Well, we’re at mile 14. It’s been a hell of a trip — I’m not going to lie.
We said “I do” on a cold Midwestern Saturday many Octobers ago. We had known each other five years, which seemed like forever. But thinking back, we really didn’t know each other quite yet.
All the real knowing came in those years following. I knew nothing about marriage. All I knew that day was this: I was marrying a handsome, smart guy that I was head over heels for — and I had on a killer dress. I had the “something old, new, borrowed and blue…” but nobody really hit me with the real truths of marriage.
Okay, 14 years is nothing spectacular, but it’s enough time to have realized someone should have told me it’s not about the poofy dress. It’s not about that botched bouquet that came from the florist that made me want to cry. It wasn’t about the songs they played at the reception or the pictures that had to be taken at every angle, and it certainly wasn’t about that obnoxious four-tier Italian wedding cake we served that cost almost as much as a year’s worth private grade school tuition.
Nope, I know now more than ever that a marriage means infinitely more, that true tears and love would come well after that day.
Marriage means staying when it seems there is no hope for reconciliation, when leaving would be the easier option. It means forgiveness in the face of dishonesty and heartbreak.
It means having the dignity to show respect when the other has disrespected you.
It means empathy where there were devastating losses and words of love when your partner is disheartened and doubtful of the future.
It means several different marriage counselors over the course of a decade trying to get that communication thing right.
It means apologizing when you are wrong (but he knows I’m never wrong).
It means laughter when you are completely out of other emotions, like when you’re a new mother so engorged with breast milk and your baby won’t latch and the pump won’t work and you beg your husband to intervene (don’t ask).
It’s believing in your partner when they don’t believe in themselves.
It means having love for your partner in the face of weight gain or weight loss (okay, we all know the latter wasn’t on my end).
It’s about mustering up enough energy to love and care for four children, getting through one more page of impossible homework, or wiping one more poopy butt and still having enough in you to get through bath time and tooth brushing. It’s about having patience with each other during middle-of-the-night feedings with cranky newborns or monthslong 2 a.m. nightmares when someone has seen too many Scooby-Doo episodes.
It’s about resisting the urge to pretend you don’t know your partner when they cheer at the soccer games.
It’s about coping with and encouraging an anxious child, whom you believe is the epitome of brilliance, but who doubts their abilities.
It’s about sharing complete devastation and being a comfort when that cancer phone call comes. It means caretaking and kindness — characteristics you may think you lack — when dealing with your partner’s sickness and despair.
It’s about holding it together when feeding tubes and medicines make you want to cry. It’s about knowing that the same healthy, beautiful, and fun-loving person you fell in love with all those years ago is still inside of the person who stands in front of you today.
It’s feeling a love much stronger now than the butterflies you felt on your first date and deeper than the passion you felt on your wedding night. (Or maybe not because you might have drank too much to realize it, but who’s counting amaretto sours here anyway?)
It’s the joy in knowing you can’t love anybody or anything more — until you look into the eyes of a child you created together.
It’s knowing that those vows you took are truly what you are living today despite all the bumps and detours and minor crashes along the way, that you both are in this trip together, in sickness and in health, good times and bad, all the days of your life.
That is what I know about marriage, and that is all that matters.