17 years

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.

True love


“She gets the house and the garden, he gets the boys in the band.
Some of them his friends, some of them her friends, some of them understand.
~James Taylor


I am good friends with a beautiful couple who is really struggling in their marriage right now.  It’s interesting, these phases of life that we go through.  There are these familiar themes that follow you around, depending on which life decade you reside in at the moment.  First college, then career.  Then you start spending your weekends at bachelorette parties and weddings.  Baby showers soon follow.  It doesn’t happen that way for everyone, of course.  But the rhythm is there, in the background.

I don’t go to baby showers or wedding showers anymore.  Most of my friends have children in elementary school or older, and we are in the phase of pouring ourselves out for the sake of our families, and trying to reclaim what little of our own selves is left in our “free time”.  The other theme, the one that not many talk about, is that this is where marriage sometimes gets hard.  The shine has worn off, and we are tired.  We’re not newlyweds anymore, enamored with the task of discovering each other and the thrill of beginning.  And we are no longer adjusting to going from a family of 2, to 3 or 4, or more.  Most of us are done with that, with the vasectomy or tubal ligation to seal the deal.

In the midst of this very un-shiny, tiring, hard work, we find that our marriages, and/or our friend’s marriages, sometimes start to struggle.  We see some of our couple friends break up, or “consciously uncouple”, if you hang with celebrities.  And even if your marriage is not in dire straights, it hurts to watch, and it feels so vulnerable.  Because if this beautiful couple–my friends–whom I love and respect so much, can unravel right before my eyes, all the while fighting for their relationship, going to counseling, getting the help and support they need to no avail, who is to say that I’m not next?  When you go to a wedding the bride throws the bouquet, and all the single ladies line up to catch it with the wild hope that they will be “next”.   No one lines up to see who gets to be next to see the demise of their marriage, but we all know that there will be more, the same way we know that we will start going to baby showers after the wedding showers taper off.  It’s that rhythm, always there in the background.

My friends, as I mentioned, have been doing all they can to save their marriage.  It’s a long messy process, and I feel helpless on the sidelines.  There is nothing to say and nothing to do to make it better, or even OK.  It’s not OK.  You just do your best to try not to say something stupid or insensitive, and be a listening ear when needed.  You just try to keep showing up for your friends, even when it hurts to watch.  Because as much as it hurts to watch, you know that where they are hurts more.

This friend recently had her engagement ring stolen.  Great timing, right?  You’re on the brink, not sure if you’re going to stay together, and the ultimate symbol of your love gets taken from you.  The ring was insured, so they submitted a claim to their insurance company, and in order to receive the insurance payout they are required to buy a new one.  Well, that’s awkward.  Hey honey, I know we might be breaking up and living in 2 separate houses and dividing all our assets, but let’s go engagement ring shopping.  Do you have time on Saturday?  Her previous engagement ring had borne the inscription “True Love” on the inside, which the police told her might one day be helpful in recovering the ring.   They started joking around about what exactly they would inscribe on a brand-new-divorce-is-possibly-imminent-engagement ring.  “True Love” just doesn’t seem quite right at such a time as this.  They came up with “STFO”–as in, “start the f– over”.  Which I have to tell you, I really love.  Because it’s real.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

Maybe being allowed to STFO in the middle of your ugly mess is the very definition of “True Love”, a definition we didn’t completely appreciate when we were all shiny newlyweds.  My friend’s marriage is Real now, and being Real hurts, and it isn’t always pretty.

Rings photo credit-Image by Boykung at FreeDigitalPhotos.net