This is part three in a three part series. Read part one here and part two here.
So if our marriage had been drowning in the first part and rescued in the second part, part three should surely be our “happily ever after” right?
When I was 16, I would think through the years of my life and how I thought it would all play out: I would graduate high school, go to college, graduate college, get a job, get married, have kids… and then my life would be over and void of any personal satisfaction or meaning. What a stark vision of the future! In this entire vision of the future, the wedding was the pinnacle of it all. It would be the happiest day of my life and all the days before would be the crescendo and all the days after would be the sad denouement.
I figured the best years of my life would probably be the years between college graduation and marriage – full of wonder and potential and hope and excitement – and the cherry on top would be a wedding.
Funny story: there were only 18 months between college graduation and our wedding.
There is so much emphasis on having The Perfect Wedding. The perfect dress, an idyllic ceremony that is both representative of your separate histories as well as of your hopes for the future, a party-inducing play list, the right lighting, and so on and so on. And I am the first to admit, I do love a great wedding!
I love watching the groom see his bride for the first time. I love watching the bride’s family give her away to a teary-eyed, clammy-palmed groom. I love a great ceremony. I love the first kiss. I love the celebratory walk up the aisle.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
The first steps back up the aisle truly begin a journey of a thousand miles. The walk back up the aisle, full of hope and promise and purpose and joy, signifies how we intend to began our marriage. It can be so easy to lose that momentum, though.
Marriages aren’t perfect, but marriages are beautiful and complex and unique and messy. It’s just that most of us don’t really know how anyone else’s marriage truly works except maybe our parents’ marriages. We see weddings and we see 50th wedding anniversaries. Sometimes our friends let us see under the tent – a peek at an argument or an accidental glance of tender moment. But it’s hard to get context. We don’t often truly understand the inner-workings of most peoples’ marriages.
Writing this series presented that very problem. I am giving you a very specific peek into our life – into a part of our life that was particularly messy and difficult. This period of time certainly shaped our life moving forward, but it is only a picture of a moment in time.
I sometimes find myself wondering: what are other peoples’ marriages like? What do they talk about? What do they like? Do they talk at dinner or eat in silence? Do they go to bed at the same time or is one person a night owl while the other is a morning person?
Is it normal to want to talk to your spouse all. the. time? Is it normal to always want to hold hands or touch each other as much as possible? Is it normal to be grateful your spouse travels?
Are we normal? Are we OK?
I’ve come to the conclusion, after much thoughtful consideration: WHO CARES what is normal!?
Instead of normal, I’ve found myself craving people and experiences that are authentic and genuine and real. The uncomfortable thing I’ve discovered is that very few things live inside a comfortable little box of good/bad, wrong/right, beautiful/ugly.
In this new space of intimacy and knowing and closeness, we’ve come to realize there is so much in life that is beautiful and messy, delightful and terrifying, or happy and sad – all at the same time. Even when I really reflect on the way that I felt on our wedding day, it was a broad and brilliant array of emotions that included everything from sadness that many of our grandparents couldn’t share in our day to elated to celebrate our wedding with so many family and friends. Life, as far as I can tell, is full of moments that defy limited categorization.
That being said, I would love to gloss over our post-drowning marriage and say, “Yep, all good here! There’s nothing to see here! Move along!”
A few weeks ago we had a pretty big fight that started before church (AWESOME) and concluded after lunch (C’MON!). Frank had a bunch of feelings and I had a bunch of feelings, but we were afraid to talk about these feelings because neither of us wanted to burden the other with these feelings. So we actually fought about how he answered a question that I asked. The exchange in question was no more than a dozen words between us, but all of the feelings came bubbling up. For quite a few hours we snipped and argued back and forth. It took us hours to realize that we needed to go back to the now familiar territory of compassionate and honest communication. Once we started talking, we realized that neither of us was burdened and that both of us actually had very similar feelings on the issue at hand.
It wasn’t the similarity in our feelings, but the authenticity of our feelings, that gave me the biggest sense of relief. I knew Frank’s heart and he knew mine. We couldn’t really do anything about the feelings or even the issue we were upset about, but we could encourage and walk alongside each other.
So here is what I have to say about our life together: it is messy and imperfect and complicated, but it is ours.
Frank and I try to set aside time weekly to talk in person without distraction. Sometimes we talk about what we are thinking and feeling, sometimes we talk about what is going on in our lives, sometimes we talk about dreams and ideas and sometimes we talk about practical matters. Sometimes we talk about our strategy for dealing with a zombie outbreak. Our conversations are not confined by anything – sometimes not even reality!
And so, we keep finding our way back to one another. I met another couple who found their way back through a shared hobby. Some couples exercise together and some couples travel. The important thing is that they create space for connection.
I feel like people often mistake the act that creates space for intimacy as actual intimacy.
I know that I used to get confused on this issue a lot. I used to think of sex as intimacy, when it is an opportunity for intimacy. I used to think that going on a date is intimacy, when it is a space where connection can happen.
Intimacy is closeness and knowing and understanding.
I think that sometimes I get lazy and I want to check the box and have intimacy without having to be vulnerable, without having to put myself out there. Sometimes I get scared to hear what Frank really thinks and feels – worried that I will be responsible and blamed for his feelings.
It is worth it to be brave in order to be known, to be seen, to be heard. It is worth it to be brave enough to know, to see, and to hear another.
We’ve had a challenging year. We’ve dealt with quite a few different illnesses and transitions and minor floods – just a lot of stuff.
We are on this journey of a thousand miles that began with both of us holding hands and smiling big, toothy grins. If all goes well, after walking through jobs and houses and kids and life together, we will still be walking, holding hands and celebrating the joy of our adventure.
My 16 year old self would be relieved.