I'm not an easy man to get along with much less be married to for twenty years. At least I’m the first to admit it, though, right?
Yes, indeed. I’m short tempered, blustery, prone to long periods of dark brooding in which my silence can be taken as anger and my moody, monosyllabic grunting can be taken as a dislike for the person asking questions. I get depressed sometimes and am prone to pessimism. I don’t like to go out as often as some and I’m extremely and vocally opinionated. I’ve been known to burn a few bridges to make a point and my bluster is somewhat legendary.
Though I’m also a funny guy to be around, fiercely loyal, loving, kind and generous to a fault. I also know which side my bread is buttered on and that means praising the woman who shares this life with me. In short I am imperfect.
23 year ago, after yet another relationship tanked, I figured it was time to give up on serial monogamy and play the field; I was 23 so it was time for me to have some fun and hang up the needy, “wanting to get married too soon” act that drove women away and just hang out for a while.
Then I met her and she changed my life.
Talk about a whirlwind. She said if I didn’t call her after our first date she’d kill me. My laughter got choked off in my throat when I realized she was kinda serious. Within two weeks I knew she was the woman I would marry - had to marry. I mean I felt it in my bones like I was coming down with something bad.
And I was.
Love. True love.
No. Listen. Hear me out.
Not the endorphin chemical high shit from John Hughes or weepy romantic movies but the kind where that person has your back and you’re solid and comfortable yet you still light up when they walk in the room even if they were just bugging you about leaving your socks on the floor or how the dishwasher wasn’t run last night. I’d found my soulmate despite not wanting to.
And for a few years I made her pay a little for that by being wishy-washy about settling down and getting married. All I can say was I was young and had a specific idea about what I was going to do and she came along and had a different idea. After a weird period of non-committal living together I saw her with my niece and nephew and remembered what a friend said. “You want to see if a woman is right for you? Then look at her parents and see if you can stand to be with someone like that at their age. Then watch how they are with kids.”
Well her parents were healthier at 70 something than most people are at 50 something. And she was amazing with kids.
So I married her twenty years ago. It was a blast and the pictures show it.
Now the 20th wedding anniversary gift has traditionally been china (more recently it’s become platinum but I’m sticking with china for the sake of this storyline). China comes in many different shapes and size and will last a lifetime if you treat it right and take care of it. You can use it over and over again but be careful how you handle it because one false move and it shatters. If you’re lucky you can glue it back together and use it again. But if not you might as well sweep the shards into the trash and let it go.
My wife likes to tell the story often of a woman interviewed on the radio about her extraordinarily long marriage. “What’s it been like?” asked the announcer. “Well,” replied the woman, “Some years were good. Some were not so good. It was good for ten years or so. Then it wasn’t good for a few. Then it was. Then it wasn’t. Kid of like that.” I suspect the announcer was looking for some deep, homespun wisdom and may have been a bit disappointed at the woman’s response.
But it’s really the case with us. We’ve been through hell and back, quite honestly. Love, loss, sadness, anger, enmity, joy, pain… Did I mention loss? We survived running a business together and that nearly did us in, not to mention killed me in the process. Got out a few years too late and I think I’m going to always be recovering from what that did to me. We’ve got a beautiful daughter who is the sum of two people who love each other fiercely and I sometimes wonder if the kid gets that that’s why she’s the way she is.
I’ve had people question me along the way about why I’m still married after all we’ve been through. And I’ve wondered that quite a few times myself. Alice and I, well we’ve both had what we think are inexhaustibly good reasons to kick the other out and move along. But after twenty-three years together and twenty of those in the bonds of holy matrimony we still haven’t despite the fact that quite a few couples who got married before and after us have long since split.
And I often wonder why that is.
Like I said I’m loyal. But not in a “kick a dog that comes back to lick your hand” kind of way. If someone screws me over they’re done and gone. I’ve got no time for assholes. But for those people who’ve done right by me and stood by when no one else has, when no one else believed in me or the things I’ve said I would do or dreamed of doing?
Well for them I’m in it until the bitter, bitter end.
My wife Alice is one of those people.
During some of the bad years I was ready to get divorced about once a day, then once a week, then once a month. Despite that I was willing to come back and talk things out, get down and dirty and up to my elbows in bloody muck so I could get back to the truth about us, about our relationship and what it is that made me love her in the first place.
What is that?
Well she’s got an amazing laugh; it’s a good, snorting, hearty laugh the kind that’s considered unpleasant in a woman but she doesn’t care. She loves music - good music - and has seen bands I can only dream of seeing live. She loves good books, movies and art. She’s been supportive since the beginning about my music and writing and she’s one of my harshest critics; Alice is unwilling to let me suck if she can help it and make me work so that my music and writing shines. She’s gorgeous and looks it even when she says she doesn’t. Alice is an incredibly devoted mother which I never doubted she would be. She’s amazing with our daughter Sophia in ways I couldn’t even imagine being able to summon if she weren’t here with us. She’s smart. Really smart. I love that she’s one of the smartest people I know with a brilliant, unceasing questioning mind who at the same time doesn’t really care about politics or current events because it’s not what really matters to her.
Did I mention she’s also hot?
Because you get tempted to stray in this life even if your partner is a total dish. Look at Brangelina for God’s sake! Others cross your path sometimes and you may want to wander and follow them. You pine and lust for them because they are all the things the person you’re with is not. They are unknown and in that unknown, that void, you create them as the solution to your problems. They’re the shiny new thin you need to put things right. So you dream up an imaginary life with them where you let what you have shatter so you can pick something flashy and new up instead.
You might consider going off on that route but at the end of the day does will that new person get you? Will they believe in you when you’re sitting broken on the floor unable to conceive of another day let alone trying to muster up the wits to consider what to have for dinner? Will that new strange flesh cleave to yours as it grows older, wider, less supple? Will they be there for you in the darkness or will they run the first moment the light falters?
As I said I’m loyal. People might say loyal to a fault. During some bad years in our marriage many chimed in about what to do. Many cut us off and haven’t spoken to us since then for their own perverse reasons (to them I say a hearty and well considered “Fuck You, Hypocrites!”). Many said I could do better, that I should get out and cut my losses. Few said stick with it and ride it out. I listened to the latter and made myself willing to hear and say what I least wanted to in order to become most clear about what I wanted and needed. We rode through that storm and came out the other side together, intact and married. Nothing shattered though I’d be lying if I didn’t see a few cracks that could use a little glue and filler but nothing too fragile either.
Look, at the end of the day a marriage works when you work at it, when you keep it running, safe, nurtured and maintained. It’s not a “set it and forget it” type of deal. If you want easy you gotta earn it. And I’ve proudly earned the right to call Alice my wife through thick and thin. Because I know she’s got my back when everyone else seems to be painting targets on it. And if this thing breaks then I know who’ll help me fix it up again.
So in closing: I love you, Alice. Happy 20th Anniversary!