I thought that by having two handfuls of roommates in college with a diversity of personalities made me unbelievably over prepared for marriage. My level of patience and skills at negotiation were at an all-time high. I was twenty-four, had numerous psychology courses under my belt and thought the only thing needed to make our marriage fantastic was an “I do” and perhaps a few pots and pans.
My first indication that not all would be bliss was when we returned home from our honeymoon to a mound of presents. After opening them and dutifully noting items and givers, we realized we had zero silverware—not even one fork. So, we took our pile o’ gift cards to Bed Bath and Beyond in order to pick up utensils so we could eat without looking like primates.
Right there in the flatware aisle I was given my first lesson in marriage: you’re not as amazingly kind and selfless as you thought you were; in fact, you’re a bit of a selfish, bossy, know-it-all brat. My husband would never say that and in fact doesn’t even remember this even happening but here’s when I was hit on the head with a 2×4 by the Marriage Fairy:
Me: I really like this style, don’t you? *pointing to a set on the second row*
Him: This one looks really nice. *pointing to an incredibly horrid set on the third row*
Me: *staring blankly* Uh, like I said…I really like this one. In my head I was thinking, “I thought men weren’t supposed to care about these things? Can’t he clearly see mine is superior in every way of form and function?”
And so for the last fifteen plus years we have used a set of flatware that neither of us really cared for but was the only way we could agree. We both survived and frankly so few items remain from that first generous gift-receiving time, that I often consider throwing myself another reception just to get plates that match that don’t come from a thrift store.
I wish me now could tell me then to not make the huge and lethal mistake of trying to turn him into me. I would calmly take my twenty-four-year-old self firmly by the shoulders, point her in the direction of the largest mirror possible and whisper “You will never look better. Really. Enjoy your non-bulbous tummy for about a year and a half until it will expand to epic proportions to never shrink again”. But after that lavish pep talk I will force her to repeat after me while staring in the mirror, “This is the only person I have power to change and as such, I will save myself hours of tears and unintended hurt by remembering this daily.” Then as an emotional exclamation point I would leave after saying, “And for the love of Oneida, it’s just silverware. Don’t plant your flag on the battle field for this sweetheart. Save it for what really counts: the toilet paper roll.”
There was a day in the course of our marriage where I let my husband die. Not literally, obviously, because he still sleeps next to me but the husband I imagined when I was too young to drive—the one I thought was perfect and without any annoying flaws or flatulence. The one who would never get frustrated with me or annoyed at our imaginary perfect children. He would think it was charming that I let laundry pile up on the sofa for days because it made it inordinately more comfortable.
Now I’m free to fall in love with the imperfect yet good and loyal man that I married not quite sixteen years ago. The one who helps our daughter with special needs practice her drums, shows our kids how to kick a soccer ball and how to properly poach a hot dog since their mother thinks they’re evil. The one who has forgiven my short-comings and personality quirks since the year 2000.
I feel like this year’s anniversary is bigger than ten or fifteen because this was the year my parent’s marriage came to a dead end and I unintentionally am holding my breath until we pass through this pinnacle year. By doing so, somehow we will have made it work longer and better and I feel at peace knowing my children will not go to sleep at night listening to yelling and cursing. They will not have to see discord, dismay and despair present in their home like an unwelcome family member.
We still have issues. I chronically forget that it’s completely reasonable that he thinks, acts and believes differently than me. I’ve learned to trust more, listen more and recognize that my view of the world is not the singular one and that his ideas and suggestions are just as valid even if they don’t make sense to me. He grounds me, calms me and is always steady when I am not.
And one day when we’re holding hands at our 50th Anniversary dinner, reflecting on the abundant life we’ve had and remark how worth it “It” was—all those years of figuring each other out, making it work, the countless apologies and restarts—I will be grateful it was not easy because the things that are most worthwhile are those that take a good deal of faith, effort, sweat and tears. Life is messy and so is our mottled and mismatched silverware drawer—I’m just incredibly grateful to have someone to share it with.