... bliss. That's what you were thinking, right? The word that most often ends any sentence containing "years of wedded" is BLISS. It's ironic that bliss is the word we expect to fill in that blank when bliss is not the word most people married more than a year would use to describe their marriage being full of.
After all, bliss is something we feel when eating chocolate, having sex, lying on the beach, or binge watching our favorite TV show... not when coping and coexisting with a spouse day in and day out. It seems any degree of bliss that exists in the realm of marriage is usually confined to the moment of engagement, the day of the wedding, the honeymoon, and whatever number of months go by before reality sets in.
So how did "bliss" become the anointed word to describe the state of marriage, when the term "wedded bliss" is itself an oxymoron? Moreover, why do people continue to tie the knot when this concept is widely held, and often humorously accepted, as the dismal truth?
I celebrated my eleventh wedding anniversary last week, and I can unequivocally say that these first eleven years of marriage have been anything but wholly blissful. