Have you ever unexpectedly ugly-cried after a movie? I watched a movie recently where the stars had to lay aside their relationship in order to achieve their dreams. As the credits rolled, I surprised myself when I let out a full-body “UGH!” My husband turned to me to share what he liked about the movie and I couldn’t speak, waving my hand at him and sputtering, “Not yet.” When we got back to the car I started making guttural keening sounds like some kind of melancholy walrus.
Later that night, I woke up around 3 a.m., still physically disturbed. Why had this movie affected me so much? Good grief, it was winning all kinds of awards and everyone was talking about how wonderful it was. What was wrong with me?
I ached for the characters, that they could achieve their dreams, but not with each other. That in the middle of so much gain, they experienced a loss so deep they carried it with them forever.
It’s a lie we buy into all too often. Go out and have your fun before you settle down with a family. Don’t get bogged down in a relationship. I’ve got to arrive at a certain place in my career before I can think about marriage.
I think about what my husband and I would’ve lost if we’d let that thinking pull us apart.
We’ve been married almost 17 years. That number feels too large, like we couldn’t possibly be old enough. Seventeen is the kind of number that middle-aged people have under their belts. And then I remember that I’m turning 40 this year and he’s already there.
We were tiny babies when we met and fell in love. I was a freshman in college and he was a junior and I knew immediately that I wanted to live my life with him. He made me laugh and challenged me and fought back against my aggressive opinions with a twinkle in his eye.
When he graduated before me and went off to the big city to find his way I thought I lost him. I thought there wasn’t room for me in his aspirations, but we made a way together. I bent and made room for his dreams in a city that didn’t feel like mine. And then he bent for me. He did double duty with kids while I flew around the country signing books. He has the company he built from scratch and I have the writing I’ve always loved. Our dreams are bigger because we’ve dreamed them together.
Of course, this is just our story; it’s not for everybody. But when I see this choice — relationship or dreams, I want to whisper gently into the void, “Sometimes you can have both.”
We are older now. Seventeen years and three kids will do that to you.
There are changes. This is the part of life when we notice changes. His beard is turning grey and my face seems to be sliding under my chin and collecting around my jaw. We don’t wake up so dewy and fresh, but sex is better, because if you do anything with the same person for 17 years, you’re going to become somewhat of an expert.
So much of the first half of our marriage was obtaining children and staying connected on little sleep. And now as these kids we scattered about our house grow into snarky humans, we find ourselves turning inward to one another, co-captains of a team of unruly wise-asses.
This middle part of marriage seems to be all about finding each other in the middle of chaos. On the way to cross-country meets and cheer practice and swim team, we find quiet moments in the eye of the storm to drink coffee in the minivan and talk of dream vacations and real work projects. In the middle of dinner clean up and spelling quizzes we kiss in the kitchen and illicit exclamations of, “My eyes! Ew no!” from our battalion of loveable miscreants.
We still dream together. Always. What will we do and where will we go and there’s no question that we’ll do it together, because achieving anything without him is losing everything of real importance.
There are few fancy dinners and fewer weekends away, but we have plenty of time here, in the midst of the life we made. We make each other a cup of coffee or fried egg and lock eyes and it’s enough.
Hollywood musicals and bestselling romances can’t sway me away from the contentedness that comes from 17 years married to my best friend. And I write this after yelling at him over a burnt stovetop yesterday. We disagree and clash and have different ideas about problems but we stay in it and eventually we always re-up, we always choose more, choose us, choose to stay and stay and stay and dream together.
There is no amorphous what-if or other person’s Instagrammed bouquet on Valentine’s that can move my heart from right where it is, smack in my not-perfect but nevertheless wonderful 17 years.