I see the red number one on the Facebook message icon. A message from my daughter. Maybe she wants to chat. I chat with my children by appointment all the time—it’s just easier that way, and I have the comfort of knowing I’m not interrupting anything.
I click on the message. Something about a wedding expo in two weeks. OMG! A wedding expo!! My daughter is getting married? She wants me to accompany her to a wedding fair? Of course I can go. Whatever I am scheduled to do vaporizes into irrelevance. I rearrange my life to seize another of the milestones that bejewel my life in abundance. After all, I am “retired.”
From that moment, I am consumed with thoughts about the wedding, and the support we might give our daughter and her fiancé. I think about how lucky they are in each other, and the solid foundation they have built for their life together. I think too about marriage. My marriage. Our marriage.
My husband and I have made it to thirty-seven years and counting. How did we get here? I wonder what I have learned about marriage over the yearsn that I might share with my daughter as she prepares for a conjugal life. A few nuggets, maybe:
1. To love is to be happy with.
This line from Barry Neil Kaufman (author of Son Rise) has been inscribed in my heart since I read it more than thirty years ago. Love means unconditional acceptance of the other person. Period. It has nothing to do with, “I will love you if . . .” It has no affiliation with change, either.
2. Delight in each other always. Focus on each other’s qualities. Say “Thank you” every day.
3. Assume the positive. People are well-intentioned. Actions that might mystify are often grounded either in habit and taste or in a rationale meant to enhance life.
4. Pay attention to the details. Love comes alive in the smiles, casual touches, kisses good-bye, inquiries, and countless small intimacies that knit each stitch of love into a garment that warms and binds forever.
5. Learn about the interests that are new to you. Did I think, when I was twenty-three, that I would ever discriminate the tail lights on a vehicle? Not. Yet, here I am. Last week, sitting at a red light, a white Elantra ahead of me, I catch myself thinking, “That Elantra must be older than ours. The tail lights are much boxier, not as sculpted as those on our model.” Then I laugh out loud, overcome with the irony. My husband, nuts about cars but apathetic about sports, will now watch a Rider game with me, or ask how the team is doing, without looking bored.
6. Resist honey-do lists. Neither person in a relationship has the moral authority to tell the other person what to do. Both partners know what has to be done and which person has the skill set best suited to the task or the time for it. Negotiation and communication work much better. Respect the person’s approach to the task, no matter how significantly it might differ from yours.
7. Never “should” all over yourselves. You might or could or would do something, but never should.
9. Carve out your own identity as a couple. Never mind what other couples do or how they behave. There is no paradigm for relationships, no one way of being in love or of being married. Love and marriage have as many different looks as there are couples.
10. Remember that marriage is where you end up, not where you start. A wedding is a ticket for a journey that may lead to marriage. The wedding happens, and you start off on your adventure, destination in mind: marriage. Many couples have a wedding. Most share memories. Many derail, and others travel on without ever reaching the destination. Some do realize the oneness of mind and spirit, the true respect and consideration for the other’s uniqueness, the paradoxical separateness and togetherness that bind two people through life’s roller coaster over decades. Years down the road, as you continue to work at your relationship and deepen it, you may stop in your tracks one day and allow yourself to think, “We are actually married.”
It’s easy to get lost in the trappings of the wedding—and the exhibitors at the expo do their best to help couples along with that. The wedding is the distractor, though. Instead, the conditions leading to the actualization of the potential embedded in marriage arise from an intractable focus on the destination. Who knows, one day, we, too, may realize that we’ve come a long way, that we are, at last, married.