Once upon a time, on a late Friday afternoon, there was an itty bitty slip of a thing–or as itty bitty as a 5’9″, thirty year old woman could be. She was so teeny that she wasn’t even wearing a bra and there was no jiggling or jangling. It was like Miracle on 14th Street. There was a prince of a man in a morning suit and there were yummy cupcakes and wheat grass in boxes in the center of each table, a single, pink orchid in each–because it was the early naughties and that sort of thing was hip and cool.
There was food and drink and merriment. There was song and dance and borrowed words by Jeanette Winterson and e.e. cummings. There were things she remembered and things she forgot and somewhere, in the space between the two, there was a duo of I dos.
Now, of course, I am no longer thirty or an itty bitty slip of a thing and there is much jiggling and jangling. I remember even less, and forget even more, only jigsaw pieces of the day. I remember running frantically through Union Square that morning and dropping off boxes for the wheat grass. I remember obsessively checking the rain clouds that were hovering over the park. I remember snapping at my poor mother. I remember being mildly obsessed with the way the fabric of my dress was wrinkling across my stomach. I remember worrying my sister wouldn’t get out of the twisted Spanx pretzel she’d gotten herself into. I know I was anxious about the timing, about the music, about tripping over my own two feet. I was nervous about the candles, the centerpieces, the seating chart.
It still haunts me that in my haste to remember everything, I forgot to finish writing out two place cards. One of them read simply Mr. S.
Like a 007 character.
My father was still alive then. Four days before the big day he was in the midst of a ragged anxiety breakdown–a fact everyone hid from me. I wasn’t sure he was actually going to make it TO the ceremony until about 24 hours before. But he did and made a wonderful, touching toast and danced with me to Louis Armstrong. My father-in-law, standing up through the open sun roof of a hired limo, pointed guests north, like a slightly tipsy calvary leader. My grandmother complained about something, because that’s what she always did. The catering staff gave us the last bottle of wine in the venue, not so secretly pleased that our wedding party had drunk the bar dry.
Not me though. I don’t think I had a full glass of wine the entire evening. Somehow in between the congratulations and the hugs my glass kept getting whisked away before I could drink it.
And then it was over. We “I do’ed” and then we were over the threshold and we were done.
And here we are , a full two decades later. And I’m still apologizing to my mother for being bitchy.
But that? That’s a wedding story. Not a marriage story.
Two decades is a long time, right? It feels like a long time. We’re out of the realm of oh, honey, it feels like just yesterday. Nope. It feels like two decades ago.
In the best possible way, of course.
Marriage is not about a specific day or a specific hour. It’s not that day twenty years ago or even this day twenty years later. It’s all the days in between that make up a marriage. And all the days to come.
Saying I do is the easy part. To keep doing the doing? That’s a different story.
That’s a marriage story.
Love is dynamic. Marriage is not static. They are living, like one of those green walls you sometimes see at the mall. A marriage needs to be fed and watered and looked after. It needs to be brought in from the cold and wrapped in blankets and made a cup of hot tea every now and then. It needs pruning. It needs alone time and together time and time to take root. You’ve got to get out there and get your hands dirty and trim back the dead bits and encourage the growing bits. Sometimes a thorn catches you right in the eye and sometimes a hornet comes up from nowhere and stings you in the ass. But you do it. You get your hands dirty and you put in the work. If you’re smart you’ll use all the shit to fertilize the soil–enrich it to make sure it keeps blooming, year after year.
You have to tend to a marriage. It’s not just the day and the party or the gooey love story that led up to saying yes to the dress (if that’s what you did). It’s about all the days afterward. The fun days and the angry days and all the filler days that make up the years.
Here’s something I’ve learned in two decades…it’s not the angry days you’ve got to watch out for. The angry days are just that. He left the mug on the counter, again. She lied about that dress she said she didn’t buy, but did. Most of the time you can get over that stuff. Angry days are like a storm, they’re loud and scary and sometimes flashy–and often they clear the air and leave you a bit more breathing room.
No, it’s not the angry days that are the most dangerous. It’s the filler days–because if you’re not tending and watering and paying attention, all of a sudden you’re forty or fifty or sixty and the marriage is there, but it’s brown and dry as hell and half way to dead. Maybe you got caught up in all the other detritus of life and didn’t do the weeding. Maybe you didn’t cover it before the first frost of the year. Or maybe you thought the other one was doing all the work. Maybe they were and then they stopped…because they were the only one doing the work. Or maybe you figured the fact that you said “I do” was enough and by the time you did get out the pruning shears the whole thing was just a big mass of thorns that was too tangled to hack your way through.
There are a lot of ways a marriage can wither.
You need to DO marriage.
Not just “I do.” But forever “Do”
Twenty years later there are lots of things I would do differently. Starting with being nicer to my mom. And paying closer attention to my Dad, who would only be around for a few more years after that night. I’d make sure I drank a full glass of wine. And of course I’d finish my place cards. I’d keep the wheat grass though.
And the prince of a guy in a morning suit.