green cards, and amidst it all we were learning all of the important lessons that inevitably come when you weave two people together with all of their individual goals, desires, and expectations.
When we were newlyweds, we would talk about what life would be like after we had been married for 10 years. It sounded so far away, and we agreed that taking a trip to Hawaii would be the best way to celebrate such a milestone. Fast-forward to our 10-year anniversary in 2009. After a lengthy battle with infertility, we had a 2 and 1/2 year old and a 7 month old. Needless to say, nobody was going to Hawaii. We managed to pawn the kids off on my parents and stay in a hotel in downtown Toronto for 2 nights. This started a downward spiral of anniversary celebrations that took a backseat to all of the daily madness that sets in when you have a young family, and there is no time or money to plan for a relaxing, romantic getaway in a month packed full of end-of-year school activities, extracurricular activities, Memorial Day parties, yard work, pool opening, and the like.
Anniversary gift-giving has also become problematic. Pretty much anything we would buy for one another would just come out of our monthly budget, so you can’t just go hog wild on gifts. Also at this point, if there is something either one of us needs, we usually will just go buy it if funds allow. For instance, Jeff just bought his umpteenth bike last month. After 17+ years of buying birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s, and anniversary gifts for my man, I am just clean out of original ideas. I looked up the traditional anniversary gifts given by year of marriage, which wasn’t much help. At 15 years, you are traditionally supposed to give crystal, and at 20 years you give china. I know that my husband would love to receive both of these things. However, there are no traditional gift suggestions for the years that lie between 15 and 20. So I guess you give crystal and then save up for 5 years for some china. Or maybe we should save up to go to China? Hmmm. Anyhow, this year I settled on a public declaration of my love in blog form, and also a card which I procured from Walgreens for $3.99. I will save the card until the actual day though, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
And so, here we are. Most likely we will ring in our 17th year with dinner and a movie, not unlike the majority of our date nights. Yes, it is a little sad, but at this point we are pretty comfortable with being boring like that. Because the joy of it is that when we do get a babysitter and a quiet table for two, we get to catch up with each other like old friends. I get to rediscover why I liked this guy in the first place, the one who sold his bike to buy my engagement ring. I get to see how that boy I married is growing and changing before my eyes, and I get to cheer him on while he does it. And I am not exactly the same girl he married all those years ago. He may have gotten a little more than he bargained for, honestly. But he surprises me every day by loving me anyway. Now I just need to teach him to pick up his socks and laugh at my jokes.