Life Through Rose-Colored Glasses

Yesterday, Morgan answered a reader question about wedding planning in the face of illness, and it made me think of nothing so much as human resilience. (Having a baby proved this resilience to me right quick—a body can grow to twice its size, produce a new human, and then heal itself? That’s nothing short of miraculous.) Sometimes, we need to clear a bit of space in our day-to-day life for resilience, to allow space for faith in the miraculous powers of healing. And if there is any area of our lives that needs this faith, this hope, and this ability to give things space, it’s our marriages. Today’s anonymous post illustrates that more beautifully than I ever could.


Six years ago, I bought a small tea rose plant from the clearance rack. It didn’t look like much—branches, some leaves, a mostly dead flower or two—but I picked it up with optimism, hoping that it would start to recover once it had a drink and got in the ground.

It didn’t do well with the shock of transplant, though. Some leaves fell off; the rest were more than a bit… sad. I realized that recovery was going to take a while, if it ever even happened. Months later, I was excited, and also surprised, to see some new leaves come out. Then more leaves, until it looked like a respectable (albeit extra-diminutive) tea rose plant. Maybe soon, flowers?

Then it got run over by the undiscriminating weedwacker of our rented apartment’s landscaping company, along with our tulips, hostas, and lilies. (“Why did you mow down our flower garden?” “Weed, weed.” “Those were not weeds!” Not a good day for either communication or plants.)

I figured it was dead. After all, the plant had only just recently put the effort into re-establishing itself, and it had now been entirely chopped off; nothing visible was left but a splintered greenish toothpick of a stem sticking an inch out of the ground. But against all expectations, it came back—tentative branches, tiny baby leaves, growing into a beautiful, lush, green little plant. Only to be weedwackered down again. (Note: The landscaping company has either improved in their botanical identification, or possibly has just gotten a bit less weedwacker-happy in general, and has not leveled even part of our flower garden for two whole years!)

Then, it came back, and with it, after its first few tentative leaves, one bud, which eventually unfurled into a flower. A flower! After the entire plant had been chopped literally to the ground, twice, it didn’t just settle down to grow leaves for a year and attempt to recuperate, but it actually flowered. I was stunned. Another year, and it flowered over and over and over and over again, all summer long. Bare survival had seemed entirely impossible when I had first looked at the razed ground post weedwacker, but now this little plant was flourishing.

Then some sort of mold took hold; the plant shed all its leaves down to bare twigs in late summer. I thought it was probably dead this time. Although I now knew this plant could survive pruning to a remarkably drastic degree, disease can be a different story. I left it in the ground anyway over the winter, looking kind of naked, just in case it could, once again, come back. It did. Leaves; flowers; more flowers.

Now, I have more confidence. It was a bare stick in the fall after the combined forces of, I think, an aphid attack and a new, creative variety of mildew, but at this point, it has proven that it takes a lot to actually kill this plant for good. It’s aggravating when it gets dragged backwards, and I’m happier when it’s a healthy plant producing lush green leaves and flowers than when it’s a mostly dead twig, but now I know that it can recover. It has made it through worse and has come back before to flower and flourish, with more strength from its roots each time. So, once again, it probably will.

Almost nine years into marriage (three moves, several conversational dry spells, many misunderstandings, and a lot of challenging times later), I’m starting to sometimes see new rough patches, like mildew on a tea rose, in the context of past things we’ve gotten through and in the context of the future: the unpleasant parts can get pretty horrible indeed, but we’ve made it through things in the past and have grown together and flourished, so maybe we don’t need to be entirely daunted by this particular adventure. We have been taken care of before, despite ridiculously stacked-up combinations of circumstances, and that brings confidence that we will be taken care of again. We have looked at how we naturally respond (sometimes rather poorly) to certain circumstances, have learned better ways to deal with them, and from that foundation, we have tackled hazards better the next time (usually).

And if we put in the work, this time, to learn and to trust and to build up instead of ignoring problems or shutting down, then we continue to grow out good, solid roots of mutual trust and understanding and communication, so there’s even less fear in the future.

