This Tuesday is our ninth wedding anniversary! In my life, most folks I know never made it to their ninth anniversary, or their marriages were in such shambles that counting only made their prison sentence of a marriage seem that much longer. My mother was married twice, for eight and eleven years respectively. For all I witnessed, both of these marriages stretched almost any culture’s definition of such. Not only was my mother not particularly happy. Between my alcoholic father and my borderline personality and obese ex-stepfather, my mother would’ve have been better off single and without any kids. These were nightmare marriages, the kind that practically will force a man or a woman into celibacy for the rest of their lives.
Not so with my marriage. There have been many highs and many lows. It’s been an emotional roller-coaster ride at times, but somewhere between content and boring for most of the past nine years. But if all we had to settle for is a lack of domestic violence, cheating, chronic drunkenness and a relative sense of sanity, then our marriage would still be lacking. In compatibility, romance, a common vision, a sense of purpose and growth, and a sharing of affection, among other things. I’m happy to say that most of this has been there for most of these past nine years.
That hardly means that everything is hunky-dory in our world. The job market and my relative underemployment as a consultant and professor and aspiring memoir author hasn’t exactly helped us financially, not that we’re starving or something. Noah takes up so much of our time that all I look forward to most of the week is time to sleep. (They say that this gets better when the kid turns seven — we’ll see.) My wife’s in the process of applying for graduate school, which could mean major (and somewhat welcome) changes for all of us. Ours is a world of constant transition, of sometimes necessary and unnecessary drama, of having reaching a major crossroads in our lives.
Add to that an even more important feeling of restlessness. We’ve not only been married for nine years. We’ve been each other’s significant other since December ’95, friends since May ’95, and acquaintances since April ’90. We’ve been together for roughly one-third of our lives, and true to ourselves, we’ve changed in those years. And not always for the better. That doesn’t mean that the marriage is in trouble or that I should find a basement room to rent somewhere in DC. It means that as much as we’re changing as individuals, we need to evolve as a couple, too.
During the seven months between friendship and dating my eventual wife in ’95, I dated another woman, one who was in graduate school at the University of Maryland. She was a Latin Americanist, as they called themselves, was fluent in Spanish and learning Portuguese. I fell head over heels in infatuation over her, even though we’d been acquaintances for a few years. It was a long distance relationship, with me in Pittsburgh and with her in Baltimore. It was made easier by my frequent travels to DC to do research for my doctoral thesis.
She was a dreamer, just like me, that’s what I think attracted me to her in the first place. But as our dating relationship progressed during the fall of ’95, I realized that I was doing with her some of the things I’d done with my past crushes/girlfriends. I was being too helpful, too in tune with her emotional swings. She was occasionally upset with her mother and one of her ex’s, but not about typical issues. You see, she’d given birth to a daughter while in undergrad, and that kid was only two years old at the time. So in addition to dating, I was constantly giving her advice about her mother, her daughter, and stepping into a former relationship’s ridiculously immature dynamics. It left me thinking about why I needed this kind of headache, especially with my thesis becoming an all-consuming writing project.
I eventually broke it off with the Baltimore girl after she stood me up for a date while I was in DC, in November ’95. Previously, I had allowed women to break up with me or simply stopped calling them. But I realized I needed to be more mature, even if it meant crying, yelling, and gnashing of teeth in the process. Which it did.
In the midst of this, my soon-to-be-girlfriend, fiance and wife listened to my every complaint and burst of infatuation. I must’ve driven her nuts. It was a bit like Vanessa Williams’ “Save The Best For Last” — where she goes, “All of the nights you came to me, when some silly girl had you free/You wondered how you’d make it through, I wondered what was wrong with you.” 06 Save the Best for Last.m4p Even though my wife’s not the biggest fan of this song, I’m sure that it had to be in her head in the weeks leading into our first date.
The fact that my eventual wife listened to me, was interested in more than my ability to sound intellectual or simply rolling around in bed with me was significant. That she really cared about what had happened in my family when I was growing up or about how I came to be a graduate student made me see her — and other women — in a different light. I became infatuated with a history graduate student in no small part because she was a history graduate student and funny. My wife was a good listener, had a unique view of life, and could be almost as sarcastic as I was. That she cared about the real me made it easy for me to see her as much more than a friend.
After thirteen and a half years of dating and marriage together, much of that hasn’t changed. I have learned that like forgiveness and faith, marriage is a choice that we can’t take for granted. It’s something that we have to choose every day if it’s ever going to stay fresh, even with the daily grind of routine. I do hold on to the hope that the best is yet to come for us, as individuals and as a family. I guess that helps to make a marriage a good one. Let’s hope that hope and love remain enough in these difficult times.