Twenty one summers ago, I was 24 years old and working as a unit head at a Montreal day camp. One afternoon, at dismissal time, I was handed an envelope by a staff member. I often got notes from the parents of my campers at the end of the day, and I was busy, so I handed it off to one of the counsellors to deal with. He opened the envelope and quickly handed it over to me. “I think this is for you,” he grinned. I grabbed it, read it, and started to cry. It was a marriage proposal and a ring. Seconds later, my then-boyfriend Lee popped out of the bushes, trailed by a friend with a video camera, and asked if I would be his wife.
On June 23rd, 1997, a sunny, muggy Sunday, I walked down the aisle in a huge, pouffy, princess ball gown (which has since been worn by the princess herself in a high school production of Cinderella) and married my Prince Charming.
A lot of things have changed over the last twenty years, my taste in wedding gowns and french-manicured fake nails aside.
I watch my wedding video and I can’t believe how much is different. My dad and Lee’s grandparents, so joyful and proud, are no longer with us. Excited bridesmaids, once among my best friends, now barely Facebook contacts. Marriages, divorces, death, babies, re-marriages, paunches, grey hair, no hair. The grainy scenes from that VHS video are proof that change in an inevitable, messy, wonderful and sad part of life.
Most significantly, I think, is that I barely recognize the bride in that video. At 25 years old I was obsessed with getting married, despite the fact that I’d never lived on my own. I was a new teacher, fresh from my first year in the classroom, but already had my sights set on babies and maternity leave. Young, insecure and dependent, I wanted my husband to wrap me up in his arms, take care of me forever and live happily ever after.
But who you are at 25 is not who you are at 30. Or 35. Or 40. Or 45.
The tide of life ebbs and flows, bringing with it joy, stress, celebration, illness, birth and death. Sometimes we let ourselves be carried by the waves. Sometimes we plant our feet firmly in the sand. What remains constant, though, is the fact that our experiences shape who we are and, like it or not, we evolve as the years go by.
And this too: as much as your shared life experiences pull you together, they will also, inevitably, pull you apart. You will gaze upon those newborn twins you so thankfully conceived after three miscarriages with awe and gratitude. But you will also be miserable and sleep deprived and wonder why you ever had kids with that person in the first place. You will feel enormous pride when your husband starts a new business, but also want to kill him in his sleep when he snores. You will adore him and think he gets sexier every year, but also feel bored and restless. You will ugly cry on his shoulder, over and over again, when your dad gets sick, but you will also feel angry that he doesn’t really get it.
So, how, then, does marriage work? How do you make happily ever after happen when you are different every year from who you were before?
When you can love and really dislike each other in the same minute? When the way he sneezes grates on your last nerve, but he never forgets to take out the garbage on Monday nights?
I am far from a marriage expert, but with two decades under our belts, I’ve learned a few things that have helped get me to a place where I feel like I’m really where I belong:
- Love is important, but respect and trust are more important.
- Sometimes you have to apologize, even when you know you’re right.
- Lingerie shows you still care.
- You don’t have to solve each other’s problems, but you do have to listen – without looking at your phone.
- Loading and unloading the dishwasher properly can be super sexy. We’re still working on the unloading part.
- Asking which is the washing machine and which is the dryer is not sexy at all.
- Before you had kids, it was just the two of you. Take a night or two off from the kids and be just the two of you again.
- Flowers are nice, but chocolate is better. Bonus points if it’s a Cadbury Creme Egg.
- The moment you want to sweep something under the rug is exactly when you should talk about it.
- Flirt with each other, but also with other people to remind yourself that you’ve still got it.
- Grab her ass. It makes her feel hot.
- Don’t expect him to read your mind. Ask for what you need.
- Try something new together every once in awhile – in and out of the bedroom.
- Look at your kids and marvel at the miracles you created, together.
- One of you cooks, the other cleans. Switch it up sometimes, even if it means pink risotto for dinner (true Valentine’s Day story).
- Hold hands.
- Accept that you’re not who you were when you first said yes, and neither is he. Love each other in spite of AND because of this. You’ve grown and evolved together – and how cool is that?
It hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes it sucked. Sometimes it was awesome. But I wouldn’t change a minute of the last twenty years. Thank you, my love, for riding the waves with me; for loving that baby bride and the fierce broad I am today with equal measure. I know we have great things in store for us, especially once you figure out where the salad bowl goes.