“Having a great marriage isn’t rocket science. It’s simply a choice.” -Kristine Carlson
Sometimes do you ever look back on certain moments in your life and think, “How did that even happen?” Every once in a while Doug and I will be sitting around reminiscing about a certain date that we went on or something funny that happened once and we’ll stop and wonder how crazy it is that we’ve come as far as we have and how we manage to still appreciate each other’s company. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me, but to this day, I don’t understand how Doug and I stayed together. We met in college – his first year, my second – and two months after we started dating Doug transferred schools. Nothing drastic like out of state or anything, but where we used to be just down the hall from each other there was now a three hour drive in between us. Not to mention a good handful of gas money and the added fun of two class schedules and three jobs to work around. It was a pretty big commitment at the time, especially since we dropped the “L” word the weekend before his departure. We were also in pretty different places, personally. I was an avid binge drinker who spent her mornings oversleeping, afternoons at class, nights serving and afterhours at various house parties testing the limits of my liver. Doug? He had a full time job working for a military contractor, so he was a bit more straight-laced. I tell him all the time that he was essentially a fully functioning adult at age 18. His course load and work load kept him pretty busy and since he was paying for his own apartment as opposed to living on campus like I was, he was more in the market of saving his money while I was more in the market of blowing it. We were so different. How on earth did we make it? For real.
Our relationship for the longest time was essentially just a series of phone calls and emails (Yes, emails. I think my cell phone plan at the time allotted me 10 text messages – including incoming – a month. No joke. Hard times I grew up in.) and a weekend trip once a month if we could find the time off. We were young! We were only at the tip of our independence icebergs! Why did we tie ourselves down so early with such commitment? Such work? There were plenty of candidates of the opposite sex at our respective schools tempting us with their readiness to fill the void, yet we chose distance over convenience. Pretty mature and disciplined, when you think about it. Two things I wouldn’t have classified myself as back then, but here’s the thing…
When I sit around and think about all the drama we’ve been through – some out of our control, some self created – and how many miles our conversations have spanned and how many nights our emotions got the best of us and how many times we thought the universe was against us and things just weren’t meant to be, I think about the things that kept us together. The things that – ultimately – got us to the altar. Those same things are still present in our relationship and it’s those same things that help our marriage thrive to this day.
We’ve always been very good at what I like to call “independent play,” which I think makes us value our “together time” a lot more. When we were doing the long distance thing back in those early dating days, we were able to focus on the things that made us independently happy. You have to love yourself before you can love someone else, right? Well, by having that time to pursue our hobbies and happiness – to be trite – we were able to bring our best selves when we were together. We experienced a lot of things apart, but we also made sure to save some experiences for when we were together. Even if it meant waiting weeks. I remember getting our engagement photos back and how hard it was to fight the urge to pop the CD in my computer and click through all of them with a sappy smile on my face. The anticipation was killing me! But, Doug and I had discussed it months earlier that we would look at them together, so I waited. And waited. And waited. Our schedules proved annoyingly difficult and one night after my impatience and his irritation with my impatience had reached a culmination point, we decided to drive to York (an interstate town halfway between his campus and mine) and meet at the Applebee’s hooked onto the hotel right next to the travel plaza and look at the photos. I remember my mom calling about a half hour into my drive – we left around nine at night – and telling me how ridiculous it was to waste my gas for a late night, down and back trip when I had to work early in the morning, and I agree. It was ridiculous. But, going through those pictures in that window booth while eating french fries dipped in ranch was one of the best times and I still smile thinking about it. Warm fuzzies – I’ve found – are warmer and fuzzier when shared with another.