But I still don’t like weedwhackers.

Photo by Corinne Krogh

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  • Smelliott

    Oh gosh. This. This is exactly what I’ve been needing now that we’ve had our first big wedding planning fights (“how can you fight now, you just got engaged!” Sigh). Thank you APW.

    • Manya

      It’s funny, my husband and I had the most giant fight we have ever had (and I hope the most giant fight we ever do have) one week after our wedding –when we were “supposed” to be floating along in a haze of honeymoon joy. Even though we had been together for years already, I think it was the combination of knowing that if I didn’t say this thing I might have to live with it FOREVER, and also knowing that we were absolutely not going to walk away that made that fight happen. It was painful, and I still remember it, but it was also, weirdly permitted by the deep commitment of our marriage.

      So, maybe this is just me seeing it through rose colored glasses, but I think your fight was probably a sign of your deepening commitment to one another.

      Also, I really enjoyed this post. It’s a beautiful metaphor for the ebbs and flows of a long life together (I especially loved the wise inclusion of conversational dry spells).

      • Smelliott

        Thank you, Manya! I kind of expected fighting about wedding planning stuff (how could you not when you’re making some of the biggest decisions you’ve ever made together, about what’s important to your life and your family etc etc), but that whole “you’re supposed to be on cloud 9 right now” expectation makes it confusing. You’re right — you can get mad or fight in different ways when the fear of this fight ending everything is gone. Thank you so much for your supportive words.

        This post is so lovely in that it recognizes (and permits) those fears of “whelp… this is done” and then reminds you that the reason you and your partner are together is because you’re stronger than those damn weedwhackers :)

      • Dodie

        As always, I came here and found just what I needed for the day. My wife and I were married two weeks ago and we have fought more and worse in these two weeks than we have in the 5 years prior. Ugh. It’s nice to hear that we’re not alone and we should come out the other side just fine. :)

  • This is just beautiful.

  • kgoesgallivanting

    That is one resilient plant!!!

  • That was beautiful! The perfect analogy. Put this one in the APW Hall of Fame!

    Also, not a fan of apartment landscaping companies, although in my case it was a leaf blower at 6am.

  • Liz

    This is really lovely.

    The bit about “conversational dry spells” really made my ears perk up – please write about that! My partner and I sometimes just look at each other like, “I know I’m interesting. And you’re interesting. And yet we have nothing interesting to talk about.”

    • meg

      Normal. We go to effort to go on just the two of us dates these days, and sometimes just look at each other. We have lots to say, it’s just that sometimes we’ve already SAID it.

    • Sometimes, if I know we are going to hang out in a conversational fashion later, I will withhold things to say until we sit down to dinner (or whatever we’re doing). The worst is when G doesn’t give us a chance to have a conversation, and then pause the Netflix mid-show to say something and then start it up again before I have a chance to respond.

      • k

        hah, yes. A couple of years ago I visited my cousin in NYC for four days and it was totally the generation gap in action (even though I’m pretty sure he’s technically Gen X too) — he kept offering me his cell phone because *surely* I wanted to call my boyfriend (now husband), and I just kept saying no thanks, if I tell him every little thing that’s happening now, what am I going to talk to him about when I get home?

      • Mountaindoozy

        I’m the chronic Pause-the-Netflix-let’s-have-a-talk-er in my relationship. On behalf of all of us, I apologize.
        I know it’s an inopportune time to talk, but when something pops in my head I just need it out NOW. Thankfully my partner puts up with it the best he can.

    • This is when I usually start to freak out, as in “OMG we have nothing to say to each other, the world is going to end, I don’t know what to do with my extroverted self” but living with someone who is much quieter and introverted than me I have learned that sometimes it is ok just to be. To sit and stare at each other is fine (albeit a little creepy to others) but it’s ok and sometimes actually nice.

      If I really can’t take it I will pick a subject (any subject, nothing is off the table) and ask his opinion on it even if we have spoken about it before. Usually this gets us somewhere and my extroverted self calms her sweet self down.

