It was my husband’s 49th birthday last December. It falls a week before Christmas which means it annually gets overshadowed by Christmas and this year was no different. It was on a Thursday sandwiched between school, work, hockey practices, holiday prep and desperate attempts to stave off influenza.
My husband has a short list of wants for his birthday
My husband, like many 49 year olds, does not have a long list of birthday wishes beyond a modicum of peace in the house (which was not granted) and possibly a decent meal which usually means take out sushi eaten in a rush with a tree blinking in the background. He is long past the stage of wanting nice practical things since we have most of the things and anything that he really wants/needs he has purchased for himself.
Some of the items he wants, like specific Japanese fishing lures would be far beyond my scope of knowledge so gift giving for him is always a bit of a head scratcher. Things he likes: fishing, working out, church, the occasional football game, toast, popcorn, restful sleep, and a full day without an acute crisis. Again, we have three children so any of his things he likes takes a backseat to their needs, activities and inevitable crises.
I got him popcorn, he got me a candle
I ended up getting him a giant tub of popcorn. The kind of popcorn tin that your real estate agent gives as a thank you. Or maybe someone who knows you less than your real estate agent. But the guy loves popcorn and I can’t remember the last time he had some that was just his and his alone. He ate it all in 3 days and he did not share.
For Christmas, seven days later…he gave me a candle. An expensive candle that you would buy for a cherished elementary teacher or a middle aged friend who already has a lot of scarves. I like candles but am very particular about the scent. This one was a good candle. Layered. Complex. This is where we are at. Popcorn and candles for gift exchange.
We may have started as a hungry love story but now are much more an extended episode of Survivor. The swooning is long over and we are all tactical support. Who is driving to lacrosse? Who paid the property taxes? Who is going to tell the teenager NO this time? Who is going to let the dog out? Despite years of marital experience and multiple trips to marriage therapy, we are in a bit of a holding pattern when it comes to US because everyone ends up coming before us.
We have weathered a lot in 25 years
It seems we have done all the ‘right things’. We certainly started out strong. We had date nights. We set common goals and achieved them. We had six years together before we started a family. But we couldn’t avoid the inevitable challenges of life. We have weathered storms of illness, infertility, addiction, deaths in our family, financial crises, emotional breakdowns.
We have jobs and three children and a dog and a list of commitments and obligations that never ends. Sometimes we talk for less than five minutes in a day about anything personal. It has been hard at times to be married to each other. We have stood on the marital precipice, willing to throw in the towel but have managed to back off the edge of the cliff each time.
What is a long marriage if not a series of things done right and so many things that could have been done better?
We are not the opposites attract type of pair. We are two of the same. Both first-born. Stubborn as hell. Hard working. Determined. Loyal. Lovers but also fighters. It has probably caused a lot of pain over the years to be so similar. It has also likely kept us together.
We had talked about taking a trip for our 25th wedding anniversary this year. I had hoped we could make up for the popcorn candle exchange with a vacation. We will be married 25 years this May. Several months ago it crossed my mind if we take a trip-what would we even talk about? Where would we go? Would it be fun? Maybe Napa. If we really went all out, maybe Italy.
Now we are living under a stay in place order
And then planning got buried in responsibilities and other commitments and then the world and time stood still. Now we are living under a sci-fi style ‘shelter in place’ order. We had an argument on week one over firewood and shelf organization. More than an unfriendly exchange. A bizarre screaming match with no winner. It really wasn’t about firewood or organization. It was about communication or lack of it, trust, hurt feelings and a low simmering anger, unmet needs and unspoken wants.
And really aren’t all marital arguments over the same core issues over and over and over again. Old hurts. New irritations. Sometimes both.
But since we are here in lock down, BECAUSE we are in lock down, we had time to work it out and work through it all the way to peaceful resolution. A miracle. What nobody talks about when you walk down the aisle is the person you are marrying will not be that person in five years or ten. Stranger yet, you will not be the same in five years or ten. You will be strange to each other, then familiar, then strange again. Certainly we are two different people entirely after 25 years of growth.
When my grandparents had their 25th anniversary in 1953, I’m told they hosted a big party at their house. My grandmother took a few days off of work to prepare and her employer was not happy about it. She wore a black crepe dress and had a purple corsage. My grandfather wore a suit. They look so old to me in their photos but they were only 47. Nine years after that, my grandfather would die from a heart attack.
When my parents had their 25th anniversary I was in college. They had been through a major financial crisis but had stuck it out together. They did not have a big gathering for their anniversary but a special dinner out at a beautiful restaurant. I wrote them a poem as a gift. My parents were 48 that year. Nine years after that, my dad would die from cancer.
There is no easy path to get to 25 years of marriage. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying to themselves or lying to each other. But we made it here and if we only have nine more years or nineteen or thirty-nine years, I’m proud of what we built even if the construction process was sometimes ugly. This will be my only life partner. It’s him or nothing. We plan on fancy take-out for our celebration.
Sheltering in place we are stuck together by law. And when the rules change and we can move about, we are still stuck together. By choice. We have just recently decided, again, to move forward and be happy together. We still have time to make things better and to be better. We have been flirting. He is bringing his A-game in flirting and I like it.
The children are rapidly growing up. We will eventually work ourselves out of the job micromanaging them. Maybe we will be able to take that trip. Perhaps Italy. I bet they have some exquisite popcorn and candle offerings there.
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