The other week, I went to dance class for the first time in years, after having two babies back to back. I was hoping for anonymity as I worked my way back from inflexibility, so I blocked out the possibility that anyone in that class might recognize my face. But of course, in a room packed with women of marriageable age, that was not to be. After class, drenched in sweat and lamenting not warming up properly, I heard, “Hey! Are you Meg Keene?” and saw the smiling face of a woman telling me she was getting married in August.
“August is the best month for weddings,” I said. “We’re celebrating seven years.” I saw the ‘holyshitsevenyears’ look on her face, and realized just how fast it’s flown by. “Blink your eyes, and suddenly it’ll be your seven-year anniversary,” I said. “In your thirties, life just happens so fast, and it flies.”
And so, here I am. Seven years from the day we stood up and made those vows. Seven years from marking my wedding day on the Internet. Seven years since we made those seven circles around each other. The seven-year itch. The mystical wedding number of seven, contained in so many ways, in so many ceremonies around the world.
Which leads me to wonder what I’ve learned in those seven years (other than understanding marriage is an impossible task). Because while they may have gone by in a flash, they contained multitudes—two books, two kids, two deaths, two careers. They contained triumphs and tragedies, and everything in between. So without further ado, here is my best stuff so far.
1.Kids don’t ruin your marriage. When we got married and having kids suddenly seemed to be the done thing, I panicked. We agreed not to revisit the question for three years, and to just live a little as a twosome. Of course, life being life, three years later we had a bouncing baby boy, and two years after that, we had an adorable baby girl. Because, you know, I love my husband a lot, so I was worried that having kids would destroy what we had together. And while kids are hard (see below), as APW writers had previously predicted, having kids didn’t ruin our marriage. As it turns out, there is no one else on this earth who loves those two kids as much as I do… other than David. If I want to wax poetic about the baby’s chubby legs, or laugh about the hilarious thing our preschooler said, nobody will get it like he does. There is nobody else who would unquestionably throw themselves in front of a truck or a bullet for those tiny humans. And the only person they love as intensely as me is him (and each other).
2. Life is hard; your relationship shouldn’t be (you know, most of the time). Like pretty much everyone else, I spent my early years in emotionally… complex… relationships. In a society that glamorizes the types of relationships portrayed on Sex and the City, I think this is pretty much par for the course. And sure, I had the dramatic-sounding relationship with a drug addict in high school. And while it had all the ups and downs of an Ani DiFranco song, he was fundamentally a pretty nice kid. But then I subjected myself to the relationship with the “nice guy” in college, who I don’t have a single kind word for, all these years later. At some point, I read an essay on the Internet where someone said, “The right relationship isn’t hard,” and something clicked. And my relationship with David always had a sense of ease to it. Sure, we fought. But there was never drama, the kind where you just were not sure how it would work out. We’d been best friends before we got together, and we fundamentally just got each other. Even though we’d been together for five years when we got hitched, it’s the last seven years that taught me why this ease is so vitally important. Because life is hard, and it’ll get you one way or another, no matter what life choices you make. We’ve battled serious depression, a baby with colic, major family issues, the death of David’s father from cancer, the unexpected death of my grandmother in the same week, two kids under three, and very little sleep… and guess what? As we age, life will continue to get more difficult. So having a fundamental base of a (usually) easy relationship we can turn to for support? That’s vital. Which doesn’t preclude the fact that…
3. You will have bad years. My mom always told me, “Forget good days and bad days; marriages have good years and bad years.” And boy is this important to remember when the sucking just won’t stop. Or as my grandmother used to say, “People always ask me how to stay married. The answer is, don’t get divorced.” Which isn’t to say that divorce isn’t the right answer in some situations. But even in good marriages—the long, mostly happy kind—there will be years when the way you stay married is simply by not walking away. (And probably by going to couples therapy, too.) Sometimes, marriage is staying because you said you would, and having faith that better times are coming. (If better times don’t arrive, then by all means, on to Plan B.)
