Fifteen years ago, I made the decision to drop out of college after only one semester. I planned a wedding in six weeks, packed up my bedroom, got hitched to my high-school-sweetheart-turned-military-man, and headed out east to begin my new (married) life.
I had no idea what the hell I was doing, but I figured once I was with my guy, we could figure it all out. Right?! Because getting married at 18 couldn’t possibly go wrong. We were in love.
Well. It turns out that love isn’t enough sometimes. It turns out that when you veer off your own path in an effort to join someone else’s, it can seriously eat away at you for a decade. Or more. And even though you made that decision, you can still become incredibly resentful. And that doesn’t always end well.
Thankfully for me (and him), our story has a happier ending. But it took a lot of work. It took ten years of depression and then a transformation within myself to realize that my past choices don’t necessarily dictate my future. It took a revelation to see that my husband isn’t responsible for my happiness – I am. It took changing many of my habits and allowing room to really discover who I am and what I enjoy for me to see that despising myself and my existence wouldn’t get me where I wanted to go. It took realizing that work needed to be done, I was in control of my own situation, and there was hope for a brighter future.
But in addition to all of that, it took knowing that I really and truly wasn’t alone.
I’m proud of the struggles we’ve faced and the hardships we’ve worked through. I had a long road ahead of me when I began to emerge from my depression, and I needed his support, encouragement, and love. One of the reasons we have a successful marriage is that he was there – willing, ready and able to provide everything I needed.
I’ve been anything but a perfect wife, and he’s never gonna be the perfect husband. But every single year, our marriage is a little bit better than the one before. We have fought to get where we are now. It hasn’t been easy, and I have muttered the “D” word more times than I’d care to admit. But I feel like our situation is proof that sometimes, it’s worth wading through years of “meh” or downright “ick” to reach the bliss. (To be fair, I gave him more years of “ick” than he gave me “meh”.)
As a teenager, I never understood how a couple could “grow apart”. How does that happen? Why were my parents so worried that our love might not last? You know when you love someone. You know when you can’t stand being apart. How could that possibly change?
But I get it now. We made it through that depression-filled decade, but there were more potential roadblocks in our future. James and I have done more growing in the last five years than I ever imagined possible. I’ve discovered a love for adventure, a craving for difficult challenges, a desire to help others, and a need to feel accomplished on a daily basis. The problem is that I don’t like doing things alone. It scares me. It gives me anxiety. But James’s presence has always tempered my fears. It’s weird, I know. I’m a grown damn woman. But he’s been my best friend for more than half my life. It makes sense that I would enjoy everything a little more when he’s there to share in the experience with me.
And here’s where that growing apart thing comes into play. What if his personal growth led him in a completely different direction? What if my newfound love of being in the mountains conflicted with his (theoretical) desire to attend car shows?
(That’s particularly humorous because the guy doesn’t give two shits about cars.)
But you get my point. What if I had finally started discovering what brought me joy in life, and it completely turned him off? That happens. I know it does. I think it happens a lot, and so when I think of how James has supported my individual growth, I realize his own has been complimentary to mine. He’s much more laid back than me. He can hang out at home on the weekend, and he has no need to go and do and accomplish all the things. He has a good career that makes him feel productive (most of the time), so he isn’t antsy when he’s at home. How do the youngsters say it? He’s chill.
But not me. Remember how I don’t like to do things alone? Well that means I have long to-do lists and lots of plans when my guy is around. I want to go-there and do-this and plan-that-thing-for-next-month and while we’re taking a three second breather, “Let’s-talk-about-our-future!” I’m so excited and there’s so much we need to hash out. Let’s do it all rightthisminute! I wear the poor man out. I really do.
However, my happiness makes him happy. Seeing the fire in my eyes doesn’t frustrate or annoy him. It invigorates him. It makes him breathe easier, because it makes him feel like he’s doing his job. I simply need more than he does, and I’m starting to understand that it doesn’t mean I need to be different – it means we’re a perfect fit.
And we’re learning to work with each other’s strengths instead of expecting change that will never happen. It took me a long time to see that constantly badgering him for Christmas ideas or expecting him to plan date nights didn’t create harmony in our marriage. He’d rather I buy him nothing, and instead give him an extensive (and fool-proof) list containing gift ideas for me. (I still buy him things, I just don’t expect his help with it.) As far as date nights? It turns out that I’m picky (shocking!), and I really like the planning process. He can’t reach into my mind and pull out what I’d like to do most. But what he can do is take my idea and work out any details I’d rather not handle.
Nearly eighteen years into our relationship, and fifteen into this marriage, I finally know that I can’t make him someone he’s not – anymore than he can mold me into someone else. But the best part is that I now realize the things I love most about my guy are the antithesis of who I sometimes think I want him to be. He can’t change depending on my mood – have you ever met a laid-back hustler? Me neither. So I’ve learned that we can compliment each other without completely altering who we are. I can bring the big ideas and he can help with the follow-through. Our roles work perfectly together.
One of the most momentous things I’ve discovered is that being happy with and having confidence in myself is paramount to a happy marriage. When I’m down, he hurts two-fold: he hates to see me sad, and he feels guilty for not being able to fix it. That doesn’t mean I just put on a happy face and fake it for him, but it does mean I try a little harder to get out of my own way when it comes to feeling joy. Sometimes I realize I’m just being pissy for no reason – and it makes a visible difference in my interaction with him. And when I’m feeling insecure or having a frumpy day, my instinct is to brush off his compliments. I spent years wishing he would look at me with googly-eyes, and I thought his inability to do it was because of my size. But the truth was that I blew him off at every turn – why would he keep at it? Now that I feel confident and secure with myself (mostly), I don’t brush him off. Usually anyway. I try really hard to hear him when he reminds me that I’m perfect in his eyes. And it helps. It helps our marriage and it helps my self-esteem.
We are still growing together – as parents to our three children, as fiscally-responsible adults, and as adventure-seeking, life-loving human beings. We each have our own interests, and our lifestyle provides time for it all. (I’m sitting here blogging while he watches football.) But when it comes to the big stuff, we support each other and beyond that, we jump in with both feet so we can really feel the entire experience together.
There were a lot of years that could have sent this relationship in a different direction, but I’m incredibly proud of us and our perseverance. I’m 33 years old, and I’ve been married to my best friend for 15 years. A decade ago, I wasn’t sure we’d make it here. I definitely didn’t anticipate the happiness we’d be experiencing. And I have no fear about what we’ll do when the kids grow up and we’re once again just a duo. I know we’ll be okay, because we genuinely like each other. We genuinely enjoy each other’s company. For that, I’m thankful beyond words.
Happy Anniversary, James! Thank you for honoring, respecting, supporting, and loving me through every step of our journey together. I couldn’t imagine having a better partner by my side to experience this life. I love you!