    • Cleo

      I can speak to this a little…

      In a past relationship, I had gone through a different sort of conversational dry spell that what I think/hope the OP mentioned. And it wasn’t because we had run out of things to say, but because he wasn’t willing to share something with me that was life-changing/paradigm-shifting to the point where he retreated 100%. Sometimes the only words he said to me for a week were, “I don’t want to talk,” or “I’m busy,” or some other variation. This lasted for 3 months. When he finally came out of his shell, there was no apology or explanation, and he was angry when I asked him how he was feeling/if he wanted to speak about it. Our relationship was never the same.

      My current person and I will sometimes barely make it through half an hour of Wife Swap (which, btw you guys, is a great ice breaker for talking about house rules and parenting and cleaning schedules and gender issues and being mad at narrow-minded people) because we have to pause the show to talk about things we saw on TV or things that happened during our day. Other times, we will be sitting on opposite ends of the couch, him playing a video game and me watching TV (we have two TVs side by side specifically for this, haha) and we won’t speak all night. But every now and then, he’ll poke me and “pretend” he didn’t, or I’ll notice the water bottle he likes to sip from is near empty and I’ll refill it without asking.

      The bottom line is that even though we’re not talking, we’re still connected. And I think the connection is the important part. In my first experience of a conversational dry spell, there were things that had to be said that weren’t being said, and now, it’s just that we’re content being quiet with each other. And that’s nice.

    • KC

      Sometimes, seriously, one or both of you is just too tired/stressed/full-of-other-things/blergh. For, sometimes, a long-ish time.

      But otherwise, if you’re both in conversational “shape” (*both of you* not super-tired, hungry, stressed-to-the-limit, hormonal, time-crunched, etc.), for conversational-dry-spell-breaking, try:
      a) opinions (on songs; on housing density; on the superiority of different vegetables; on what aspects of the world are getting better or worse; something you’ve read recently; whatever)
      b) childhood/before-you-guys-met reminiscences (what was your favorite book/game/pet/food/movie/accomplishment/joke as a kid/teenager? Why?)(note: if you “meet” their nostalgic books/movies/music for the first time, be gentle and communicate clearly about what’s important; some of this stuff will be objectively terrible from a grown-up standpoint, but still has a lot of identity/nostalgia/memories glowing around it. If they’re “meeting” your stuff, be clear about what they probably shouldn’t criticize.)
      c) if you’re not already covering this ground, goals/aspirations/what-you-want-someday[chickens! piano lessons! walls you can paint! – doesn’t have to be serious stuff]/cool-thing-accomplished-this-week/funny-thing-seen-or-read-this-week

      But it really is okay to have times when conversation dies out for a while (usually because other things in life are slurping up all bonus resources for one or both partners). It’s just also helpful sometimes, after you’ve come back up for air and realize you have gotten out of the habit of conversation beyond “household management” stuff, to remind yourself that your partner is nifty and that you are interested in many of the little bits of who they are/were/are-going-to-be, and you don’t know all of it yet. :-)

      (and yes to the previous commenters who noted that it’s nice to be quiet together, too! This is mostly advice for if you feel “stuck” in not really talking.)

    • Teresa

      There is a David Sedaris story (don’t ask me which book…I can’t remember!) about this! He talks about how he and his longtime partner eat dinner at home together, often in a completely comfortable silence, just glad to be in each other’s company. But, when they make plans to go out to dinner, he panics, worrying that if they just sit quietly, all the other people in the restaurant will judge them. So he spends the whole day reading newspapers and searching for fun facts so that they’ll actually have things to talk about in public! It’s hilarious b/c it can be so true! Sometimes, it’s just nice to sit quietly together. Some days, my husband and I can’t shut up, we have so much to say. Other days, we are happy to just sit and chill, without having to say anything at all.

