There’s an old adage that I hear again and again, floating around with other pieces of advice from strangers and family alike, “marriage is work.” I had never really questioned this– thought, yes, maybe it does take work. But I began to think about what that word meant. Effort, certainly, but work? Sometimes the going gets rough and there are disagreements or bad feelings or tough patches. But when I really thought about it, what that means, “marriage is work,” I realized that maybe I disagree. Being married to Andrew is not work at all, at least. It’s wholeheartedly awesome, hilarious, and wonderful.
I decided to ask him about it while we were lying in bed admiring the beautiful new floral tattoo he picked up in Chicago earlier this week which he forbids me from showing you…
Do you think marriage is work?
Wait. Is today our anniversary?
Come on. Be serious.
No. Marriage is not work. You know what’s work? A fifteen-hour day in a coal mine.
When I hear marriage is work, I hear marriage is a job, a chore. If this is the case, I’ve landed my dream job. The job I am thrilled to jump out of the bed every morning to rush to. The job from which I never need a vacation. It’s the best gig, and I have no idea how I am qualified for it.
There have been times in our 16-year relationship that have been tricky, rough, uncomfortable, even. We met when we were 19 (and 18) years old, drawn together with an electrifying energy that, paired with mutual immaturity and the tumultuous atmosphere of a college campus riddled with a huge alcohol problem, got ugly sometimes. Yet we clung to each other, through all those years, pulled magnetically back together despite the fights and ups and downs of early adulthood, until we grew up. Together.
We finally agreed to get married, almost as an afterthought, when we realized we were ready to start a family. We were already so firmly together; we had bought our first rickety old row house in Philadelphia, I had worked as a school social worker for three years, and Andrew was in the middle of getting his doctorate. We had 8 years of togetherness under our belts and were so in love. We enjoyed going out with friends in Philly, running along Kelly Drive together, walking all around the city, dreaming about our future children and discussing all sorts of heated topics that sometimes led to tears and raised voices, always ended with some sort of understanding between us.
We learned how to talk to each other, when to back off, when to come back together again. We learned how to argue and disagree, when to pull out a joke or self-deprecating comment, when to just move on. But these things have never been work to me, they were just the push and pull of always being with someone, of learning about oneself and another. They are the very crux of marriage, the compromises, the giving of oneself, the sharing of everything, the mutual respect and adoration of another. If by work people mean compromising and sometimes having discussions that you’d rather not have, and maybe feel exhausted and defeated for awhile afterwards, if sometimes you reach an uncomfortable space of growth that you need to navigate, well, then yes, sometimes marriage is work. But I’d say it’s more about being a kind, compassionate person to someone you love and respect on a daily basis. It’s about remembering that, not being lazy about it.
There is no one in the world who knows me better than Andrew, who calls me out, who supports me, who encourages me, teases me, comforts me, and needs me as much as I need him. Being married to him is not work, it is a joy. It is a pleasure, a comfort. It is normal, it is easy. I can and have always been able to be myself, my completely flawed self, around him and he accepts me, loves me, holds me up year after year. It’s hard to put into words what our marriage is to me, but it is never something I take for granted. It is the realization that he is my perfect match, my partner in every way, that is the scariest thing. The thought of losing him crosses my mind from time to time. The fear that a huge piece of me is him, that we are so entangled in each other’s identities and lives and souls (if there are such things — I think yes) that I would never recover if I lost him… that is the work! But not the marriage. The marriage is thoughtful, purposeful, humbling, sometimes compromising, humorous, apologetic, passionate, mysterious, full of kindnesses, quiet, loud, a celebration of successes and a bonding over challenges. Marriage is a delight, when you are with the right person. And I am.
Have a wonderful weekend.