Last week was the 25th anniversary of my first date with my husband. Way back in 1994, we went to our homecoming dance together. And then we lived happily ever after.
Um, well, kind of.
We’ve been married 20 years, we have two daughters, and when we ended a quick lunch-hour phone call a little bit ago, we both said, “I love you.”
And we do. We love each other deeply. We love each other in that comfortable, knowing, lived-in sort of way, and we love each other in the fond, affectionate, playful way. We love each other as best friends who have grown up together, and we love each other as fellow soldiers in the trenches of parenting and working and home managing and general adulting. We love each other with a quiet wink across the room or hands held in the dark during a church service. And we love each other loud with shouting about who misunderstood who and why do we keep having to have this argument and will we ever get it right.
We love each other, and we are in love with each other. We feel love and we do love, sometimes as easily as breathing and sometimes when all we can do is, like Air Supply, make love out of nothing at all.
When I say we’re celebrating a big anniversary this year (20 years married, 25 as a couple), I’m being sincere. It is a celebration!
But it’s certainly not because we have ever lived happily ever after.
It’s not because we complete one another.
It’s not because we were just meant to be.
No, it’s because we have fought, with each other and for each other, to keep our grip on this marriage. We are celebrating not because we’ve reached the summit but because we are still climbing. We are not celebrating because we believe each other is or has ever been THE ONE; we’re celebrating because we have decided and continue to decide that each other is the one we’re spending our lives with. We choose each other and we choose us, day after difficult day, season after challenging season.
Recently a new friend found out that I speak to women’s groups, and she asked me to speak to the MOPS group she leads — about marriage. I immediately said yes, but made sure she knows I won’t be speaking as an expert. I asked if she wanted someone whose marriage has been hard so much more often than it’s been easy, someone who’s thought her marriage was dead but saw it come back to life, someone who regularly wonders why it’s so dang hard to live with another human. Because if you want someone like that? I’m your gal.
This year I’ve read a lot of romantic comedies and contemporary romance novels, and of course you know I’m always on the lookout for a good romantic comedy movie. From the time I was old enough to know what boys were, I’ve been in love with love and romance and relationships. And for a long time that messed me up. I’ve written before about the problem with romance novels, and it’s true. They can really lead us astray, convince us that our person must be everything: the jelly to our peanut butter, the other half that completes us, the only one who can make life worth living, THE ONE. And then we start expecting THE ONE to fit seamlessly into our lives, our personalities, our habits, our baggage, our expectations, our plans, our everything. His everything must fit perfectly with our everything. That’s how we’ll know it was meant to be.
If he gets me the right birthday present, then we’re meant to be. Or if our enneagram numbers or Myers-Briggs types or spiritual gifts or astrological signs match up, then we’re meant to be. We’re right after all, so we can make this work. If he answers every time I call… If he remembers my favorite song that I mentioned that one time four years ago… If his kiss makes my foot pop (good grief, the baloney this is, thank you very much, Princess Diaries movie that my girls watched!)…
I don’t know about all this. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter if my husband and I (or your husband and you) were meant to be. It doesn’t even matter if we complete each other. And don’t even get me started for real about the idea of THE ONE.
What matters is that we have made and are keeping the commitment to choose each other. Whether or not we were ever meant to be, we choose each other. And we mean it. It’s no accident, and it’s certainly not left up to chance. We mean to stick with each other and with this marriage, and that’s all there is to it.
Meant to be is not for me. But choosing my marriage and meaning it? Absolutely. And I’m looking forward to every wonderful, challenging, beautiful, hard, difficult, delightful year coming next.
This post was inspired by a scene in one of my favorite TV shows, Jane the Virgin. After decades apart and no small amount of telenovela-like drama, Jane’s parents were finally, officially married. She said this at the ceremony:
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the marriage of two people who are not meant to be.
It’s true. They met when they were teenagers, and they were both a mess, honestly. And then they didn’t see each other again for 23 years. And the reunion? That was a mess, too. Breakups and makeups and misunderstandings and hurt feelings and old resentments… My parents are here today, not because they are meant to be, but because they chose each other. In the face of a million obstacles, they chose each other. When it seemed like they should give up, they chose each other. And they keep choosing each other, in the face of every single twist and turn life brings them, every single day.
And that is not destiny. That is not fate. That’s commitment. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, through stormy days and sunny skies, they have earned their happy ending. And by the power vested in me by the Circle of Life Sacred Church, I now pronounce you husband and wife.
I love that. I cried so hard when I watched it! And I actually think of it often. It’s just so encouraging to me, when I start worrying about what’s meant to be. When I have a particularly frustrating fight with my husband or he hurts my feelings in a brand-new way, I remember this scene. I remember that meant to be is not for me. I remember that I’m not leaving this up to chance or good luck or some hope that we’ll wake up different, more patient, more thoughtful, less stubborn, less selfish people one day.
We are not meant to be. But we choose each other and we mean it. We choose each other every day, sometimes every minute, as often as it takes for us to stay and grow and love and endure and breathe deep and bite our tongues and close the door gently and pick up his socks and debate the right way to cook spaghetti and laugh and cry and pray and love. We choose that. It didn’t choose us. We choose each other and we choose love. And we mean it.
If you are discouraged today because your marriage doesn’t feel like it’s meant to be, I want to offer you hope. As long as two people can choose to stay, choose to fight, choose to grow and change and learn, then you’re doing it. Even if it’s hard right now. Even if you don’t see any other evidence of love.
It’s not date nights or flowers or sexy times or picking the same movie or parenting the same way or breakfast in bed that makes a marriage. It’s choosing each other and meaning it, when it’s good and when it’s not, when you feel like celebrating and when you don’t, when it feels like the stars are aligned and when you feel cursed, when you want to and when you don’t. That’s what tells you that you can make it to your next anniversary.
For more real-talk and encouragement about what it means to choose and mean it, I have a small book of essays for you called, “Finding a Happier Ever After.” It’s several years old, so please disregard the out-of-date bio and not-cool-anymore references. But it’s yours for free, so click over for your copy! (No sign-up needed.)
Life is not a fairy tale! It is hard work!