I used to have this fantasy of what marriage would be like. As many girls do, I looked to my wedding day as being this dreamy, dramatic experience dripping with romance and pretty flower petals and perfectly frosted cupcakes to match my bridesmaids gowns and violins playing and dazzling lights and candles flickering into the night as I danced with my prince like Cinderella in her gown and glass slippers at the ball. I saw the day I said “I do” as being the pinnacle of my young adult experience — the rite of passage I needed to be the idealized image of myself I had always fantasized about becoming the day my husband came to rescue me on his white horse.
For most of my adolescent life, I was obsessed with the idea of love. And of being in love. It was something I looked to as being a pillar of my future identity as a woman. I could hardly imagine what I wanted to be when I “grew up” without imagining that there would be a perfect, tall, handsome man beside me ready to take me away to a faraway land where we would chase our dreams together and eat by candlelight on Pottery Barn plates and live out a modern-day “love against all odds” kind of story like Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Pretty Woman (minus the prostitution part) and everyone would want to have what we have.
But then seven years ago, I met a guy named David from Chicago. He took me out for sushi on a Tuesday and has since said that it was during that date, dunking our spicy tuna and salmon rolls into boats of soy sauce while discussing theology and food and music, that he knew he would spend the rest of his life with me. I fell in love with him and it happened — we got married. And seven years later, on our five year wedding anniversary, I am here to say that what followed from that first date over sushi has been anything but perfect, magical, or the stuff of my girlhood fantasies.
Marriage turned out to be harder than I thought.
Our wedding day itself was more wonderful and lovely and special than I ever could have imagined. We wed on a lake in Florida on a swampy, starry evening in June. I remember so much about that night — our first dance under a canopy of moss and oak branches to the instrumental sound of Coldplay’s “Yellow,” and the way it felt to kiss him and the electricity of between us as we gazed into each other’s eyes with the kind of love that poets and artists dream about — a love that consumes you and convinces you for a time that it has in a way, completed you. But the day you exchange vows and rings and stare deeply into one another’s eyes as you promise your lives to each other is not a day that at all reflects or foreshadows the journey that lies ahead. Marriage is not something that anything can really prepare you for and is like nothing experienced in childhood, adolescence, and the confusing young 20-something years. Perhaps this is why it is so lavishly romanticized and fantasized about. And why so many of us, like I once did, give credence to the belief that it will make our lives and our identities and our futures prettier and more exciting and worth living for.
If five years of marriage have taught me anything about love, it is that it is not about novelty and romance. And no, regardless of what Jerry Maguire would have us believe, it cannot “complete us.” It is not about the take-my-breath-away moments and feelings that make you imagine you’re living out a modern-day Shakespeare drama centered on the epic circumstances of your everlasting love story. Love is about commitment, loyalty, long-suffering, and a whole lot of what can be at times, very hard work.
Am I saying love isn’t romantic and passionate and maybe even magical feeling? Not at all. It can be those things, too. But from what I have learned (and I am by no means suggesting I am an expert), the foundation of an honest and enduring relationship cannot be built upon those things if it is expected to weather the hurricane-force winds of the storms that will inevitably roll in and attempt to drown and destruct those beautifully-spoken vows you made to your spouse.
I feel lucky to have married a man who is and has been willing to do this work with me — a man who has chosen to stay when there have been times he could have left, and who has seen me through my absolute worst and never once wavered in his devotion to his beloved.
David and I have been through a lot. And truth be told, there have been moments when I have wondered whether we would survive the obstacles and arguments and differences in opinions that have threatened, and almost succeeded, in tearing us apart. But I am not ignorant to the fact that if it hadn’t been for this man that I vowed to love faithfully forever, and his commitment to me and our marriage, we may not be celebrating five years of holy matrimony on this day.
He has illustrated what true love means and looks like. And I will forever be thankful that I chose a man who could step up to that task.
When I was diagnosed with a mental health condition, I was terrified that he would leave me. I was certain he would bounce as soon as he heard about what I was working through with my therapist in terms of unresolved childhood trauma and abuse. He didn’t sign up for this, I remember thinking. He didn’t know this would happen and that an illness would have a late onset and show up in the middle of my adult life.
But the night I sat next to him with puffy eyes, red from hours of crying, and explained my diagnosis to him, he showed me nothing but love. And a commitment to hold my hand through whatever came our way.
Through relapses, fits of irrational emotions and near-paralyzing anxiety, he has proven time and time again, that he meant what he said that day five years ago when he vowed “through sickness and in health.”
That to me is real love.
That to me is what it means to be in love and absolutely committed to someone.
Sometimes I will be doing my hair or brushing my teeth and I will think about this and wonder what I did to be so lucky to have found someone who is unconditionally devoted to me and isn’t intimidated or scared by the reality of what I have endured.
And I can’t think of anything. Because I did nothing to deserve it.
I am happy to have married a man who has shown me what true love, when stripped of the fluff and fantasy of perfection, really means. I am also happy to have married a man whose devotion to me has only grown with every challenge and hardship that life has thrown our way, though sometimes I don’t always recognize it. That to me, will forever be more romantic and worthy of praise than even the most enchanting wedding day or most perfect fairy-tale love story.
With that, I celebrate five years of marriage with the guy I fell for over sushi — the guy who has shattered my fantasy of what love is in the best way possible. And if the next five years of my life alongside him are anything like the years that have passed since that swampy day when we wed in June, it will undoubtedly be a crazy, beautiful ride, full of bumps and wrong turns and uncertainty. But worth every one of them.
A thousand time over.