What Does Marriage Look Like after the Wedding?

Adulthood is relentless


Nick and I have just passed the three-month mark since our wedding. I know that, in the grand scheme of things, three months is not a long time, but having a quarter-year of marriage under our belts feels significant. I keep thinking about whether our relationship feels any different now that we’re legally hitched, but it still seems too early to decide. Relationship implications aside, however, something does feel undeniably different now that the wedding is behind us, and we work on figuring out what married life looks like for us.

I’m goal-oriented by nature. I think in terms of spreadsheets and timelines and checklists. This was a good fit for wedding planning, as the organizational opportunities were practically endless. Everyday life, however–life lived when you’re not working toward a major event or the next big milestone–is a whole lot trickier to organize. Up until now, most of our relationship could be divided into clearly defined phases. We were still in school for the first two years, with life neatly divided into semesters, punctuated by final exams and summer breaks, and graduation looming as the next big transition. The months after graduation were devoted exclusively to studying for (and then anxiously awaiting for results of) the bar exam. Our first big move was next, which led to a year or so of increasingly frantic job hunting, soul searching, and general depression. The second (huge) move kicked off our big island adventure, and we had been working toward our April 5, 2014 wedding ever since.

Now that the wedding was over, I wondered, what phase was this? For a while, I thought maybe we were just in between phases. The engagement is behind us, but our big “next steps” are still hazy future prospects. We want a dog, a house, some kids (not necessarily in that order). We want all of those things… eventually. But these are all long-term plans. There are no imminent goals or deadlines that we’re actively working toward at the moment. Unlike when we were planning a wedding, there is no particular date by which we need to have saved a very specific amount of money, and each weekend is not jam-packed with a list of time-sensitive tasks to be accomplished in a particular order and marked “completed” in a color-coded spreadsheet.

This lack of imminent deadlines made me feel slightly uneasy at first. To soothe my apparent need for structure and quantifiable measures of accomplishment, I halfheartedly threw myself into various social media-driven endeavors like “101 in 1001” and “#100HappyDays.” Nick and I drafted a sort of “local” bucket list, to entice us to try Restaurant X instead of constantly grabbing a pizza from Restaurant Y, and to check out new beaches instead of defaulting to our usual haunts. I designed an ambitious workout chart and perused the recipes on my “healthy inspiration!” Pinterest board. But my heart just wasn’t in it. I wanted to grab a pizza, curl up in a hammock at my favorite beach, and re-read a dystopian teen-lit trilogy for the umpteenth time.

Maybe I was just burned out from wedding planning, I thought. I was sure I’d get back to my ambitious, checklist-loving ways soon. If I had a nickel for every time we uttered the phrase, “After the wedding is over, we’ll…” during the last few weeks of wedding planning, I’d have an absolutely absurd amount of nickels. (Probably enough nickels to get a head start on my “Debt-Free by 30” pin on my “fiscal responsibility” board.) Sure, some of the tasks we had been putting off were pretty essential, and after the wedding we promptly attended to important things like filing our taxes and scheduling long-overdue doctor’s appointments. But some of the things I was sure we’d do after the wedding were strictly aspirational, like working out five days a week, or paying off the car loan before the end of 2014, or finally making that recipe for kale chips. (Kale chips? Lofty exercise goals? This reads more like a list of New Year’s resolutions, rather than a post-wedding to do list.)

Clearly, I had set my post-wedding expectations impossibly high. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that nary a kale chip has been baked here since we got married three months ago, nor have we been sticking to a diligent exercise regimen. I haven’t even bothered revamping my newlywed to-do list to make it more realistic. I’m living a checklist-free life at the moment, and while this new state of affairs may have caused an underlying sense of aimlessness and anxiety at first, I’m starting to kind of enjoy it.

A major contributing factor is that grown-up checklists are really boring and virtually insurmountable. Take the car, for example. The poor car was in need of some serious attention, and we recently devoted a full weekend day to tending to it. We vacuumed the floors to perfection, unearthing enough bobby pins to last me a year and enough sand to start our own private beach. We washed the exterior until it sparkled and replaced the windshield wiper fluid and filled up the gas tank. We even got three brand-new tires. I felt exceptionally accomplished and looked forward to the coming months which would undoubtedly be free of car maintenance.

