People said it wouldn’t work for us and frankly I can’t blame them. Truthfully, we got married very young. I wasn’t even 21 years old yet and he only just. We got engaged 13 days after our first date and married 8 days later. Both sets of parents were divorced, we had no income and little by the way of prospects other than our smarts and this fragile bond we’d formed in oh so short a time.
And yet this past weekend marked my 24th wedding anniversary to a wonderful man that many of you have heard me refer to as “MrMr” (it’s short to type on Twitter) or “The Big Guy.” He’s my hero, my knight in shining armor, and the love and light of my life even after so many years together.
People have asked us many times over the years how we do it. We have not had easy lives, but still we magically stayed together despite all the hardships. So what makes it work for us? Honestly, sometimes I wonder that too, even though I’m in the thick of it. There’s no easy way to say “This is how we got to be living our ‘happily ever after’.” Everyone is different. But it’s had some common themes over the years that I think might help people understand a little better. and maybe, just maybe, help you write your happily ever afters a little better in whatever work in progress you happen to have going on right now.
Our relationship is built on a whole host of emotions, not just the happy ones.
When it comes right down to it, neither of us can ever imagine hurting the other, but we’re not so naive to think that hurt doesn’t happen. I don’t mean physical hurt (which we of course would never even contemplate), but emotional hurt that happens when you least expect it. Frustration and anger happen, no matter how much we might not like them to, but it would be foolish of us to ignore these emotions any time the occur. Every time we have, it’s ended badly. Instead, we’ve chosen to consider these emotions a vital and necessary part of our relationship. I think that shocks people when I say so.
We acknowledge frustration and anger. We talk about them (gods, we sound like we’re in therapy when I say it that way) frequently apologizing for any hurt they cause and then we use those feelings to learn from and improve our relationship. We let them teach us how not to do things again. So while we might focus on happy emotions 99% of the time, it’s really more realistic is to admit that we embrace all the emotions that are a valuable and necessary part of life and we don’t hide them from each other.
We sacrifice, we suffer, we give, and we take.
The best piece of advice my father gave me after we announced our elopement was one that he said took him all of his marriage and his divorce from my mother to understand in the slightest. “Honey, no relationship is ever 50/50 and honestly there are times when it’s not even 99/1. There are going to be times when you’re giving 150% to a relationship because the other person simply needs it. That’s sacrifice. And that’s okay. It shouldn’t be constant, but the whole relationship balances over the entire time you’re together. Be patient.”
In our relationship, we expect to make sacrifices for the other person because we want them happy and well. What’s more important, however, is that we go about it with the assumption that the other person will never even know or find out about it. We don’t do it because we want the pat on the back or the public acknowledgement, the facebook post that says “Awh, look how awesome my husband is!” with a picture of the flowers or the clean dishes. When we do things for each other, we do them just because we want to see them happy.
Sacrificing sometimes means sharing the other person’s burdens even when you don’t really need to. And sometimes sacrificing and suffering means actively not doing something to help the other person because it’s the only way they’ll grow and become better at whatever it is. Sometimes we mess up knowing which are the best times to leap in. Frankly that “anything to make them happy” thing gets a bit in the way of letting someone fall on their face. But the point is we go to great lengths to make sure that we’re trying everything we can to help when the help is needed and we’re always there.
We means us. But it also means me and you.
In the business world, they like to say these days “There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team’.” We remain unconvinced that this is the perfect attitude in a committed relationship. There are times when my husband and I definitely need to be apart and doing our own thing. He loves to garden and we have a small city lot 55′ x 110′ in the heart of metro Detroit, Michigan that attests to that. It’s filled with bonsai displays, fruit trees and plants (peaches, figs, quince, grapes, limes, and raspberries), it has eight different varieties of bamboo at last count, and it has a pond with koi in it. It is most definitely his labor of love. I’m just in charge of the cooking herbs.
But while MrMr finds solace and joy in puttering in the dirt, my love comes from cooking and writing. I research historical food and nutrition and design elaborate feasts to show them off. Sometimes I translate foreign languages to do it. I get my history geek on in a big way when I research and that research feeds my writing as well. I insert little morsels of the research into my characters’ stories in hopes that they’ll add that little extra flavor to make my writing a success. MrMr enjoys my cooking a great deal, but the very idea of going to all that work for food is anathema to him (unless I beg for help tasting things, of course) when he could be elbow deep in plants and dirt instead.
Despite these very different arts we pursue, people often consider us inseparable. I suppose that’s true, because neither of us really can contemplate the future without the other of us in the picture. There’s no perfect balance to what we do together and apart though. It ebbs and flows as we live.
We pretend we have forever but live as if it’s only today.
The first thing I whisper to MrMr every morning is “I love you.” He doesn’t always hear it consciously because I leave for my day job several hours before he gets up in the morning. But I know he hears it on some level, even if he’s not awake, because he makes these adorable air kisses somewhere about a foot from my face (he’ll be mortified I shared that with you, so shhh, don’t say anything). MrMr also tells me that the last thing he does before he goes to sleep is kiss me goodnight. Always. We even have a sign next to the bedroom door announcing it. It simply comes down to this: we don’t part ways, at night or any other time , while we’re still angry or frustrated with each other just in case we don’t have a chance to say “I’m sorry and I love you.”
Whatever the cutesy phrase is these days for describing a lifetime together, I still don’t think there’s one that adequately expresses the magnitude of accepting that, whatever the future holds, at least we know it holds each other. Fortunately, we have a lifetime to explore it.
I love you, sweetheart. Happy anniversary.