Friday, September 9, 2011

Anniversaries, Part 1

This post is about my wedding anniversary, which is today. My next post may be about that other anniversary that everyone is thinking about this weekend, though I'm not sure if I'm going to put that day into words.

On September 9, 2000, Jim and I were married in my sister in law Patti's pre-Revolutionary barn in Exton, Pennsylvania. Our wedding was tiny- there were 40 people there- and a decade-plus gone by means that a handful aren't living anymore. Jim's father, his Aunt Dooley and Uncle Tad, and the sister who hosted our wedding in the first place, have all passed on.

So, this Marriage Thing. I was always an independent soul, and have written a lot about growing up with a single mother, and the added responsibilities of co-raising my little brother. Our home was as love-filled as a home ever could be, it was just structured in a different way, without a marriage to watch and learn from day in and day out. However, there were marriages that I witnessed over the years which meant more to me than I realized at the time, particularly my stand-in New Mexico grandparents, Bob and Marylou Mayhew, who used to take us to their Taos cabin when we needed a getaway. When I was 12 years old, Bob taught me how to catch rainbow trout and gut them, a skill that I used to impress Jim during our first dating days. Their names ran together: "Bob and Marylou."

I've heard that marriages that do best happen when one spouse is from a broken home, and the other is from a stable one. I can see why this is the case: the stable home gives you something to model up to when times get rough, and the broken home allows you not to take your stability for granted. Now that we've been together for 15 years, 11 of them married, I have some of my own ideas about marriage that have evolved with our relationship.

The most important epiphany to me has been to understand that you can't expect your husband or wife to give you everything you need to make you happy. That's lazy, and it's not fair. When we planned our wedding, I'd read that you should pick two things that are most important to you to spend your wedding budget on. We wanted to 1) serve a beautiful meal and 2) take a memorable trip together. We did both, and we filled in the other spaces with frugal creativity and other people's unwavering generosity. The dishes we used at our wedding were our family's China sets that we dusted off and put to use; antique pink roses were bought in bulk from a flower market the day before and kept in the cool spring house next door overnight; my mother in law sewed dresses for our flower girls; and a photographer cousin's gift to us was a set of professional photographs.

Over the years, the two things we've come to prioritize, and these developed as our lives and needs changed, are freedom and travel. Our freedom comes by making daily lifestyle decisions, like driving used cars, wearing what we can afford, and living in a small space (the smallest space within both of our families, actually). Who said "More Rooms, More Problems"? I loved working full-time, but when I did I wasn't free. When CosmoGirl folded, my whole world opened up by being able to structure my time differently, and my relationship with Jim and Jamie blossomed in ways that I couldn't have predicted. As far as travel goes, our last two summers in France required frugal creativity (apartment swapping), and I love that I'm married to someone who thinks it's as important as I do to show our kid the world and see new things whenever possible.

We also know better now than we did when we married that life is fragile. Since 2000, we've seen relatives we love die of cancer, and I nearly died when I was pregnant with Jamie. When that happened, all of our little problems fell away and we had to pull together and be strong to get through it. There was some depression, and I rose up to treat it. We forgave each other for not necessarily being our best in those hard times. How could we be? Jim was there to take care of me in ways that I wouldn't have wished upon him on my dying days. That's another story I'll post some day. Those are the times that show you someone's true character, and I'd happily put myself in Jim's hands if my life depended on it, because I already have.

We've now been together long enough to have seen many marriages crumble, many of them couples who met and courted around the same time that we did. These events shake me up more than they do Jim. Jim's parents met when they were teenagers and stayed together till the day he died, but I lived through, first hand, what can happen when they crash and burn. Some were family, some were friends, and all had to go through unimaginable struggles in different ways. But in 100% of those cases, friends and family have seemed healthier and happier cutting themselves free from their chronic unhappiness. I've been surprised to learn how constant the pain had been in those marriages; you never know, after all, what goes on between two people behind closed doors. Those marriages went down in the flames of substance abuse, love affairs, lack of personal growth or room for new challenges, or bitter disagreements that became so infected the marriage had to end before healing could take place. I don't believe people should stay married if they're chronically unhappy. For those who say they "Stay for the kids," how is it good for the kids to see the two people who are raising them be miserable? I've done my best to honor those relationships that have ended by learning something from each and every one of them.

If I were writing this as a formulaic service piece, I'd end it with this "Bottom Line": Keep growing, or perish. I'll try if you try, but as Bruce Springsteen said, "If I should fall behind, will you wait for me?"


  1. Deep sigh. Smile of congratulations. Love to both of you.

  2. Congratulations, Rachel. Once again, an exquisite essay. Bravo.

  3. Happy, happy anniversary, dear Rachel. Abrazos, too, to Jim and Jamie. Loved this piece.

  4. Beautifully said, Rache - love to you both.

  5. I loved reading this. I have similar thoughts about my own marriage- 8 years now.

  6. Happy Anniversary and many more. Beautifully written.