12 YEARS IN: HOW MARRIAGE IS [AND ISN’T] WHAT I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE

In the classic romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally, at the end, after decades of bad relationships and bad timing and bad breakups when Harry chases down Sally at a New Year’s Eve party and they finally realize they belong together, Harry says:

“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to begin as soon as possible.”

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We took pictures together before our wedding ceremony. I realize that bucks against tradition a little bit. There is something about that moment when the groom at the end of the aisle sees the doors open and sees his bride for the first time, ready to walk towards him, the people on either side of the aisle, teary and expectant. I know that moment is supposed to be magical.

But that’s not how we did it. We wanted to join the reception as soon as possible. We didn’t want to keep people waiting. We wanted to move from church to party quickly. So we saw each other ahead of time.

There’s one picture the photographer captured the day of the wedding after we had all arrived at the little white chapel when Rodney and the groomsmen were fixing their tuxes and adjusting their boutonnieres inside, and the bridesmaids and I were standing outside, commenting on how perfect the day was, the first official nod to spring, the slowly sweeping clouds in the sky, the scented breeze in the air.

Rodney and I hadn’t seen each other yet. We would, soon. The photographer would get everyone outside and have him stand at the front of the chapel, his back to me and I was going to come in, and touch his arms and he was going to turn around and we were going to forget the photographer was even there for a few seconds, and with what felt like just the two of us we were going to smile and laugh and tear up and maybe sneak a kiss.

But before that, there was this one picture the photographer took. I’m standing on the circular drive in front of the chapel—the olive wreaths already on the doors, the candles already set up in the windows—my hands nervously fidgeting, my attention far away, my face the most obvious tell I have. I look worried. Uncertain. Antsy. Maybe even terrified.

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When you look at the picture out of context, you might wonder if I’m standing there considering if I should go through with this, fearful of what I was committing my life to, panicky over what I was about to do. But that wasn’t it at all.

It’s the picture of someone who wants the rest of her life to start as soon as possible. Who just wants to be able to steal a glimpse, to catch the eye, to seize a moment with the guy who in a matter of minutes will be hers forever, but who has to wait more minutes longer than she wants for that to happen?

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After we got back from our honeymoon and settled into our new routine of married life, people would ask us how we were. And the truth was, after only knowing each other for eight months before tying the knot, we had some hiccups to work through. It was clumsier than I thought it would be. But the truth was also that every morning when the alarm would go off, or every Saturday when the light coming through the blinds would finally wake us up, I would look next to me and think, “I can’t believe I get to wake up next to him forever. I can’t believe we get to start and end the day like this. I can’t believe the ‘rest of my life’ has started.” So yes, there were hiccups, but there was also this wide open space before us that didn’t seem quite as daunting as it did before, now that we had each other.

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March 11 marks 12 years into “the rest of our lives”. Twelve years since that picture was taken of that 24-year-old baby messing with her manicured fingernails in the late afternoon light of an early spring day.

The “rest of our lives” is a lot more mundane than maybe we imagined it would be. We made vows to each other that highlighted these really big moments. We promised to be faithful and present and loving in the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, not realizing it’s the humdrum in-between space that has the most likelihood of distancing you from one another, of stifling you, of numbing you.

The truth is, the “rest of our lives” isn’t all magic. If I could talk to the girl with a worried face outside the chapel, I would tell her that. I would say, “I know you just want to go ahead and get going. You want to jump-start your life together so you can go about the business of making a life together. You want to just begin. But can I just tell you? The rest of your life doesn’t look all that different from life up until now. There are still bills to pay and there are work schedules to manage and there is grocery shopping to do, and there are disagreements to work through. The rest of your life is a lot like life this very second.”

But I wouldn’t stop there. “But that doesn’t matter. Because when you find someone you want to spend the rest of your life with, even bills and grocery shopping, and waking up to an alarm that feels impossibly too early is better. You’re right to want it to begin now. You might be uninformed about how it will all look. But it’s still really great. Better than great. You won’t ever get tired of seeing his face first thing in the morning. Not even 12 years in.”

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Of course, it’s different than I thought it would be. Isn’t everything? But I’m not sure it matters. It may have mattered to me 12 years ago, but not to me now. I now know you need that wide-eyed innocence going in, and you need that realization that it isn’t all perfect, and you need to come to your own conclusion—that maybe perfect was a terrible goal to begin with and just being present with one another—in every way—is the best one can hope for, and actually, maybe just the best, period. I think a part of me knew that. I think that’s why I look the way I do in that picture. Because I just wanted to be beside Rodney. Right that very second. I just wanted the rest of our lives to be lived side by side—whatever that looked like.

Twelve years later it’s looked like a lot of things. But most of all it’s looked like companionship and laughter and packing lunches, doing laundry and tucking in boys who get out of bed one time too many for any number of reasons, and trash emptying and car registration renewing, and lawn mowing and school volunteering and sinking into the same bed at night to realize through it all, we still ended up beside each other. Happy. Tired. But happy. Content. Because we’ve worked for it. And sacrificed for one another to have it. Because the rest of our lives is just that. Ours. And that has made it far better than I could have ever pictured.

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