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.

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