My husband and I have been married for 15 years today and we have been together for about 17. We had better weather 15 years ago because we got married in Kauai on a beach with just a priest and a witness, who was also the photographer. It was the picture perfect wedding for us – no rituals, no ceremony, just a good time and just us.
Marriage has not been so perfect…but it’s the imperfections that have made it interesting.
My mother used to tell me that marriage is like being in a storm. Those who are out in the storm want to get into the house because they think it’s safe there. While those who are in the house want to get out because they’re worried that the roof will fall on top of them.
In an old Hindi movie (one of those art film types) a woman says “Marriage is throwing two people in a box and letting them rot in there.” While someone once told me that marriage was maybe throwing two people in a box with enough oxygen for just one.
There is so much conversation about marriage around us. It used to be simpler. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They live happily ever after. Or as they did in India: suitable boy meets bride-to-be in a safe and monitored setting. They get married. They live happily ever after.
The statistics they say are grim as half of all marriages apparently end in divorce. And then you ask the question: are the other 50% married people happily married? Is this statistic really that grim or should we celebrate that half of the people who got married but left their unhappy marriages and are happier single? Or are they?
According to research done by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (I know this is pro-marriage research), both men and women have higher life expectancies when married than those who are single or divorced. But only about 60% of married people say they are happily married – which means there is a large population of married people who are going to live a long but unhappy married life.
Nearly 40% of married people admit to have had an extra marital affair according to a 2012 research. (Source: Associated Press, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy). Most of the reasons given for extra marital affairs and this is based on anecdotal research as well seem to be: unhappy in marriage; generally unhappy; bored in marriage; no sex or bad sex; fell in love with someone else…
I postulate that one of the problems with marriage today is media. Not that you watch a rerun of NYPD Blue at midnight instead of doing the horizontal mambo with your better half – more that media portrays marriage to be an all or nothing situation.
Take Grey’s Anatomy. Everyone is beautiful and everyone is always having fabulous sex. No one is having bad sex. Sure they get divorced but only if the marriage is movie bad – and when it’s really bad it’s divorce bad and if it’s good it’s perfect.
Young girls want to be thin because they want to look like Megan Fox on the cover of a magazine. Married people want to have celebrity marriages. They want to have happy movie marriages. They want to be like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, always looking great even though they have so many kids – while normal people with kids look like something the cat dragged in. They want to have date nights like movie stars because as long as you have a date night once in a while you’re keeping the marriage alive. I mean it is working for Kelly Ripa, isn’t it?
When I was younger, I used to think that marriage could not and should not be work. Marriage just had to work on its own. I already have a job, thank you very much. But as I grow older and my marriage grows older – I realize that this thing takes work and effort. That marriage is not all or nothing. That the easiest thing to do is become complacent and just let it hang around and pepper it with family stuff and say “life is happening” when people ask you how’s life.
Someone I knew once told me that he had reasonable expectations from his marriage. He equated it to being a supermarket. You can get everything there but if you want a really special wine or cheese or piece of meat, you have to go to a specialty store. That’s his theory of marriage and by and large he’s quite happy in his marriage and occasionally nips out for some specialty food.
My husband and I have been married for 15 years. Have they all been great years? No. Have they all been complete crap? No. I’m sure anyone who has been married for a few years will relate. Marriage is like life. All my 38 years haven’t been fucking fabulous. And neither have they been spent in a hole of depression. But by god it’s been pretty good with the occasional not so good.
I heard this somewhere – a couple married for 25 years said, “The key to being married for a long time is to simply not break up.”
I think it’s a cute line but this “we’ll never break up” business is the first step toward full-on complacency.
I believe and most will not agree with me that it is healthy to think “It’s good now but I don’t know if it’s going to last. I would like for it to though.” Which means you’ll put in extra effort into the marriage. Imagine if you had a job and no matter what you did or didn’t do you wouldn’t lose your job and you don’t even have to go through the miserable yearly development talk. What kind of employee would you be?
Marriage is not easy. I hate that it’s not easy. I had this fairytale idea of it being easy and problem-free. But fifteen years have gone by and both my husband and I have grown and changed and matured and grown wiser in some ways and more stupid in others. But the one thing we’ve always had going for us is that we can talk – about the good, the bad and the ugly. We can tell each other the horrible things we think (or do/did) and we can share.
I have always believed that marriage is a pooling of resources – that I’m more than I would be if I was single – emotionally, professionally, as a parent, financially….
And I am better off. I would not have become a writer – the published type, if I wasn’t with my husband. He has pushed and prodded and cajoled and threatened and been there each time I have stumbled and has helped me pick myself up and dust myself off. I believe I have done the same for him (and if he doesn’t think so, he should write a blog about it).
But it doesn’t come easy. The key to being in a relationship for a long time is not to not break up – it’s to get through the not-so-great things and do it together. It’s not to fall for the romance of marriage but realize that shit’s gonna hit the fan sometimes, whether you like it or not, and it’s then you need to hold hands and bring out the mop and clean up together.
Society as a whole is having this romance with marriage. People will look at me when I say that my husband and I have been together for 17 years and say “Wow” like it’s an achievement. Is longevity really that impressive? Is longevity a sign of happiness? I don’t think so. Success is having one person in the world that is always on my side.
My sister once told me that she loved me and that no matter what, she’d be there for me. “If you killed someone, I’ll help you move the body.” That’s having someone on your side. I have that with my sister, but I also have that with my husband. So if I did kill someone, I’d have two people who would be accessory after the fact.
I don’t have the answers. And I’m no expert – being married only once and not yet divorced. What I do know is that we all have to decide for ourselves what it means to be married. But I also think that it’s important to know that marriage is not panacea. It’s not the cure for all our maladies as so many people think. Not everyone needs to be married and not everyone should be married. We have evolved as a society and we don’t need to mate and procreate to have meaning and purpose. We can live good and worthy lives without ever having a marriage or children.
Marriage is a second job. It’s not going to work on its own. It’s like a shiny red Ford Mustang. As it gets old it needs to be babied and cleaned and taken care of and maybe the seats need to be fixed up once in a while. At the end of the day it’s like Shirley MacLaine says in this really bad movie with Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Costner, “Life is short, marriage is long, so drink up.”
Cheers! Here’s to another 15 years of imperfection.