“No!” I laughed. “Far from it! We’ve been married 12 years. We have four children.”
“I don’t believe it!” she scoffed. “You cannot have four kids. You cannot have been married that long. You just have the glow!” she said.
“That is such a compliment,” I smiled, “you’ve made our day.”
This happened a week ago, which is important to note.
Susan told us she’s been with her second husband for 22 years, but that her friend Pat beside her, with the enormous diamond ring, had been married for 50.
“You know how we made it to 50 years?” Pat asked, flashing that ring. “He stays in Florida and I stay here. When he wants to come up, I go down there.”
She wasn’t joking. I raised an eyebrow at Daniel. Pat caught this and said, “How long have you been married? Give it some time, you’ll understand. You stay together by being apart.”
At the work dinner we attended next, Daniel wore the compliment like a gold star he wanted to make sure people noticed. “Guess what someone just told us?” he greeted our dinner companions, and then our house guest, once we got home. He even mentioned it to me again the next morning. And if I had written this like I intended, that next day, it would read a little differently. It might make you feel that your relationship were somehow inferior, that you were somehow inferior if you didn’t wake up thanking your lucky stars for the person sleeping next to you. I didn’t have the heart to hit publish a week ago, because it didn’t feel like the whole truth. And I’m glad I didn’t, even though the story would have been wrapped up neatly and would have presented us and our marriage in a rosy-gold light. But real life is rarely like that.
Maybe what I’m trying to say is this: I am proud to have been mistaken for newlyweds more than 12 years in because I can remember how hard the hard times were, and I know they aren’t all behind us. I remember lying in bed crying when beside my husband was the loneliest place I could imagine being. I remember the Christmas I had the desperate thought that, just maybe, being alone—even with the two babies I had at the time—would be easier and less painful than staying together. I remember the tears, the hurt, the feeling that I might never be understood by this man that was supposed to love me. And I remember so many slow, reluctant slogs back to each other, the space between us feeling like so many miles. I remember when we couldn’t cobble together enough money to buy groceries or gas before we got paid on Friday, living in a couple of houses that weren’t our home, staying put through lost babies and new jobs and ruined credit and late nights and so much travel, date nights at home or on Groupons in lean times and unlikely trips to Europe for anniversaries where we felt like the luckiest and dates Daniel insisted we go on even though my heart wasn’t in it. I remember so many conversations I would rather have avoided, vulnerability and a level of trust that still doesn’t feel fair. I remember long, tense seasons, and I know they will come again. But the only way out is through, together. We won’t stay together by being apart; we will stay together by being together.
Those hard seasons will keep coming, since that’s what seasons do. So, we will hold this one close and treasure its beauty, its warmth, the ease we feel now—even on imperfect mornings— knowing that it can’t stay forever. But we will not grow complacent: we will keep dating; we will keep talking; we will keep showing up for each other, especially when we don’t feel like it. We will work to keep ourselves healthy and whole, not asking more of our marriage than it was meant to provide; we will rely on our faith in God, not our faith in ourselves or each other, which will often let us down. When we get restless, we will resist the urge to look outside and practice turning inward, pouring our efforts into ourselves and our marriage, not outside of it. We will fail. Often. We will forgive. But we won’t hide from each other to survive the years; we will stay and fight—with each other if we have to—but ultimately for each other, our marriage and our family.
We only slightly resemble those bright-eyed newlyweds. I have to remind myself to be gentle to those untested kids who fought over so many stupid things. We were learning who we were, learning each other, learning how to live together, learning what acceptance and unconditional love look like lived out. We were learning what it means to love the person you actually have, not the person you thought he was or the person you wish he’d become. No, we aren’t newlyweds anymore. The shine has worn off, for sure. We both have wrinkles and extra weight; in so many ways there is a softness that wasn’t there before. We remember how it used to be. Sometimes we get wistful for things it feels exist only behind us—for youth, for beauty, for excitement, for spontaneity, for sleep—but we know what we have instead is truer, more solid. It is beautiful enough to make a stranger wonder, even if it isn’t Instagram worthy or poetic or perfect, it’s real and it's ours.