You know what happens next here, right? First the gas tank needed to be refilled. This much, I could handle. I get that the whole point of cars is that they burn gas to take you places and then you have to periodically replace that gas. It’s a little tedious, if you think about it, but not unexpected. But then the one tire we had not needed to replace the week before suddenly went flat, and had to be replaced. Then one of the tires we had replaced the week before went flat, and we had to get the rim repaired. Then we parked under a tree that apparently contained a large bird’s nest, and now the car is in need of another serious washing. It’s an ongoing pattern in adulthood, it seems. You pay all the bills and balance the checkbook and feel incredibly responsible. You’re basically killing it at being a proper grown up. But then a few short weeks go by, and the process has to be repeated all over again. Adulthood is relentless.

Frankly, it would just be too depressing to regularly plug all these mundane, repetitive tasks into a spreadsheet (even if I do derive an immense sense of satisfaction from decisively crossing tasks off a list). These are just things that need to be done, and it’s easier to just do them and get on with it, rather than scheduling them in a calendar and checking them off as I go. At the moment, there is no big, exciting project or deadline that we’re working toward that might warrant the type of detailed to-do list I’m accustomed to making and executing. Our real goals at the moment are slow, amorphous projects without definitive start and end dates (“Work hard at our careers,” “Start thinking about what our finances should look like now that we’re not laser-focused on saving for a wedding,” etc.).

There will be plenty of tasks later in life that call for detailed calendar entries and color-coded to-do lists. (I am practically salivating just envisioning my future house-hunting spreadsheet.) But at the moment, it seems we’re not in between phases after all–we’re simply living life, unencumbered by a timeline or checklist. Dabbling in one hundred day photo challenges and creating bucket lists might be fun activities, but trying to stick to these endeavors as a way of measuring our progress in life feels artificial. Maybe we’ll visit a new restaurant this weekend, and maybe we’ll finally make our way to that new beach we’ve been meaning to check out. But just maybe. We’ll see.

Featured Sponsored Content

  • STM

    This reminded me of the always wonderful original “Clean All the Things” post on Hyperbole and a Half: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/06/this-is-why-ill-never-be-adult.html

    • Class of 1980

      STM, I laughed so hard I cried. That is brilliant.

    • KT

      i know there was a hyperboleandahalf post this reminded me of but couldn’t find it. thanks!

    • april

      Yes! Was absolutely about to post this myself …

    • Lauren from NH

      Sometimes the most liberating thing is when you say eff cleaning! it’s over rated! I am going to go live, make a few more messes, and live some more!
      The bank though, I can never abandon the bank, the awesome thing is though…it’s on the INTERNET!

    • Lily

      hahaha … I didn’t see yours before I posted the same thing…

    • Hayley

      This is hilarious. “It’s like I think that adulthood is something that can be earned like a
      trophy in one monumental burst of effort and then admired and coveted
      for the rest of one’s life.” SO TRUE.

  • Guest

    “adulthood is relentless.” THIS
    But also strangely depressing?

    • Sara

      I just had a conversation with a friend about how this. We keep saying ‘when things slow down, we’ll do _____” and then the seasons change and we come up with a new list of things to do. The secret to (my) adult life is that it never really slows down anymore. There’s always something happening and then all of the sudden its July.

      • Meg Keene

        Yeah. That’s the interesting thing for me with a kid, which I’ve been meaning to write about. My life feels balanced but like, aggressively so. I can’t even answer personal emails, because my day is so relentless. Family time, kid time, nonstop work time, once and awhile gym time, kid time, family time, David time, BED.

        But. In that aggressive schedule I slow down multiple times a day. Because if I miss this July with the kid, I’ve missed the ONLY July when he’s one. Next summer will be totally different.

        So it’s both insanely jam packed with no real extra time, and full of time to slow down. I do miss time to just… sleep in, or surf the internet, or wander around a store with no real focus. That, I miss.

