by patrick caneday
What would you tell two starry-eyed lovers about to embark on the rosy path of marriage?
That's the question my brother and his fiancée asked me to answer in a "short" speech on their wedding day. I told them there is no such thing. A short speech on marriage is like a "quick hike" to the summit of Mt. Everest.
After seriously questioning their judgment in people to turn to for advice, I tried to think of anything I've learned in my happy marriage that I could offer them.
First and foremost, I told them, be friends. In tough times, you'll need to return to the safety and security of that friendship to see you through. And in good times, well, in good times you get to be "friends with benefits."
Marriage is about the long, slow journey; the moments, simple daily moments. Lively bedroom conversations that last deep into the night; long, speechless road trips through the desert. The time she threw out her back and was paralyzed with pain and screaming little ones so you caught the first flight back from a business trip in Las Vegas. Or when you gave her bad directions and got her lost for hours in dark mountain woods late at night on that family vacation. These are the moments that make up a path stretching far into a future that you can't see or imagine.
Strive for trust and stability, not excitement and adventure. That's not to say you won't have the latter. You will. But adventure and excitement are the reward you get for first achieving trust and stability.
Marriage is about letting each other do the things that make you crazy. Don't argue over the little things like how she lets knives dry in the drying rack tips up; or how much you hate that old, worn out pair of pants he's owned for 15 years. When he tells you the same story for the fiftieth time, and each time it's gotten more fanciful, smile, nod and tell him what a great story it is. There are just some things men and women will never fix in each other. And they may best be left unfixed.
Rather than trying to change each other, learn to love each other for exactly who you each are. Be honest with each other, even if it hurts. Marriage is about allowing someone to hurt you and still loving them; it's about hurting them back and finding they still love you. Let that person tell you everything that is wrong with you, all the things you already knew but could never face alone. Then get over it.
Argue. Challenge each other. Push each other to do good and be better. Know that the baggage and issues you each bring into this partnership don't magically disappear on your wedding day. In fact, they'll most likely intensify. Be prepared to battle not only your own demons in the years to come, but each other's.
You are allowed to freak out at any time, and in fact it's encouraged. But not at the same time. One of you always has to be the safe harbor, the one that says, "Get over it!" or "There, there, everything will be all right," even when you don't know if it will.
Laugh. Laugh as much as possible, at yourself and each other. But always laugh at yourself first. It's unfair and unkind to laugh at others if you haven't first proven yourself to be an equal or greater fool.
Find your balance with each other. To use a sports analogy, you need a starting pitcher and a closer. My wife knows that it may take me years to start a household project. But if she starts it -- painting a room or tearing up the hideous green carpet in the living room -- I can't help but jump in to see it through. If she doesn't do her part, the job will never get started. If I don't do mine, it will never get done ... right.
A rough road lies ahead. Arguments, money struggles, interior decorating decisions, filing jointly. But something even more wonderful is about to come your way: Routine. Stability. Knowing. And at last comfort. A comfort you've never known was possible. A comfort that allows you to be your sloppy, world-weary, beaten-down and annoying self; the person behind that façade that said you had everything under control. You don't have to hide it anymore. None of that will change how the other feels about you. And that peace is so much greater than the excitement in the newness of love. You think love can't get any better than the way you feel right now. But trust me. It does.
Stop caring about the things that the rest of the world cares about -- image, income and new toys, Benghazi, fiscal cliffs or any Kardashian. Don't compare yourself to any other couples you know. Focus solely on each other. It's now you two, as one, against the world.
Long after the honeymoon take time each day to remember the feeling that brought you together on your wedding day -- that magical sense of knowing that this was the person you've been waiting for all these years. The feeling that isolated you two from the rest of the world and made you pity everyone else, for surely no one else has ever felt a love, knowing and joy like this before. Keep that feeling for yourselves like a firefly in a jar and put it up on your dresser. Bring it down at least once each day, open it up for a moment and remember.
As I was putting these thoughts down on paper, I received an email from my brother, and he said this:
"Yesterday was a long day. Woke up early, went to work, got home, cooked dinner, unpacked boxes in the new house, put beds together, collapsed into bed. This could have been any long day, with the exception that I was collapsing next to her. We didn't say anything to each other; we were too tired. She simply put her hand on my back as we fell asleep together. It was the warmest, most reassuring hand I've ever felt."
And with that I realized that there was nothing more I could say.
(To be published in MARRIAGE IS A PROMISE FOR LIFE, an anthology edited by Patricia Wayant, in March 2019)