In the last days of the month of Valentines, I wanted to share a love story. But wait… it’s not what you think. Stick this one out.
The longer a couple is together, the more they will hear,
I wish I could have a relationship like yours.
I hear this every once in a while, and I smile and think, No, you don’t. Not really.
It doesn’t matter what I say. I try to be honest without being too dramatic and say it’s not easy. The person smiles and nods and reaffirms their own belief that John and I must have a wondrous relationship to stay together so long. We do, but it’s not what people think, and it certainly isn’t what they want to hear.
Those who know us well, don’t wish for our relationship. Because those people know we aren’t the dream. They have seen our skeletons. We don’t keep them in the closet, but they do stay in the house. Since I don’t broadcast every fight, lonely day, or tear in public (Public includes Facebook. Why don’t people get that?), people who don’t know us so well are able to fantasize about how our love kept us together for twenty-two years.
There Is No Easy Path
It’s no different from weight loss or writing a novel or being a rock star. No one wants to hear about exercise and giving up sweets or how many hours a day an author writes or how often a musician played to an audience numbering in the single digits. Those images of work and commitment don’t fit into the fantasy. People love to hear success stories–how easy it was, how it just fell in the winner’s lap, how this one simple solution solved everything.
With love, those ideals are worse. Because love is supposed to transcend the petty world of hard work and adjusted expectations. Love is supposed to be magical. When you find the right one, everything falls into place, there’s no more suffering, and you live happily ever after.
“Happily Ever After” Is a Ratty Sweatshirt
How many princess movies show what “Happily Ever After” really looks like? Long-lived relationships are a mundane series of compromises and days of simple existence. The varnish wears off. Things sag. Those cute quirks become ugly irritations. All those days you spent bored alone? Now you’re bored with a partner, and he gets bored too. All the problems you had when you were single? Now you’re bringing your problems, and your partner is bringing his. You will break each others’ hearts more than once. Things you were both willing to do to lure one another no longer seem necessary. Comfort gets lazy sometimes.
But that comfort is like your ratty, favorite sweatshirt. You do still love it.
I’m not a romantic, yet I still had to get past years of princess conditioning and accept I did want to wear an old sweatshirt more often than a sparkly gown. I learned if I wanted a long-term marriage, I had to keep putting in the effort. And so did he. There were some close calls, but we’re both really stubborn. Stubbornness can be a good thing. Just call it perseverance. The connotation changes, but the meaning is the same.
Not all relationships work this way. I have a previous failed marriage. No amount of perseverance was going to change the course of it, but that’s a whole other story. This story is about a couple of people who have worked hard, done some mean things to each other, done some great things for each other, and have stuck it out for twenty-two (almost twenty of those married) years. If that’s what you actually want, then yes, I accept your compliment.