Today, my husband celebrated his fifty-second birthday. We will be the same age for the next eighteen days. And then it will be my birthday, and I will be fifty-three.
We have been married since he was twenty. And I was twenty-one. Which means that our thirty-second wedding anniversary is coming up in October.
Can I possibly be writing these unconscionably huge numbers in reference to myself and my marriage? How did it happen? When did I/we become an artifact?
I jumped out of bed this morning and ran to the store for a card. Gone are the days when I could spend half the day crafting one-of-a-kind greeting cards for any occasion, complete with personal photographs, art and verse. After a several-year abstinence from store-bought cards, I’ve had to once again join the crowds of desultory last-minute card snatchers at the supermarket. And I’ve discovered that mass-market greetings have become off-puttingly heartfelt. It’s disturbing to think there is someone, somewhere, whose job it is to try to crawl into the heads of the faceless masses and drag out emotions that may or may not be present. And it bothers me that some of those verses come so close to the mark that it cheapens my personal feelings. Makes them way too pop-culture. Who wants to find out that perhaps her deep, personal thoughts are neither deep nor personal? For someone who fancies herself a writer, it’s even more pathetic.
I came across a couple of cards that talked about “relationships.” Both had verses that described having been through the good and the bad, the awful and the beautiful, the really bad and the really great. Wow! What happened to the mushy old “I’ve always loved you and I always will” kind of thing? This, “Hey, we’ve been through s**t and we’re still together” stuff is a little bit of TMI, especially in a generic greeting card, don’t you think?
But the fact is, it’s God’s truth, isn’t it? If you’ve been married two or three decades, you have been through it. You’ve ridden the vapors of passion to the stars, and you’ve mucked through the mud and the blood. Anyone who tells me that they’ve been married thirty years and been deliriously happy the entire time, never doubted that their marriage was made in heaven and that it would last forever, is either a fibber or completely one-dimensional. It’s just impossible for two people to go through the natural changes of their individual lives and remain in compatible lockstep for decade upon decade. If nothing else, two such similar people in a lifelong relationship would bore each other to death.
No, we’re not the kind of couple (everyone knows one) who can’t live with each other but can’t live without each other. But there have been times of intimate closeness, and times of aching estrangement. Marriage is a life-long quest for the perfect distance. How close is too close; how far away is too far? How do you stay connected without suffocating each other? How do you give each other space without losing touch? Have I learned the answers to these questions in thirty years? Hell f***ing no. There are times when you don’t move, yet one second you’re too close, and the next, too far away.
It’s a dance: He steps forward, you step back. You advance, he retreats. You try to twirl gracefully in tandem without tromping on each other’s feet. You spin off on your little solos from time to time, but stay close enough to take up the waltz again when your partner turns and reaches for you. It never, ever becomes automatic. Just when you think you’ve got to the point where you could do it with your eyes closed and one hand tied behind your back, the music stops and you’re just…lost. But if you’re patient, the music returns. Even if you have to resort to kicking the juke box to get it playing again.
So here’s to those long-term relationships, and those of us who choose to keep dancing with the same partner. It’s not as easy as it looks.