Communication is another big one. We talk about a lot of stuff. Sometimes heavy, some times light. Sometimes interesting, sometimes mundane. Sometimes we say too much at the wrong time. Just ask Doug. One time we were picnicking at Yanney Park to celebrate our one year dating anniversary (yes, yes – roll your eyes if you must, but it was a big deal back then) and as we were holding up our plastic glasses of champagne that I bullied Doug into taking with us – he doesn’t like breaking the rules – to make an underage toast to our partnered success, I decided to bring up the topic of my serious consideration of studying abroad the following semester. “What if I meet someone while I’m over there and cheat on you?” I actually said that. Out loud. Well, something like that. I suppose I shouldn’t put that in quotes. It may not be verbatim. Essentially though, I said those words. To my boyfriend. Mid toast. During a milestone celebration. No one said I was a master of timing. However, being able to tell each other anything – even when the timing is awful and the delivery indelicate – is important and, think about this: Once the conversational ice is broken – however awkwardly – no topic is off limits. Some of the best conversations are had when the playing field is wide open.
We’ve also developed a “friends first, lovers second” mentality. Doug’s actual words. Which makes sense. I mean, think about it. Before you developed a serious relationship you most likely had built a solid friendship, yes? If you can’t maintain the engine, the car is useless. It’s a challenge sometimes. People in relationships are just that. They’re just people. We’re all weird. We’re all flawed. We’re all selfish. One of the hardest things to accept is that – more often than not – the person you met is the person they will continue to be. Doug will always leave clothes on the floor and stuff on the counter and never tighten the lids on containers or put the new roll of toilet paper on the holder. By the same token, I will never remember passwords or care about learning how to do taxes and always panic and over react when we’re running late and act psychotic when the house isn’t clean. We are who we are and the best you can do is accept each other’s crazy. Friends fight sometimes, too. There’ve been nights where I’ve yelled at Doug until I’ve lost my voice and others where he’s reality checked me so hard all I can do it sit in silence and feel terrible. Disagreements are inevitable, but – with the right mindset – resolvable. Friends also forgive. Not always instantly and not always easily, but eventually and sincerely. I’ve always felt this was one of the things that lie at the heart of a solid, committed relationship and I learned it in the most humbling way.
Somewhere in between our second and third year of dating I had went out to the bar with my roommate at the time. After a decent amount of drinks, terrible decisions were made and – long story short – I ended up making out with a random guy in the parking lot. Doug wasn’t 21 yet, so when I went out he was stuck at his apartment. Well, once we had gotten back to our place I was a hysterical, inconsolable mess. I’m talking instant realization and regret. The next day at work I couldn’t focus. All I could think about was kissing that guy and how stupid it was and how – even if it ended terribly – I had to tell Doug. Well, that night after work I did. I told him that a guy kissed me outside of the bar – “That’s all we did!” – and when he asked if I kissed him back I felt this weight just drop on me – dead weight – and I responded – “Yes.” He stormed out of his apartment, slamming the door and took off down the street. I followed him. He walked for what seemed like forever. I continued at a distance and eventually came to this giant, flooded area of the sidewalk. Doug had plowed right through it, but I stopped just before and as I stood there contemplating how I was going to get around it or over it, Doug stopped walking. I froze. He turned around, looked at me for a while and then came walking back towards me. He picked me up, carried me across the water, sat me down on the other side and said that what I had done wasn’t okay and that trust had clearly been broken and as I started to apologize for the thousandth time he stopped me and said, “…but what’s a relationship without forgiveness?” I lost my shit right there and then, people. He wrapped me up in a hug and I bawled my eyes out. Forgiveness – while not always deserved – is essential.
I hardly have all the answers to a long and happy marriage, but I will say this: I know I've got a good husband and Doug knows he's got a good wife. And, tomorrow we celebrate five successful years of marriage (hopefully I didn't just jinx myself *knocks on wood*). Wedding vows are no joke and promising to love someone through good and bad - to be completely generic - is a daily decision. One that you sometimes come to with ease and one that you sometimes have to force. They say all you need is love? I say love is the starting point. It takes a lot of different things to make it to the end of forever. Encourage each other. Support each other. Be kind to each other. Choose to give the best of yourself daily and some day down the road you can look at each other - hand in hand - and say with a smile, "How did this even happen?"