        • Sara

          I think that my main issues is that I keep waiting for a quiet stretch like the summers from when we were kids. But that type of break isn’t possible anymore – vacations are nice but need to be planned for and are finite, weekends tend to be jammed full of things and chores, other people have needs in your life – kids, partners, friends, parents, siblings. So if you want something other than normally scheduled life or you want to carve out family/me/us time you need to be assertive and FORCE it into your life.

          And man, adult life is so much more exhausting that I ever thought back when I wanted to grow up faster.

          • Meg Keene

            You know what’s sad? KIDS don’t have that anymore either.

          • Sara

            Well, now I’m depressed.

      • Yes – so much of this! We keep trying to figure out when we can make plans with new friends and between work, business trips, getting all of our cats into the vet for annual check ups and vaccines, ball games, concerts, friends visiting, well, I’m just sort of wondering what happened to the year.
        And when I don’t have a lot of plans I feel like I need to have plans, like my life has gotten to the point where busy is so much the norm that unbusy is.. weird.

      • Hayley

        Yes!! Things will never, ever, ever slow down. HOW is it July? Insane.

        • I remember only a few years ago when July meant impromptu BBQs with friends and spontaneous walks around Greenlake (the local park). Now we all have weird schedules, live further away from each other, have kids, are busy remodeling things, or a myriad of other things that make it impossible to see friends and actively do nothing but enjoy the summer. Sigh. And now I can’t even have a mojito (pregnant).

    • elysiarenee

      my exact thoughts!

  • Ella

    I’m not going to lie…now that I’m starting to think about babies, a large part of me is trying to Google spreadsheets on that, too. I had to catch myself a few times…there’s nothing to be gained from Googling “how to make a baby” (um, I know how to do that) or “am I ready for a baby”. But still, my list-making checking-off personality needs something to do post-wedding!

    Good luck with adulthood, Hayley. We’re 9 months wed, and though I did start treating Chipotle like a food group (like I said I would! hooray — and check!) now I have to learn how to take off all this post-wedding weight again…back to scheduling and check-lists, if I can remember how to be disciplined again. :)

    • Shelly

      If it helps, I made a spreadsheet at the beginning of the year (before I knew that I was pregnant, but knowing that I could potentially have a baby this year) with lots of tasks that I wanted to accomplish prior to having a baby. You know, things that are easier to do with lots of free time and on plenty of sleep :-) They include things like digitizing old photos, making picture books, digitally backing up everything on my computer. And then lots of misc. home improvement projects (hem curtains, replace ceiling lights). None of it is terribly exciting, but it can be helpful to have a pre-goal goal. Good luck to you!

      • Unfortunately on our list is – completely redo room that will be nursery including electrical wiring and drywall, neither of which I am capable of doing either pregnant or no.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      We actually haven’t figured out how to make a baby, so our pre-TTC checklist runs kind of like this:
      1. Treat EJ’s sexual dysfunction
      2. Treat husband’s sexual dysfunction
      3. Get husband to read books x, y, z on pregnancy and parenting
      4. Determine treatment for EJ’s PMDD that’s not hormonal
      5. Buy ovulation tracker

      And that’s just the highlights, each step involves researching providers and making appointments and obtaining recommended products and follow-ups. And that’s even without the stuff all super-responsible pre-parents do: vaccinations, hepatitis test, prenatal vitamins.

    • Bets

      No, googling “how to make a baby” doesn’t accomplish much, but I’ve made spreadsheets on stuff to do with my future baby based on how many months old they are. I’ve been reading montessori-inspired baby blogs, which have charts of infant development, and activities/toys that promote the development of certain senses and cognitive abilities. It’s all very fascinating and soothing to my list-making propensities, to have a concrete understanding of how a baby changes month-by-month. I can send you links if you’re interested.

  • Lauren

    i too am approaching our third monthiversary of our marriage. and i am so glad for this post. we similarly met in law school and had each of those periods of our lives with definite deadlines and now… well, now i think i’m settling into some sort of sense of normalcy. thanks Hayley for giving this feeling some words!

    • Lily

      Even now that I am five years out of law school (and my husband is three years out), I still feel like I am JUST adjusting to the relentlessness of adult life and the lack of easy time-markers like finals periods and school breaks. In the back of my mind, it’s like I still think life will go back to “normal” (i.e., school) someday.

