"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Unexpected Lessons of Marriage

As my husband and I get closer to the one year mark in our marriage, I have been thinking about how quickly time passes, and how much has happened in such a short time. It is hard to believe that we have been married almost a year, and together almost two.

Rarely a day passes when I don’t think about all the times in my life that I have settled. I think that word could describe a lot of my life—settling for some friendships that weren’t good for me, settling for treatment from my parents- my father in particular- that I should never have accepted, and mostly settling for relationships where I wasn’t valued, respected, or even really loved.

I think about all those times now, because I am no longer settling and I realize what an incredible, life-changing feeling that is. I wish I could take hold of all the young amazing women out there and make them realize that you should never settle—not in your career, in your family, and especially not in your relationships. I gave up on finding love because I believed that I had outrageous ideas about what it meant, when really, somewhere along the line, I had whittled down my expectations to be so low, that being generally respected and treated well seemed a far-fetched fantasy.

It still amazes me that at work I could talk to a room full of board members, company officers, and management members, suggesting new ideas that I had come up with, stressing my opinions, and handling tough questions with ease, but in my own personal life, I could not take up for myself when someone was treating me like crap. But, I see it with a lot of women—I don’t know why we sell ourselves short, but we do.

I have also realized in the last year how strange and wonderful it can be to live with someone after more than twenty years of living on my own. I have learned to sacrifice and compromise, not in a bad way, just in a normal co-existing way. It hasn’t been easy as I am stubborn, impatient, and did I mention stubborn? Luckily, my husband meets me equally on all fronts, and has also had to adjust to an unfamiliar new way of life—but one that we both want and delight in.

After a lifetime of feeling that I really could only count on myself, to actually let someone in on the times I am weakest is odd and amazing. I cannot believe how much I am myself now, more than I ever have been—hiding nothing, expressing practically everything, and feeling no worries or self consciousness. It is liberating and a lot of times—amusing. One particular thing, that I can’t believe I am about to share, comes from the freeness of living on my own for so long, with only my animals to witness my antics.

I have this habit of…dancing. Not necessarily to music, not at appropriate times, not expectedly. It happens, oh, when I am standing with the refrigerator door open, trying to decide what to choose for a snack, or when I am loading the dishwasher. It is not pretty or choreographed dancing; it is some Elaine Benes-inspired shaking and spazzing that my husband says he now believes is completely out of my control. It just happens, and sometimes I catch myself, but most of the time Shea will jolt me out of my dancing by saying, “Right here”—to remind me that there is indeed another person in the room. Luckily he finds this endearing, and enjoys my embarrassment more and more each time.

But what this has taught me is how right we are for each other, and how truly comfortable and happy I am with Shea—and with myself in this relationship. It has been startling for me to realize that after twenty some odd years of dating, I have never felt so comfortable, so real, so much myself, and I have never really been myself. That’s scary to realize. For so long, I felt I had to be some ideal person/girlfriend/woman, and molded myself to fit what I thought that was, or what the person I was dating thought that was. It is astonishing that it never really dawned on me to be myself—and that maybe that was enough.

I am sure through all those faulty, short-lived, painful, and doomed relationships I had moments where the real me surfaced, but I know that even in longer term relationships, it never felt like this.

Having said that, we do argue- intensely- usually about the stupid things married couples do. I have never had the foundation I have now. Even within my family, I grew up believing that things were so shaky, that one person might leave at any moment—and more often I just felt forgotten in the struggle. Fighting or arguing scared the hell out of me because to me it meant loss and abandonment. This continued throughout all my relationships as a learned behavior. If a boyfriend and I were fighting, even if I was 100% right and it was something I should have fought or defended myself for, I was so reluctant to stand my ground for the fear of feeling it pulled out from under me. I gave in or panicked and back pedaled often just to make it stop. In the end, all I knew was nothing was really better, and I wasn’t being left or abandoned, but I felt incredibly alone.

In watching my friends go through ups and downs in their own marriages over the years, I have given advice, parceling out strong opinions and shock at how angry my friends could get over their husbands not handling a chore they had asked for, or forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning. Then on the other side of the coin, I would talk to my guy friends about their frustrations with their wives, again lecturing them on overreacting and not appreciating what they had. It is so funny how little you know until you are married. For the most part, we both try to take care of each other, but the little annoyances and grievances are there, and I have thought about my advice many times and chuckled to myself. You just don’t know until you are in it how difficult it can be at times, especially since we both had our first marriage at 40 years old, after a long time of being set in our ways.

What I love though, is that we are able to patch things up, usually make each other laugh, and feel stronger after. I know this is our first year of marriage, and this is the “honeymoon” phase. But we have also had to deal with some huge issues- painful, stressful family issues that we shouldn’t have had to deal with- but we have. And I know in my heart that if we can get through this in our first year of marriage, with all of the other “normal” adjustments, we will be fine. For a very long time.

This morning, we went to church for the 11:00am service. I have been honest with my husband about my struggles with religion—what I believe and what I struggle to believe. For my own past pain, for the pain we have both endured in the last year with family issues, for the pain I see in the world, and in my friends lives…for the randomness of lives taken, and repeated tragedies befalling the dearest people… I can’t always make it make sense. I can’t always believe there is a reason or a plan.

But as I sat in a pew this morning listening to hymns sung quietly in the small church where I became Shea’s wife, I knew more than anything that I had no doubts about how solid our marriage is and will be-- no doubts about how beautiful and perfect that November day was when we got married.

And most of all, no doubts about the man sitting next to me.


Eva Gallant August 29, 2011 at 8:49 AM  

What a beautiful post! The fact that you spontaneously break out into dance says how happy you are, and I'm glad for you!


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