Mary and I have been married for almost twenty years.
Our first date was a trip to the Dairy Queen followed by two hours spent in a dark theater watching The Lion King, where we pretended it was no big deal when our pinkie fingers grazed while searching for a spot on the shared arm rest. And when our fingers stayed touching, my heart jackhammered its way out of its chest – from touching her finger. Remember that feeling?
Our first serious fight was soon after we got engaged. We were walking around Bethel’s campus, talking about feminism and the possibility that she might not take my last name. I kept trying to remain calm, but I was hopelessly caught between a lifetime of unquestioned complementarianism (a misleading term that suggests men and women are totally equal – except when it comes to inconsequential things like leadership) and a stubborn need to get my way. She took my name and kept her name, one of many thoughtful compromises we made during our engagement.
Then there was the time we moved to Eau Claire to that little white house on Vine Street, and the sun came out after a very cloudy first two years. We took long walks through Carson Park, we ate pizza from Del Re and watched movies on our living room floor, and we learned to laugh. We also learned how to have sex without crying in Eau Claire, and that was no small thing.
Then there was the time she realized she was married to a pastor, while simultaneously realizing she didn’t really want to be married to a pastor, for all the obvious reasons (who would want to be married to a pastor, really?). We were sitting on a golf cart in Mexico when we had that discussion, and I’ll never forget the sweltering fear of that moment.
Then there was the time I pressured her to consider moving to California so I could be on staff at a rock star church, even though the last thing in the world she wanted was to move to California. Even though the church was complementarian. Even though we both would have died a slow, suffocating death. I didn’t get that job, and that’s part of why I believe there is a God.
Then there was the seven long years of infertility: Needles, tests, embarrassing trips to small white rooms and little plastic cups, depression, hope, other people getting pregnant, us crying our eyes out, ambivalence, anger, loss, emptiness.
And there was Detroit, where I took a job I probably shouldn’t have. But we also fixed up an old house, rescued a Rottweiler from the shelter, and I fell into a depression so dark I couldn’t breathe. So I quit that job, we gave the Rottweiler back, we sold that old house, and we moved back to the twin cities, into my parents’ basement. A very proud moment in my life.
And then there was Isaac: laughter, joy, and a little bald head. I’ll never forget how he would work his little head into the crook of my neck when he was a baby, no matter how I started out holding him. I saw my wife become a mother, and there is nothing quite so expansive as that.
And then Ben and Elijah, then the overwhelming, blurry years of small children, diapers, sleep deprivation, carbohydrates and sugar. About two months after they were born, in the middle of the night with me holding and rocking one of the twins and Mary holding the other one, Mary lost it: “What the f&*k are we supposed to do now?” You are supposed to lose it if you have small children. It is the way of the universe.
There has been love and affection and fighting and snoring. There has been water thrown at each other and steely silent treatments. There have been life saving vacations. There has been bad breath, hair loss, moves, depression, anxiety, questionable financial decisions, hope, forgiveness, and remembering over and over again that we are best friends.
The truth about twenty years of marriage is that:
Everybody’s needy. There isn’t a needy one and a non needy one. You will spend most of your time and energy trying to change the other person, until you realize it’s such a horrible waste of time.
It’s important to have stable, healthy friends.
It’s OK – and important – to get some of your relational needs met through friends/others. Don’t feel the pressure to be together/like being together all the time.
There’s no a la carte in marriage. You get the whole package in the other person, all the sweet, good stuff and all the disgusting, horrible stuff.
My sweet spot also has a shadow side. I’m great at being flexible, seeing a different solution – but this gift can also make me put a band-aid on a tough issue, or not stick with something we really need to stick with.
We never made fun of each other/sarcastic with each other in public. We have worked very hard at being honest but kind with each other, in private and in public.
I love being married to Mary, and I am learning what an incredibly strong woman she is more and more all the time. Hoping for another forty years.