    • Amanda

      One night a few weeks ago, sitting down for dinner, my husband remarked that the house seemed eerily quiet that evening. I looked up at him and agreed – it did seem awful quiet. And then we exchanged a look – *he* wasn’t going to say it, so I did. I wasn’t talking up a storm for once! And he agreed – our dinner time is usually a chatter fest (with me doing most of the chatter). For once, I think I just ran out of things to say? We smiled and enjoyed the silence. But it got me thinking… what happens when the silence sneaks in *too* often??

    • Gillian

      Yes! This honesty makes me feel so much better about our own ‘conversational’ dry spells – I used to worry about what they meant – this post and thread make me feel better already!

    • Quiet times and dry spells in conversation can be such a peaceful place. Once I get past my moments (or days) of freaking out that we have talked about everything there possibly is to speak of and we have run out of topics (and are doomed to repeating the same things for the rest of time) I notice how comfortable the silence is and it reminds me that we’ve built a really strong foundation already.

      Then someone we know will do something crazy, or we’ll get mad at politicians, or there’s a new episode of Doctor Who and it’s like we never had a dry spell to start.

  • I completely love this post. I’ve been gardening a lot lately, I think there is great therapy in digging in the dirt and watching things live and grow. Despite how finicky roses supposedly are, they always seem to come back, with or without black spot fungus and surviving aphid attacks. One year I didn’t get a single bud on our huge climbing rose, but it always comes back. It’s a beautiful metaphor for the resilience and dedication of marriage. Thank you.

  • anon

    Conversational dry spells are what Harry Potter is for :) Or maybe I’m a huge nerd.

    • OMG, I’ve been obsessively re-reading the series and conversational dry spells are non-existent in my relationship so getting my chatty hubby to hush because I’m feverishly finishing book 5 and want to start book 6 before bed, is a real struggle.

      • Smelliott

        Omg, have you listened to the HP audiobooks yet?! BEST THING EVER! Jim Dale, who reads them, is amazing, and I keep listening on the train on my way to work and it’s awesome. Super highly recommend!

        • Actually found book 4 free streaming online and enjoy falling asleep listening to it…

        • Sarah

          Argh, I accidentally reported your comment trying to hit exactly. Sorry moderators! But YES, Jim dale is absolutely amazing narrating HP.

  • Sabrina

    I think this is a great reminder that growth can’t happen with out some pain. The set backs, the arguments, and the tears can all be indicators that you’re not falling apart, but growing together. I try to remember that as a child, and in puberty, growth was always accompanied by pain. Sometimes growth just really freaking sucks, but when you get to the other side, and see the results it becomes worth it.

  • I sent the link to this to two of my best friends as soon as I read it, because I see this as applying to people in so many facets of life beyond marriage. I see it applying to me, encouraging me, as I fight through the after-effects of a life of abuse, and the now-effects of a life suddenly ravaged by intense chronic illnesses and pain. Weedwhackers, indeed… But I’ll come back, I’ll flourish, and I’ll bloom again. Probably even more profusely than before!

    I’m very grateful for perspectives such as this one that encourage us to keep going through the bad while we cherish and anticipate the good.

  • Yes! My goodness I needed to read this. Thank you. I was remarking to my mother-in-law the other day (who is a wonderful, godsend of a woman) that people say that marriage is ‘hard’, but I don’t think I ever really understood what that was like until I was in it, and it’s scary! It’s nice to know that it is just a season, and as we grow as people, our marriage will continue to grow and flourish and shed its’ leaves, too. Thanks, APW. :)

  • JC

    SO relate to the Landlord’s Indiscriminate Weedwhacking! They took out LITERALLY my entire garden a few summers ago. And I also have a fairy rose that had been hacked down to a nub (by the landlord) and is now three feet tall – and only because I have pruned it incessantly. It really is amazing what we can bounce back from!

  • What a really lovely post, thank you xxx

  • RJ

    Interesting fact: Roses not only survive hard pruning – they *need* hard pruning to flourish! Cutting them back much much harder than you would think is necessary, really helps them.

    There’s another metaphor there somewhere!