Tomorrow, October 26th, is my 12th wedding anniversary. The photo above is from our honeymoon in Ireland--you can see our shadows gazing into the beautiful horizon with absolutely no freaking clue what was to come. The good or the bad, I mean.
When I moved out of my parents' house and into my first college-era apartment, I thought of it as the Fisher Price My First Apartment. Other than having my friend Miguel as a roommate, and proximity to Center City, the place didn't have much going for it. (Okay, those two attributes were the most important, but stay with me here.) The carpet was a vomit-colored shag, the kitchen was greasy and small, and the shower drain always seemed to be clogged.
I didn't dwell on the drabness of the place because I knew it was temporary. At age 20, I simply believed I would move up in the world: of apartments, jobs, boyfriends, etc. Life was was an upward escalator and all I had to do was step on, careful not to catch my shoelaces in the gears.
Lately I've been thinking about expectations like this in the context of marriage and other long-term relationships. What did we expect at the beginning, how has it been different, and what can I learn from that?
A wedding projects romantic expectations. You put on special clothes, invite everyone you know, and spend a ton of money to have one day in which you and your beloved are the prince and princess (or two princes or princesses). In front of friends and family, you pledge your eternal devotion, pose for photos, dance to your "first song," and sit at your own special table, where you are served and feted for the rest of the reception.
A first baby invites expectations of all-perfect love. You record every development in a pregnancy journal, thrill to the sound of your baby's heartbeat, research all the right baby stuff to buy, and bask in the glow of friends and family "showering" you with love, wisdom, and the aforementioned right baby stuff.
A new friendship excites with possibilities. Here is the yin to your yang, a perfect confidante, the only other person on Earth who loves your favorite band as much as you do. You share secrets and insights in a heady period of getting to know each other, ask the waiter to find out if the cute guy at the next table might be interested in your friend, bestow pet nicknames and inside jokes.
A job offer reflects all your promise back to you. Finally, someone has recognized your talents and is willing to compensate you accordingly. You show up on the first day with energy and your best intentions. Your brain gratefully absorbs all the new things to learn. Co-workers seem witty and low-maintenance; your boss is someone you'd actually want to grab a beer with.
And after all the shiny dopamine-flooding novelty of these new relationships and life phases wear off, you find yourself in the middle. Most days it's not intensely good or bad; it's just life. You notice what annoys you about your partner and let those things go. You yell at your kid(s) and then apologize. Your best friend is in a new relationship and no longer texts you back in a timely fashion. Sometimes, in the middle of your 9-5, you find yourself buying things online that you already know you don't need.
If there's one thing I've learned in the past 12 years, it's to stay the course. (Except for when staying the course isn't healthy or right anymore.) Ride out the low valleys and soon enough you'll find yourself at a peak again. Feel like bolting today? Sleep on it and if you still feel like bolting tomorrow, take a second look. Most of the time, the negative feelings are as transitory as the positive ones. Or, as a therapist once told me, life is circular. We don't really work things out once and for all; instead, we often circle back to the same issues and have to work through them again.
What have you learned from the long-term relationships in your life? Hit reply and let me know. My mom suggested I publish some of the responses I get, so I may do that (with your advance permission, of course).