      • Hayley

        Man, the absence of time markers is NUTS, isn’t it? I am constantly forgetting what month it is. This probably has something to do with the fact that I now live somewhere without seasons, but still…

  • Katelyn

    Well, APW, it seems you have looked deep into my soul and decided to post EXACTLY what I needed to hear. I’m reaching the 3 month post-wedding mark and am still feeling a bit of the wedding blues. “There’s nothing to look forward to!” I whine, as my husband responds “how about…ya know…marriage??”. We even have our honeymoon in Belgium to go to in the fall, but I’m still feeling sad, nostalgic, and whine-y.

    I have tried writing out to-do lists to slowly ease myself off of the wedding planning hysteria…but these tasks are now “move printer to living room” and I don’t think there’s inspiration to be found on Pinterest for something so mundane.

    But this post was like getting a big hug, knowing that someone else out there feels like I do. I’m not in the same mind space as Hayley yet, but hopefully will be soon. “We’ll see”.

    • Jess

      We are also taking our honeymoon (partially) in Belgium (Brussels, Bruges and I think Ghent) in September! We aren’t past the wedding yet (Sept 13), but just having the honeymoon to look forward to right after hopefully will ease me into post-wedding blues. Hope you have an awesome honeymoon!

      • angy

        I went to Brussels and Ghent for part of our honeymoon – it was great. You’ll love it! Ghent was our favorite, more quaint and relaxing than Brussels.

    • Hayley

      HA! I bet somewhere, deep down the dark rabbit hole of the internet, you can find inspiration for printer-moving :) It’s gotta be somewhere, right??

  • Class of 1980

    Yeah, adulthood is unrelenting. Every new exciting thing you buy has to be maintained. Every worthwhile activity you take on has to be done over and over again. All the papers have to be filed.

    It. Never. Ends. :(

    No wonder people build their lives up to impossible dimensions, only to downsize again. Don’t mind me. I’m in the process of moving for the umpteenth time and want to slit my wrists right now. I’m just bitter. ;)

  • Kae

    Definitely this, right now. Starting to feel the lack of life deadlines unrolling in front of us now and really interested to see how that’s going to feel.

  • Lily

    This is exactly where I am right now. I feel like you reached into my head and pulled out all the thoughts.

    Also, this reminds me so very much of the always-brilliant Hyperbole and a Half: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/06/this-is-why-ill-never-be-adult.html

    • I love Hyperbole and a Half. And it perfectly describes my feelings about adulthood much of the time.

    • Lauren

      What’s with all the Hyperbole and a Half plugs?

  • Kirstin

    This! Yes. We are just approaching the two month mark, and I was just saying that I’ve felt really lazy and unaccomplished post wedding. I don’t miss wedding planning at all, but the order and structure it provided is something that is missing now.

    • Hayley

      Amen to that. I do not specifically miss wedding planning AT ALL, just the structure of it all.

  • rabbitdarling

    Adulthood has been overwhelming me lately. I have felt a lot lately that now that I’m established in my career, there’s not a lot to work towards besides “maybe a raise?” or “Christmas bonus”. Maybe we’ll move next spring. Perhaps job search. I’ve been in search of projects. Finishing books seems like a thing I’m doing, but there’s no real “hurdle” feeling, apart from trying (desperately) to become/remain financially solvent as my Love goes back to school this Autumn and we drop down to 1.25 incomes for a few years. Between car repairs and student loans, I’m left with this sort of irritated malaise, and looking for something to inspire me to greater heights. Reading that I’m not the only one feeling a little listless helped.

  • GA

    I’m coming up on 9 months married. We’re still in graduate school, and will be graduating at about the same time in Spring 2015.

