I knew all about marriage on my wedding day in June 1987. I had read lots of books and had met with the pre-marital counselor at least 5 or 6 times.
I knew all about my husband. We started as good friends and dated for 5 years. I loved his family, and he loved mine. We both loved God, Auburn football, and Ronald Reagan.
We were set.
So why was I throwing up almost the entire night before our wedding?
Did my body know something that my brain could not grasp?
Lest you fear that some sad tale follows, worry not. I’ve not dealt with terrible surprises. But in my stable, predictable life, I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. Here are just a few of my surprises.
Male Friendships: I did not understand male friendships at all. One of our first disagreements dealt with the long-distance phone bills, the old pay-by-the-minute kind. I did not appreciate how an hour of discussing football recruiting over the phone long-distance could be a meaningful conversation between two well-adjusted men. Even when the last minute goes something like this: “Oh you’re getting married! Congratulations. That’s great. Good-bye.”
Vulnerability: I did not know then how completely vulnerable this strong man would be, how easily I could wound him in a way no one else could. Apparently a careless comment by a friend or even girlfriend did not pack the punch of the same comment by a wife. I still don’t quite get it.
Leaving and Cleaving: I did not grasp how complicated the “leaving and cleaving” aspect of a marriage could be. Even as individuals, we are largely defined by our significant relationships. I was a daughter. I became a wife. But I was still a daughter. And that was so much more challenging than I ever considered it would be.
Pregnancy and Nursing: I could not imagine how the hormonal turmoil of pregnancies and nursing babies would turn me into such a different person for a season. In this situation, both parents need to grow-up and soldier on, accepting that the relationship is in a temporarily altered state. All the date nights in the world won’t erase the fact that a pregnant or nursing mom has a body focused on the biological survival of another human being. Her body is just not her own for a time, but babies are worth it.
Growing Together: I thought about how our marriage would be an asset to each of us as we went about our lives. But I did not think so much about the ways self-actualization might need to be sublimated for the greater good of the marriage. My husband and I have consciously chosen to grow together, which means giving up some individual goals and interests – and replacing them with our goals and interests.
Sex: It is almost impossible to overestimate how important sex is to a man and to a marriage. Not just fun . . . important. Given that my sons follow my blog, and I don’t want to mortify them, I’ll say little more. Simply put, marriage is fed and the union sustained by the communion of two souls that takes place within the sexual relationship. When it is good, a lot of other things just don’t really matter so much after all.
Change: Five and ten-year plans are made to be broken. I married a smart Christian man who was a rather mild-mannered, somewhat reserved, future engineering professor. I am now married to smart Christian man who is an extremely extroverted entrepreneur and hard-driving corporate CEO. But he still loves God, Auburn football, Ronald Reagan, and me, so the important things haven’t changed.
The calendar tells us we are older now, and the weddings we attend are those of our friends’ children or our children’s friends. They begin the trek down the aisle, so full of love and hope – and so clueless – just as we were.
And isn’t that simply wonderful?
For the surprises of marriage include both unanticipated challenges and unforeseen joys.
I thought I loved the 24 – year old man I married. And I did.
But I had no idea how deeply I could love a man,
A man I have grown up with, seeing the changes the years of our life together write on his body, mind, and soul, a rich patina of age.
A man who, as a young father, calmly holds a vomiting toddler closely, not wanting to add to his distress with quick movements.
A man who, as an older father, engages with each of the young men who are our sons, learning about and pouring himself into their very diverse pursuits. Their passions become his passion.
A man whose voice quavers as he tells the story of his misstep, which he fears has injured the little puppy he cradles in his arms. And I know it’s not just because he loves the puppy, but also because he loves me.
A man who deals with all sorts of challenges and stresses at work yet is able to stand strong, trust God, sleep peacefully, and move forward in faith, steady and solid.
And, finally, a man who looks into my eyes… and tells me that in them he sees Home.
And I understand what he means, for I feel the same way when I look at him.
And in understanding that, after 25 years, perhaps I am at least beginning to know a little something about marriage. And I look forward to knowing more.