4.There is a reason people say that you marry the family too. Because those family issues that show up during wedding planning? They’re going to be sticking with you for the long haul. If your spouse isn’t talking to one of her parents, if a sibling has an addiction, if your in-laws are controlling, if one of you was badly damaged by your childhood… you’re marrying all of it. Sure, you get the hot guy or gal, but you also get all of their history, and all of those complicated family relationships. As you go through the process of forming a family unit of your own—whether it’s just the two of you, or you add tiny humans to the mix—you’ll have to wrestle with the truths about your families of origin. And for many of us, that process is messy (and may require some professional help).
5. Marriage gives you a way to create the family you’ve always needed. Maybe your childhood was perfect, and you’ve always wanted to grow up and have a home just like the one you grew up in. If that’s the case… go you… and marriage can let you do that. But for everyone with more imperfect childhoods, getting married gives you a chance to write the rules yourself. You’re a grownup now, with your own family, and you can do things however you want (as long as you and your partner agree on it). And if you bring tiny humans into the mix, you can use that chance to heal even more old wounds. Because you don’t have to parent how you were parented. This is your family, and you can consciously create a whole new set of rules.
6. Forgive constantly (mostly yourself). I’ve been working with my coach recently on the idea of constant forgiveness. It’s so easy to get caught up in the last mistake you made, or the last thing your partner did that made you mad. So I’ve been working on a new way of processing my emotions. Step one (of vital importance): Feel the damn feeling. Don’t shame yourself for being jealous, or petty, or lazy, or just flat-out mad. Let yourself feel it. Swim around in it. Enjoy it. Step two: Let it go and forgive yourself and/or your partner. They screwed up. You screwed up. You had a bunch of feelings. You felt them. And now you can move forward. Or as my preschooler said to my husband the other day, “Daddy. Mom was up all night letting you sleep while she took care of us. So she woke up feeling tired and mean. It okay.” And you know what? It was, in fact, okay.
7. Be kind. This post started when I decided to do something nice for David, because damn it, we were celebrating seven whole years. We recently did a post for Ink with Intent, a company that creates beautiful ketubot with custom text. Seven years ago, David and I had written out the language we wanted on our ketubah, and the agreement we really wanted to make for our marriage. But then we couldn’t find a company that would allow us to use our custom language (without, you know, having a bathtub full of money). So this year, when I realized Ink with Intent offered that option, I really, really wanted to get the ketubah we’d always wanted made, and give it to David as a surprise for our anniversary. So I worked with Adriana of Ink with Intent, who ended up creating a custom anniversary certificate for that mystical seven-year anniversary. I hacked into David’s email to find the ketubah text we’d written all those years ago. And now, in the middle of a fight, or a rough patch, we’ll be able to look on the wall and see exactly what we agreed to all those years ago.
I’m pretty sure David didn’t get me anything for our anniversary this year, but that’s okay. (UPDATE: he made secret dinner reservations!) I’m giving him a beautiful anniversary certificate, just so he knows I love him. It’s the same way that I try to thank him every night when he makes dinner, or he thanks me for getting up at night with the baby. Or he brings me random presents, when he finds something he thinks I’ll love. Because it really is those little kindnesses that matter over time. The world is hard, but the two of us can create a sanctuary together. (Plus, we’re sending the kids away for the night, taking two days off work, and just being adults together. After seven years of ups and downs, and never walking away even on truly bad days, we’ve earned it.)
This post was sponsored by Ink with Intent. Ink with Intent creates simple, contemporary, colorful ketubahs and Quaker wedding certificates that are inclusive of all couples. Ink with Intent offers a range of ketubah and marriage certificate styles, from abstract to nature-inspired to designs featuring a city that’s meaningful to your relationship. Or if you have something specific in mind, you can contact Adriana for a custom design (and the custom designs are totally worth it, you guys.) Custom ketubahs and marriage certificates begin at $400, or you can customize one of Adriana’s existing designs starting at $250. Click here to browse the whole collection and get in touch with Adriana today!