    Everything that was once “after we’re married…” became “after we’ve graduated…” became “after we have real jobs…” became “after we buy a house…”

    I read a quote somewhere that (paraphrased) said, “The present is not just the dress rehearsal for the future.” I’m like you–I plan things to the last dotted i, and after the wedding was over, I lost it all. I’ve basically been drifting in an unmotivated haze for nine months and now I’m trying to get back on the horse. A lot of this is bundled up in my concept of adulthood, I’ve realized. I thought getting married would make me feel like an adult. Now I’m thinking graduating will make me feel like an adult. And it’s a difficult hurdle for me to remember that what I have now IS a life, even an ADULT life, by definition. (I’m 27, after all.) If I sit around waiting for life to begin, it never will.

    • lady brett

      ooh, i love that quote.

      also, i like the idea of “an adult life, by definition” – because people talk a lot (at least in their 20s) about “feeling like an adult,” but those conversations always seem to revolve around the idea that “adult” is some static state of “having one’s shit together.” and while once in a while you might get your shit together, it’s not like you set all your ducks in a row and they just stay there ’till you die (ducks are, after all, wily…plus, you might decide to trade them all for a sheep one day.) so, i love the simplicity of “at a certain age, you are in fact an adult, by definition.” it seems to take a lot of the pressure off.

      • Meg Keene

        ducks are, after all, wily…plus, you might decide to trade them all for a sheep one day.

    • Hayley

      Oh yes. A completely separate post, probably, is that I am becoming convinced I will never ever actually FEEL like an adult, though if I thought really hard about it, I’ve been adult-ing for a good decade or so now.

  • Anon

    Agree 100% re adulthood. When you’ve spent the first portion of your adult life in a sea of goal-achieving and change (grad school, internship, next year of grad school, graduation, post-grad school short-term job), it is really difficult when there’s no change on the horizon and (at least in my job) no immediate defined goals to achieve.
    For me, the few months after the wedding were really difficult — I was tired of planning, worn out of family, and tired of spending money, but it was also like we had no idea what we should do with ourselves now that there was no wedding to plan. Now, about nine months out, things are much better. We have done more more fun goal setting by scheduling weekend trips a month or two in advance (with that money that is no longer going to the wedding) and time with friends or nights out to see a play or concert. Those things help me get motivation to make it through long days at work. We’ve also lately had a lot of fun trying to turn the tables on adulthood (whatever, we’re adults and we’re married, so if we want to eat ice cream before dinner, then let’s do it).

    • Hayley

      I mean, what is the point of being an adult if you don’t eat ice cream before dinner once in a while? The other night I had scrambled eggs and pinot grigio for dinner, and I was like, “this is it. this is what makes adulthood worth it, right here.”

  • egerth

    I spent a lot of time thinking about similar things in the year after I finished grad school and before I got engaged. (Of course, I now have wedding planning to occupy my spreadsheet-loving, goal-oriented self.) I suddenly found I had a job I liked, a partner who I was planning to spend my life with, and a community I felt settled in. I was no longer getting a sense of accomplishment from the firsts of adulthood — the first time I threw a dinner party or successfully used my health insurance. So, now what?

    It kind of set off a whole existential crisis about how I can’t derive all my satisfaction in life from accomplishment, which is pretty much what I’ve done up to now. Set a goal, research it, break it down into a plan, achieve it, and then feel good about it. What I’ve got to try to learn is how take more joy in the now. To try a little more mindfulness meditation and a little less spreadsheet madness. To stop imagining my life will begin after the to-do list is accomplished and start seeing that the to-do list is just going to be one part of the many things I will have to choose how to live with. As always in these moments, I go re-read David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon Commencement address: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/sep/20/fiction. Cause the day-to-day trenches of adulthood aren’t glamorous but how you live them is the whole point.

  • Bets

    I absolutely love your writing… you’re always writing about what’s on my mind. And since most of the time stories stop at “and then they got married and lived happily ever after,” there’s very little written about “happily ever after” looks like. Maybe it’s too mundane for a story… but maybe that’s also why we need to hear more about life after the wedding.

    • MisterEHolmes

      I’m so agreeing with this!

    • Hayley

      Thank you so much! I mean, it IS kind of mundane…sometimes I am writing and think, this is so boring, who wants to read this? But then people write nice things about how they’re going through the exact same mundane stuff, and it’s like OH! Awesome.

  • Rachelle

    So, so much this. LOVE. I am going to read this about 8 more times.

