Is this what you expected?”
My husband will ask me while we’re both elbow deep in Mr. Bubble, scrubbing three squirmy, slippery kids. I’ll ask him when we’ve both collapsed in bed in front of The Office reruns at 8 p.m., or conversely, while making a 2 a.m. pot of coffee as we churn out yet another freelance project. Sometimes he’ll just glance over at me with a raised eyebrow, and I’ll know he’s thinking, “This? Is this what you expected when you signed up for a lifetime with me?”
We’ve been married just about nine years, and nope, nothing about it has been what I’d expected. On the good days, one of us will say, “No; it’s better.” On the harder days… still nope, just without the saccharine endnote (maybe sub an eye roll).
A Straight Path
I sort of pictured marriage the way it’s always been described, as “settling down.” I thought of my young life as so full of potential, opportunity, even adventure. Marriage meant not just choosing one straight path, but easing into the cozy comfort of predictability. Putting to rest all of the different possibilities in favor of one clear, calm choice.
That’s not really how it’s worked out.
While the years B.M. (Before Marriage 💩) held so much potential, they truly were a plodding course along a predictable route. School followed by college followed by some underpaid internship. First this step, then the next, and the one after that. There were, of course, the unknown variables, the unexpected heartaches of devastating breakups, the highs of expectation and the lows of disappointment. But all of this was within neat boundaries, all with a support net underneath.
Caution: Curves Ahead
These married years have held the biggest plot twists of my whole life. Surprise babies, unexpected unemployment, twisting and turning career paths have all been par for the course. There hasn’t been a single year of these nine that ended on the path it started; New Year lists of goals and expectations are usually straight up laughable just a few months in. And even still, I know that I’m not alone in feeling this way. If anything, my twists and turns are mild compared to some my friends have faced. Infertility, illness, divorce.
Barring the really dark surprises, I know the unknown can be exciting for some, but I’m a planner. I live and die by my calendar, budget, to-do list. Nothing is so comforting as a tidy little roadmap, goals and expectations and concrete steps to get there. And the thing about surprises is they’re impossible to plan for. They un-do all of those lovely little bullet lists and Pinboards.
RemapPing after unexpected turns
The only benefit has been having Josh by my side. He is the opposite of a planner. He can roll with these unexpected punches, because, frankly, he hadn’t really thought about what was coming next, anyway. Annoying and frustrating as that can be, it’s helpful when things pop up out of nowhere and he can handle it with level-headed ease. It balances my need for order. And I’d guess that if he were writing this right now, he’d probably acknowledge that that’s only possible because of the generous foundation of planning I do to help us get there.
Of course, he adds his own set of variables. Some of that unexpected unemployment was his. Those surprise babies? He did his part.
But, I realized how much I’ve grown, how much things have changed, when we faced yet another unexpected curve in the road this summer. After some really hard conversations about our budget, our living situation, the practical realities around us, we decided we’d have to stall our family planning, maybe indefinitely. No more babies for the foreseeable future, and since our youngest is already two, who knows if we’d ever get around to it. It was sobering, but at least we decided and knew and could move forward.
Navigating a New Course
Then, of course, as you already predicted, I found I was pregnant with baby number four. And unlike the previous surprise babies (I know, it’s actually getting pretty ridiculous), there was no lazy, late renewal of birth control, no night of irresponsibility to blame. We didn’t know where this baby came from (I mean… we knew, but…). And rather than wallow over my dashed plans, I straightened myself up, I scrapped the old, now-useless to-do list and started a fresh one. Phone calls to insurance and gynecologists, surfing Craigslist for a crib (of course we just got rid of all the baby things, right?), making lists of what we’d need to buy and to do. But also scrambling to undo all of the decisions we’d made. Time to find a house and a van. Time to loosen up some of the professional goals I had planned. We completely shifted course in a matter of hours, and I was surprisingly… fine? (And nauseated. But mostly fine.)
Married life has held all of my biggest surprises. But it’s also granted me the balancing force to face them. It turns out that marriage—that settling down itself—isn’t what offers stability. But if you’re lucky, it’ll offer you a partner who can help you face all of the instability. Maybe that’s the same thing.