When my anniversary comes this March, I will have been married 23 years. This means that my marriage is old enough to drink, though not old enough to get a discount on car insurance.
I’ve been married so long it seems like the things that happened in my life prior to my husband’s involvement in it were something I saw in a vaguely remembered movie a long time ago. There are days when I wonder if the secret to a long and successful marriage like ours is “habit” or “inertia.”
My parents were married for 52 years at the time my Mom passed away. My Dad has two one-liners he uses to explain their success. “A good marriage is based on communication,” he’ll say. “That is, understanding that communication is over-rated.” He’s joking, of course, in saying that if you want to stay married you shouldn’t talk to each other, but there’s also some wisdom there if you dig deep enough. You don’t have to say every fool thing that occurs to you out loud. Discretion is the better part of valor. Learning when it is and when it isn’t productive to say something is a neat trick.
It also recognizes that it’s dangerous if your spouse is your everything. I love my husband, and I enjoy his company, but there are lots of things I like to do and say that don’t involve him at all. I have season tickets to the Atlanta Opera, for example, and I don’t even consider taking Mike with me. He considers taking me to air shows, but ultimately doesn’t, a fact for which I am grateful.
My Dad also says, “Marriage ends in one of two ways – divorce or death. Your mother and I chose death.” It’s a neat throw-off line that sounds like he’s accepted a death sentence. But what it really means, I think, is that they were in it for the long haul. Things sucked at times, to put it poetically, but they knew that some days it rains and some days the sun shines, and if they waited long enough, the sun would metaphorically come out. I know because I was there: my mother’s last coherent word was my father’s name.
Sometimes I think it’s familiarity that’s key. Even the irritating things my husband does are familiar. His constant humming. The way he throws himself on the bed in such a way that I fear I’m going to be bounced out. His habit of claiming to be ready to go and then finding twenty minutes worth of other stuff to do while I sit in the car waiting for him.
But it’s other things, too. I know exactly what he’s going to order on every menu I look at. I can give my over-worked filter a rest and say whatever I want to say, no matter how off-key or weird or insensitive it may be. The worst thing that might happen is he gets mad at me, but I know from experience he won’t be if I just wait a half hour or so. I can be unvarnished me without worrying about consequences or judgment.
I can wear holey sweatpants and thirty-year-old t-shirts on the weekend, and he still thinks I’m pretty. Sucker.
If he’s cranky, I usually know why before he does. He’s the weird kind of guy who forgets to eat, or who swears he isn’t hungry or sleepy when I know he is. He fights me like a toddler on those issues sometimes, but I always win, and I’m always proven right in the end.
Seriously, Dude. After all these years don’t you know I’m always right?
I’m right about this much, we agree – like my parents, we’ve chosen death.
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