In an interesting juxtaposition of timing, two months before my 25th wedding anniversary one of my dearest friends got married. Not only did it give me a chance to see and remember what it's like to be full of hope, so heartbreakingly sweet and also slightly naive, but it gave me a chance to think about wedding vows and the promises we make.
In light of my impending anniversary, the Silver one, I've been thinking about how to celebrate it. Should we go away the four of us? The two of us? Should we have a big party? A small party? What about just a really nice dinner? Maybe send the kids away and have a lovely dinner at home. Or maybe we should grab a good bottle, go to the beach and hang out. Or we could go to Paris.
So many options.
In an average lifespan, 25 years together seems like an optimistic halfway point. Maybe we should (gulp) renew our wedding vows? The idea is daunting and yet, 25 years seems like a good marker to say some nice words to each other. To put the shine back on the wedding rings. To make sure the other knows exactly how we feel, even after all that and everything we've been though.
It's funny, people sometimes ask me how we've stayed together so long, and I always feel like I should give some sage advice. The truth is that I'm not sure how we've managed it. We're in love, to be sure. But love often isn't enough. I've seen plenty of relationships wither and die, not for the lack of love, but for the lack of...I don't know, something else. Attention? Consideration? Work? I wish I knew. There was always a sense of them having lost something, of having given up, of having failed in some way and my heart always broke for them. And yet, I also wondered if they'd really tried enough, if they'd worked at it enough. Because if nothing else, marriage is work.
A lot of it.
It's work worth doing, don't get me wrong. And most of the time the work isn't even hard. But if you don't do it, if you try to coast through on good faith, good sex and the occasional bouquet of flowers, the whole thing will evaporate into a whisper of smoke from a fire untended. And then tears. And bewildered heartache.
Marriage is work, you say? What kind of work?
The simple work that makes the other person feel special. Yes, you can vomit into your wastebasket now if you wish, but the truth is that we all want someone to make us feel special. The minute you stop doing special nothings for the person you love is the minute you make them feel less special. And then they feel less loved. And then love isn't enough. So maybe the key to marriage is putting gas in her car when it's almost empty. And wearing that dress he likes. Or seeing the movie he/she really wants to see and you could care less about. See, it's mostly small stuff. Easy stuff.
I think most people give up in a benign kind of way. It's not that they don't care, quite the contrary. But somewhere along the way they get to feeling comfortable enough, or passive aggressive enough to stop working at it. And why not? We're settled down now, right? And we have to spend so much of our time trying to make everyone else in our lives happy. Bosses, children, parents, friends and nosy neighbors. We figure, hey, he knows I love him. I'll do something nice for him tonight, this weekend, next month, on his birthday. Later.
The other day The Mister came home with a small box of Reschuitti chocolate, my absolute, mortgage-the-house-to-pay-for-it,-it's-that-good, favorite. There was no holiday, no fight to get over, no event. He just happened to be in the city and remembered how much I liked it. Now every time I eat a piece it makes me smile. (Shut up. There is nothing wrong with being so sentimental, and P.s, you knew I was sentimental like this when you met me. When did you get so jaded?)
The Mister hates, more than almost anything, packing and unpacking his suitcase. Consequently he leaves his suitcase on the floor of our bedroom in a semi-permanent state of halfpackedness. He knows this makes me nuts, but he just can't help himself.
I think of our bedroom as the one consistently tidy place in my house. The sheets are white. The walls are white. The chests of drawers are blond wood. The ceilings are high and we have no curtains - just white wooden blinds. It might drive some folks crazy, all of this white, open space, but for me it's peaceful.
Except for the fact that in the middle of this room is a perpetually half-packed suitcase.
The answer is obvious, right? Except no. "Don't touch my stuff. I never know where anything is after you've moved it." So there it sits. For months.
But then I came up with a compromise, a way to make him happy without making him unhappy, if that makes sense. I unpacked everything and placed it all in nice piles against the bedroom wall so that he could decide what goes where without actually unpacking his suitcase. And yes, eventually this will also be a nice thing for me, to have his stuff put away. But that's not why I did it. I did it because he hates to unpack. He doesn't mind putting his stuff away. He has a thing about the suitcase. (No, I have no idea where this thing came from, but there are way worse foibles a person could have.) Coming home and seeing his stuff neatly organized, but not hidden away, will make him happy.
I don't count his fly fishing rods and he doesn't complain about my dozens of mismatched shoes taking over the floor of our SHARED closet. How we share a closet I cannot tell you, because honestly I have no idea. Yes, his side is smaller. But not that much smaller. I could totally take over that side and still need more room.
Every morning I bring him coffee in bed.
Every night he makes dinner.
When he comes home from work I have a cocktail or a glass of wine waiting for him.
He does all the shopping and remembers the brands I prefer.
I dress nicely for him when we go out, even though I am more comfortable in pants. He likes skirts, so he gets them.
And this is how it goes. We bat the Niceness ball back and forth, not counting goal points until things get really off kilter. Then we have a blow out. We shout and say mean things until we get it all out. We don't go to bed until it's over, and when it's over, it's over. He doesn't hold a grudge and while I might, I can never remember what it is that I'm mad about long enough to do so.
When I think about the vows I might try to write for a renewal ceremony I get a little overwhelmed. Is this the time to simply thank each other for having kept the old vows or should we try to come up with different vows, ones that are more representative of who we are today? Twenty five years ago, we were married by, well let's count them, first there was the Swedenborgian priest, then the Mayor of Speracedes, then finally a French Catholic priest. We've made so many promises, agreed to so many vows, that I'm not sure where to start. Frankly, I'm not totally sure I know what I agreed to the first time.
And here's the thing, through our ups and downs, ins and outs, highs and lows, and with the occasional thrown avocado (that was me), we seem to be doing a pretty good job riding the wave of our first vows. And as much as I like the symbolism of making things new again, I'm pretty content with the old stuff. I don't want to jinx anything, or have the universe get the idea that I don't appreciate how good I've got it. Yes, I have a superstitious side, too.
So this year, like the many years before it, I think we will simply turn to each other and toast our happiness and good fortune. We'll look into each other's eyes and say "I love you" like we really mean it. And then since this will happen on New Year's Eve, we'll kiss our kids and our friends and eat until we're stuffed and drink until we can't anymore.
And then we'll start on the next 25 years. Which we'll take, just like the last set, one nice deed and one thrown avocado at a time.