(Photo of Stan & Dayle's wedding rings, by Dayle)
Let me preface this post by saying I don't expect anyone to finish reading this lengthy rambling post about love and marriage, particularly, my marriage, but Sunday, August 8, 2010 marks my and The Man's 30th wedding anniversary, and well, that is a big deal to me, and, as a writer, I tend to write about such milestones, so I did. It was written in spurts, and it shows, but it's all here—the life we’ve known—in some form or another.
My wedding photos all taken by Christopher Studio.
Thirty years ago, Hurricane Allen was scheduled to make landfall in my neck of the woods. It was also the day of my garden wedding. The fact that this hurricane carried my last name was something we laughed about (and still do), but I was praying hard that it not rain on the little wedding party that would gather outside my parents' home in the early evening. And, by some miracle, no rain appeared on August 8, 1980. Nothing but pure sunshine until late in the night, after the newlyweds had said "I do," and said their goodbyes.
Mr. & Mrs.
My favorite photo from our wedding is the one where Stan and I are dashing through the traditional shower of rice from well-wishers, as we head off on our honeymoon. I have big hair. He has big glasses. We have big dreams.
What I knew back then about love and marriage could fit easily on the head of a pin. But that was then. Much has happened in the last three decades. Believe me when I say, I know a lot about this love and marriage thing.
The other day, a young woman in front of me at the grocery store pointed to my wedding band and asked how long I'd been married. When I told her 30 years, she gasped and asked, with genuine interest, "What’s the secret for staying with someone that long?"
Her reaction to the longevity of my marriage wasn’t unusual. People often look at anyone who’s been married for more than a quarter-century as an oddball. And I understand why. The numbers are against you. The alternatives are promoted. Getting a divorce is no longer viewed as something to avoid. I have friends who are into their third and fourth marriages. One of my daughter’s friends didn’t even make it to her first anniversary. It’s no wonder many couples skip the wedding ceremony these days. Watching so many marriages dissolve is bound to have an effect on how they view marriage, in general.
When I married my husband, he already knew the heartbreak and awkwardness of divorce. He'd learned hard lessons and had a clue what to do and what not to do to make a marriage work. I, on the other hand, had no experience being married. I was, in a word, clueless. But we both wanted desperately to get it right. We knew, however, based on the growing trend in the 80s, that the chance of us making it “’til death do us part” was iffy, at best.
As the years unfolded, challenges arose. Life happened. Storms came. At times, our love was tested to the nth degree.
Just a year into our marriage, we were told if we wanted to have a child we should seek the treatment of a fertility specialist. Thus began a long and painful test of our love and commitment to each other. Perhaps it sounds ironic, that infertility could create intense strain on a marriage, but when the desired outcome is the arrival of another human being, and the only way for that to occur naturally is for two people to bring something viable to the table, you find yourself not only leaning heavily on one another, but scrutinizing each other to a fault.
Frankly, it felt like five years on a roller-coaster. Hopes high. Hopes dashed. Up one day. Down the next. To the outsider, it may seem that couples would move closer together during excruciatingly personal trials like this, and sometimes they do; sometimes we did. But there is also a tendency to shrink deep inside yourself, to feel alone, to step back from the other person who is responsible for half of the “baby” equation.
Ultimately, our efforts to conceive were not successful. But little did we know that eight weeks after my hysterectomy we would become parents, through the wonderful means of adoption. It was nothing short of a miracle, and our daughter proved to be above and beyond the child we prayed for. Having her, made the storm of infertility all worth it.
Taken at our baby girl's dedication services.
That is but one example of the many storms my husband and I have experienced in the last three decades. Through the years, I’ve written extensively about storms—both from a marital standpoint, and otherwise, and I’ve always maintained that there is something revealing about braving a storm together. When you lean on each other, you discover not only your own strength, but the strength of your mate, as well. And you discover something else. Storms strip away the counterfeits and the facades, leaving only your real self, vulnerable and exposed. The pretenses are over. There’s nothing left to prove.
I can't say that our marriage has ever been perfect. To pretend otherwise would be a lie. But the seemingly perfect marriages aren’t always strong. Stan and I have watched marriages that appeared to be rock-solid crack under certain strains. The storm proved stronger than the marriage. And I don’t fault those who’ve felt there was no other way but to turn and run. I haven’t walked in their shoes. I don’t know their struggles; that is not for me to judge.
But while I can’t say that our marriage is perfect, I can declare that it is strong. Frankly, I’ll take strong over perfect any day.
So, what makes a strong marriage? I speak from 30 years of experience when I say that you will never know if your marriage is strong, unless it is tested. It’s like being brave. How will you ever know how brave you are, if you never have to be brave? The same with marriages. Just as “perfect” marriages aren’t necessarily strong, strong marriages aren’t necessarily the ones that look pretty and perfect. They are most often the ones with battle scars, and the occasional limp. They’re the ones that have experienced walking through the fire and flood. Put simply, strong marriages are those that have survived, no matter what!
And how exhilarating it is (and that may seem like an odd word to use, but I can think of no better one) when two people come face-to-face with a major threat to their marriage—hurricane winds, if you will—and, instead of running away from each other, they ride it out together.
When this happens—when two people determine to ride out their storms together—they prove something to themselves, and to those who are watching. They prove that storms may come, but they don’t have to destroy your marriage. It’s up to the two of you, whether that happens or not. And for those of you who may say, “Yeah, but you’ve never experienced such and such a storm,” never assume you know what goes on in anyone else’s marriage. You would be dead wrong every time. Things are seldom, if ever, what they seem.
I’ve shared the essay I wrote for my husband in August of 2000, commemorating our 20th wedding anniversary, numerous times since then, and I don’t apologize for that, because it says precisely how I feel about marriage—ours in particular. Ironically, since my husband has retired, it is even more relevant today, on our 30th wedding anniversary, than it was ten years ago. The original essay is shown here (if you care to click on it and read the full piece), but to paraphrase parts of it, the years have taught us that love is not always satisfying. It isn’t always comfortable. I know this even more now. There were times in our marriage when it would have been so much easier to walk away—and times when, I’m ashamed to say, we almost did.
But even when we dragged suitcases from closets and fled in anger, all we needed was time. Time to sit a spell and think about that enchanted summer evening in 1980 when we vowed to be there for each other—in sickness and in health, for better or worse. And it feels good knowing we have been in serious trouble, but did whatever it took to stay together.
Sometimes all it takes to live through a hurricane is being willing to call for help. You wade through deep water and crawl in a rescue boat. You cling to each other and find a safe place until the worst is over. Whatever destruction the storm leaves in its wake, you know that—together—you will summons the strength to repair and rebuild, and you will be stronger for having done it.
Photo of me and The Man, taken by my sister, Gayle, at our 30th Anniversary send-off party.
After 30 years together, The Man and I know how to survive a storm, and I’m convinced that is why we love deeply—we’re survivors. That’s not to say there aren’t days when our love seems elusive. But we don't panic. We understand the ebb and flow of relationships. We love without conditions. We know the tide will turn. We’ve been there before.
So, to the young woman in the grocery store, after a certain point, staying together becomes less about the future and more about the past, about a steady parade of shared moments that slowly turn into years and milestones, bringing comfort and stability that accrues over time.
Step into my home and you’ll find a collection of 30 photo albums and scrapbooks, a pictorial museum of our life together. I didn’t plan it, but that averages out to be one album per year, so far. The idea of breaking this rhythm, for anything short of death, is unthinkable. The best part is the history exhibited there belongs solely to the two of us. In calm or stormy weather, we’ve lived through it all … together.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.
(Song of Solomon 8:7)