I’m late posting this, but JC and I just celebrated our tenth anniversary. It’s sort of hard to wrap my mind around—hard to believe it’s been 10 years already, and hard to believe that I was ever not married to him.
This year is a bit of a double anniversary; we started dating in 1996, so this fall, we’ll have been together for 20 years. Crazy.
People ask me, sometimes, whether it gets boring having basically just one partner for my whole life. The short answer is no. The longer answer is, I haven’t had just one partner.
Several years ago, my friend Anna Maria wrote a short piece of fiction about a woman who was attending the funeral of her 14th husband (or something like that. A big number.). She describes each of her husbands in sequence, and then at the end, you find out that they were all just the same man, over many years. Because they both grew up and changed and followed new tracks over the course of their life together. I loved that story, because I knew exactly how that happens, and I loved how she articulated it.
Just today, I said to a friend, “Who hasn’t had that bad high school boyfriend who treats you in some way that you look back and think, ‘Why did I put up with that?'” I realized after I said it that it must sound odd to my friend; she knows that I only ever really had one high school boyfriend. But it was true. There was stuff that happened between us that no one should put up with from a partner! So I did have a bad boyfriend, at times. With time and distance, I can say that our relationship crossed the line to abuse more than once. I also had a super great boyfriend, most especially when I stood up for myself. I learned a lot from my bad boyfriend experience, as anyone does. The difference is that I ended up staying with him, but on my own terms. It’s complicated.
It’s like the way you might feel about a family member (not a romantic partner, but a cousin, maybe). Someone whose bad times and wanderings you remember, but who you’ve seen grow into a pretty great person. New people they meet wouldn’t believe the struggles in their past, but because you knew them through all of it, you can hold all of that in your heart at the same time and still love them. It’s a richer way of knowing someone.
But it’s also more complicated.
A lot of people I know got married the same year as we did. Their tenth anniversary posts on Facebook are just adorable. They’re very sweet and they talk about being married to their best friend and how they’ve had this amazing journey together.
On our anniversary, Facebook helpfully showed me all the anniversary posts I’ve ever made. The tone is…different. In more than one, I said, essentially, “I made a big gamble X years ago. It seems to be working out so far!” And maybe I’m just more honest than other people, or maybe our relationship is just complicated by its length. Maybe because we didn’t meet as fully-formed adults, our history of being teens together mucks up the sunny feelings I should have when I think about our history.
Many of you know that JC had a brain injury when he was young, and the upshot of that is that he went through a time in his late teens through early twenties when he had lots of mood swings, memory blackouts, and other weird stuff. About a year after we got married, he was diagnosed with a seizure disorder, got on some medication for that, and finally became a pretty functional adult. But at the time when we got married, I didn’t know that that was where we’d end up. That whole first year, waiting for a diagnosis, I didn’t know what would happen. Brain injury/seizure was the best-case scenario.
Even after he was on medication, it still took a long time for us to adjust. His brain had a lot of learning to do, as the medication opened up a whole new group of emotions that his injury had basically blocked. Figuring out our relationship, which had been one way and then became something quite different, was challenging.
And then once we worked through that a bit, we had kids. And life became even more complicated.
And all of this sounds so dire, but there’s this other thread, too. We truly were in love with each other from a very early age. We had all kinds of fun together even when I had a bad boyfriend (bad boyfriends can be fun!). We had a strong core of connection that is the thread that runs through the past twenty years and ties it all together. We do, indeed, finish each other’s sentences (and sandwiches). We are nearly through watching Parks and Rec, and the joke is that our marriage is a Leslie Knope married to a Ron Swanson. We laugh at that show in part because it’s written like a brick house, and, at least equally, because of our shared, goofy, specific history.
JC has always supported me in doing pretty much whatever I wanted or needed to do. When my job was making me crazy, he told me to quit it. When I wanted to come to Michigan to direct a play just because I really wanted to, he told me to go for it (and then again, and again, and again). When I want to take risks and go on adventures, he’s right there with me. I love sharing parenting with him; he’s a great dad. After Petra was born, I remember looking at JC and her and Silas and thinking, “We have assembled the team. These are my people. Let’s do life.” And truly, I can’t remember any time since she was born when I’ve felt very out of sync with him or wondered what in the world I was thinking in marrying him. So maybe instead of a tenth wedding anniversary, I’d be more unequivocally happy to ignore that and instead, celebrate the fourth anniversary of our team formation this fall.
When I look at the photos that Andy took at our wedding, there’s part of me that is surprised at how genuinely happy we were. Because everything before it was so tough, and a lot of what came after it was, too. But that day, we were incredibly happy. It was good. And those good days made all the other complicated stuff manageable.
The past 20 years, on balance, have been more good than bad. I’m glad for the choice I made, even though I see that day as a crossroads in my life, a time when I had to take a deep breath and a big leap, and hope I’d be okay. It could have gone unbelievably badly, if JC were ever so slightly less of a great person.
And I was okay, and we were, and we are. Now, more than ever before, we are a team. We’re figuring out life together. When I think about our past, I have some deeply mixed emotions. But when I think about our present, and our future, I’m just happy.
Over the past decade, I’ve somewhat regretted our decision to write our own vows; I’ve heard other people talk about how going to weddings, when they hear the couple repeat the more traditional marriage vows, they remember and recommit to their own. I’ve not had that experience at a wedding. Yesterday, I saw the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company do As You Like It at The Rose, a sort-of replica Elizabethan playhouse. Our wedding vows included a line from the end of the play– “To you, I give myself, for I am yours.” (The other part of them was from The Merchant of Venice: “Myself, and what is mine, to you and yours is now converted. I give them with this ring.”). And I had a little piece of that feeling, as I always do when I see this play.
And that’s one thing that hasn’t changed in nearly twenty years. Always, always, always, I am his.
So beautifully nuanced, Alisha. I think that any marriage that, at any stage, can be viewed as successful, is one that has harboured the pitfalls of life and still on balance, feels right for the two people involved. Look forward to more of your posts. Suzie xxx