  • bsc

    I whole heartedly agree and was actually just talking about this with my husband yesterday. We’re about 2 months post-wedding and as someone who also lives and breaths checklists, it’s been really nice to to NOT have so many items on them. I recently had a job interview and was asked about my short and long term goals which made me stop and think: short term has been settling into married life and finding our rhythm and frankly, figuring out our long term plan. It’s like we’re standing together at a crossroads with endless opportunities, and we’re not sure where yet to go, and that’s okay for now. We are content enjoying just being without wedding planning and once the next big thing presents itself, we’ll go from there.

  • Lauren

    “…nary a kale chip…”

    I just want to say I appreciate the use of the word “nary” in your post. It’s so underrated!!!

    • Hayley

      I am glad you appreciated it! :)

  • Lyn

    I found this quote looking back at a favorite book in search of a reading for our wedding. It seems pretty applicable to this post:

    “We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.”

    ― Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

    • Hayley

      Oh wow, that is awesome. Yeah, remembering to live in the moment, and also to enjoy those things you worked so hard for once you’ve accomplished them, is tough to remember sometimes.

  • Alison O

    I think determining “phases” of one’s life is sometimes an exercise in “hindsight is 20/20”. It seems like any time can be defined into a phase, but when you’re in it it might not be clear what it is. (i.e. the post-wedding phase where we settled into day-to-day life and learned to savor the present)

  • Your post reminded me sooo much of this Hyperbole and a Half: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/06/this-is-why-ill-never-be-adult.html

    • Granola

      Can i just recommend this 50 more times? Made my afternoon.

  • Alyssa M

    This is actually an issue that I found a solution to long before getting engaged. Post graduation, when I finally had a steady job that I didn’t plan on leaving for several years and partner graduated and got his steady job etc etc etc at first I was like, “YES! I can just LIVE now!” And then I realized that I get depressed when I have nothing to look forward to.

    So I started planning trips and holidays and keeping a calendar of all the awesome things going on around town. I constantly have something (often multiple things) I’m planning for. All of the FUN things from wedding planning are involved in planning for Christmas, just on a smaller more manageable scale. And a weekend trip to the next town totally needs research and pinterest boards. A week long camping road trip for last summer needed LOTS of research… I even made a step by step instruction book.

    The monotony of adult life still needs to be lived, but it’s just kind of background to seasons and holidays and celebrations and trips. Who cares if I need to get ANOTHER oil change because omg fall is coming and when ARE we going to go apple picking! And of course I can’t drive four hours to go apple picking till the car has been serviced!

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I was about to comment about how everyone here must be more balanced than I am. I took 2 months to “settle in” after marriage, and then started looking for a new job. When I got the job, we started looking for a new apartment. After the apartment, it’s babies. I figure a baby creates all its own next projects, and I can stop creating projects for myself at that point.

      • Alyssa M

        I’d say the difference there isn’t that everyone is more balanced, it’s just that you immediately want babies. It’s pretty common these days that people get settled in job, marriage, and housing but still aren’t ready for (or ever want) babies. Heck, my partner and I figured out job and apartment and still weren’t ready for engagement for a few years. That’s when I figured out that I need to be planning something even when I don’t have a “next big step” on the horizon.

    • Yeeeessss! This is my key to happiness – always, always have lots fun things on the calendar to look forward to. ESPECIALLY trips – I read somewhere that planning a vacation can actually give you as much as or more happiness than the actual trip. I can research a vacation destination into the ground, and it gives me the warm fuzzies and makes mundane daily work life a little easier to swallow.

  • ReluctantWeddingPlanner

    Kale chips are really easy to make. You can do it!

  • Nee

    I loved this post! It matched my post-wedding process almost exactly. One thing is, life after marriage feels oddly timeless…Our den, for example, is a perpetual postponement away from being organized. Same with our wedding photos. While Google Calendar now has my laundry/eating/working out schedule updates, other things are in limbo. It’s equal parts exhilarating and frustrating.

  • LMCC

    Hayley, thank you for perfectly expressing my life right now. I reread this post often in this in between stage, it has been very helpful! My mom describes it as “treading water”, which also feel accurate to me!