Gabriel and I used to argue about whether the first or the seventh year of marriage was the hardest. Gabriel said it was the first. I argued that it was of course the seventh. I thought the logic was that people get bored in their relationship—the magic has worn off and they suddenly wake up and their marriage isn’t what they wanted it to be. Now we don’t argue about it. I just hope and pray that Gabriel is right and the first year is the hardest, because this year was hard.
Gabriel and I lived together before we were married so it wasn’t the initial shock of odd bathroom habits, or lack of housekeeping regimes that was difficult for us. Gabriel already knew that I cannot help but collect an insane amount of dishes in our bedroom (I like to eat in bed—sue me). And I knew that when Gabriel has a cold he carries around a roll of toilet paper, blows his nose and leaves a trail of tissues. We’re disgusting. We were prepared for that. I was not prepared for the slow, brutal reveal.
Gabriel and I have always had an extremely shared life. Even when we were in the early dating stages we over shared our hearts out. We talked about our childhoods, our embarrassments, our deepest fears and dreams. We knew each other. Or so we thought. I now think of marriage as the big unveiling. All of our selfishness, anger and hidden darkness has slowly been seeping through and it has not been pretty.
“Most people live for 10, 15 even 20 years in ignorance and denial of their true selves. You’re hitting your midlife crisis early, which just allows you to embrace reality that much sooner!”
I almost don’t buy it. I want to fully accept Gabriel. I want to allow him to be his broken self, just as I want to be fully loved despite of all of my junk. But I’m also a little annoyed that I didn’t get my 10 years of blissful ignorance. I sometimes wish we still had our darkest closets closed and unmentioned so we could enjoy a few years of happily ever after, before we woke up and realized it was all a myth. I desperately wish I was one of those magical women who could bounce back from disappointments, or “surprise changes” as they might optimistically call them. But I am not. I flounder. I wiggle and flail and throw a fit as I try to super glue back the broken pieces of my expectations.
But maybe expectations are shitty ways of controlling and manipulating people.
Our counselor gave me this quote from Jean Vanier to mull over:
Happiness is accepting and choosing life, not just submitting grudgingly to it. It comes when we choose to be who we are…choosing life as it is, with all its joys, pains and conflicts. Happiness is living and seeking the truth, together with others in community… One of the great difficulties of community life is that we sometimes force people to be what they are not: we stick an ideal image on them to which they are obliged to conform… If they don’t manage to live up to that image or ideal, then they become afraid they won’t be loved or that they will disappoint others. So they feel obliged to hide behind a mask.
In any case, community is not about perfect people. It is about people who bonded to each other, each of whom is a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, love and hate. But there can only be growth if we recognize the potential, and this will never unfold if we prevent people from discovering and accepting themselves as they are, with their gifts and wounds.
There’s a lot that Jean Vanier has to say that I do not like. I do not like that everyone has a right to their own darkness. Not okay. I want Gabriel to be loving and selfless and a servant to God and ME at all times. Period. And he wants me to be available, kind and giving every second of every day. It ain’t gonna happen. We are selfish people stumbling through the life we’ve quickly slapped together.
Thank God we have people around us to validate how hard marriage can be. Thank God somebody said to me, “It’s okay that it sucks today. You can be angry. But it doesn’t mean everything is ruined.” We are learning to find humor in the small things and to pray more and have patience with the big things.
Today Gabriel and I were going to go on a run. We got dressed. Got Theo dressed. Wrangled the dog into her leash and gathered the stroller, a blanket, a sippy cup, my phone and the keys…it was a production. As we were walking out the door Gabriel said, “Hold on one second.” And ran back into the house, grabbed a broom and started sweeping the front porch. I stared at him with my mouth wide open. He knew our messy porch had been bothering me for weeks.
“Babe. You do exactly the right thing, at exactly the wrong time. It’s an art. I love you.” And I went back in the house and read Carry On Warrior by Glennon Melton Doyle until he was finished. Then we went on our run.
We’re learning to wait for each other. Gabriel is practicing being truly honest and hearing me. I’m striving for more grace and less bitterness. We both need more of God. It’s a mess, but it’s okay and tomorrow might look less messy.
Here’s to 50 more messy years, babe.