In the last couple of weeks before our wedding, Jeff and I met with our beloved pastor, who told us this joke. Marriage is a three-ring circus, he said. First there’s the engagement ring, then the wedding ring, and then comes suffering. We laughed so hard, even as he told us that it’s always funny to the couples that aren’t yet married. That joke has been on my mind lately and believe it or not, it’s already not quite as funny as it was 6 months ago.
Last night, Jeff and I had a lively discussion about paternity leave over dinner, at the end of which I felt empty and alone and unheard. Marriage has revealed my mama bear heart and has made it clear that my top priority is and always will be my family. For someone who makes their living navigating the grey areas of life, I’m staunchly black and white on this issue. Family over everything is my battle cry. This gift often feels like a heavy burden and this night is no exception.
I took a shower while Jeff did the dishes and as I toweled off, I heard Ben Rector’s cover of “Do You Believe In Love” coming from the speaker in the kitchen. I paused it from my phone, walked to the kitchen in my bathrobe and awkwardly asked Jeff to dance. “Can I finish the dishes first?” he asked. I slumped back to the bathroom to brush my hair, disappointed. Not only was I feeling the ache of loneliness, but now I felt rejected, too. When I came back out, I wasn’t much in the mood for dancing anymore, but I hit play anyway and wrapped my arms around my husband’s neck. Wrapped in his arms, I cried silent tears. “Now I wonder, where does true love begin, I’m going under, so I’m letting you in…”
Marriage has broken me open. In a season of despair so long ago, I resolved to never feel that pain again. Yet here I am, love and pain falling from my eyes as we sway back and forth, barefoot in our tiny kitchen. Every day is a series of failures and victories. Every day I win and lose, advocate and accuse. I am often weary and anxious. I fall into despair.
I’ve always loved love stories. I have cried over Nicholas Sparks’s novels and romantic comedies more times than I care to count or admit, but I think they get it wrong. It always ends with the wedding, the boy getting the girl, the happily ever after. “The hard part is over” they promise, your work is done. Now bask in the unrelenting glow of your beloved’s gaze.
That’s not how it goes in real life, though. If you’re married you know this. You know what it’s like to wake up after the honeymoon is over, heart racing, wondering what you’re doing wrong. Everyone tells you how incredible newlywed life will be, and it is. But it seems that they forgot how impossibly hard it is, too. How ridiculous it is to expect two people with decades worth of preferences, habits, and idiosyncrasies to become an entirely new creation.
The real hard work of love is not in the falling, but in what comes after. True love is not an easy path. True love is rocky and bumpy on the best of days, a daring decision to walk through that narrow gate that leads to the abundant life. This is what I’m learning in this first year of marriage. When people ask me how it’s going now, I tell them the truth. “So good” I say. “Marriage is so good and so fun and so hard and I love my husband more every day.”