It takes more than love to keep a marriage going. In fact, I’m not convinced that love is the penultimate mortar of marriage. What I mean is, many people love but not everyone gets married or stays married. My parents separated when I was six-years old; my grandparents were together for ten times that. What is the difference between marriages that last and those that don’t? Presumably they all start in love. It seems that while love is a critical component of marriage, love does not fully describe marriage.
Marriage involves a commitment to marriage itself, a commitment to the idea of a lifelong story of two individuals made one. It takes an ongoing decision that you want to be linked as part of building something with that person. Just like anything else in life, it takes a long time to build something worthwhile. It’s deciding to build it every day that builds it.
A lifelong commitment certainly has its perks. The knowingness of a look that has seen you through decades. The companionship of a life partner while the aging body slowly slides from its structure and falls out of sync. The creation of a family with a person found outside the randomness of birth, paths crossed mid-journey. All of these things are worthwhile and precious. Beautiful in themselves and more so when their Venn diagram overlaps with Love.
I met Orchid when I was 30 years old. I was at the tail end of finishing my Ph.D. dissertation and was doing a post-doc job tour. Our first interaction came when I asked a group of potential future colleagues for a cup to borrow for water during my job talk. Orchid offered his cup to me, and then later offered to forward my slides for me each time I said “next slide” during my talk. This was back in the days of slide projectors. I met him as a giving person. He still is.
Later that evening, the lab held a happy hour in my honor. By chance, Orchid and I sat next to each other. We found ourselves taken in and held, transfixed in conversation. Ironically we don’t recall what was said, as if the connection itself eclipsed the words spoken. A recognition. Ah, there you are. I remember looking up to see other lab members watching us as if they were witnessing something unexpected and new. It was definitely unexpected. Who expects to meet their future spouse on a job interview?
We are no longer new, but we are still just beginning. We have known each other for twelve years on July 20 (exactly ten years to the day before Flowergirl was born) and have been married for nine years today. We brought two children into the world following high-risk pregnancies. We have lived on both US coasts and have driven across the country several times together. We both have had major career changes since being married. We both have set aside favorite hobbies and found new hobbies – by choice – that allowed us each more time with our children and with each other. We have become a force. Like any couple with two strong personalities we don’t always agree, but give us a shared obstacle and we are of a single mind and undefeatable. And why should disagreement be a negative thing? It shows how invested we are in our life together. I know that when I stop trying to negotiate for what I believe is the best path, it’s because I have started on a different path. And we are on the same path, by a choice that we choose every day, building our lives together.
From this little perch of nine years, I will tell you one thing about marriage that you don’t know in the dating years. There will inevitably be something that you told yourself you wanted in marriage that won’t be true about your marriage; maybe you later realize that it wasn’t the best thing for you anyway. Or there might be something you never wanted in your marriage that is there. These are all to be expected with the right person. Any veneer of perfection will dissolve after years of marriage. Life, after all, is a beautiful imperfection.
A visiting family member recently said how wonderful it was to watch Orchid and I work together in the kitchen, each in charge of components of the meal. We work independently toward a common goal. This is a favorite aspect of how we have evolved in our life together. Like the meal, we surrender ourselves to a greater whole and create something we could not have created alone.
Compromise and finding a new path together is the crux of marriage. One’s singular vision during years alone pales in comparison to a shared vision as love evolves to a life together.
If you’re lucky in love, you find the important stuff and get more than you anticipated in return for what you give. Steadfast love. Loyalty and devotion to you and the family you build together. Someone who seeks the cracks that let the light in, or show the way in the dark hour. Someone who can still surprise you after years together. Someone who knows how to survive by hand and by spirit. Someone who is a complement, into whom you can seep and fill a lacking just as they fill your lacking. I’m so lucky have found all of these things and more in my wonderful husband Orchid.
Happy, anniversary, Honey!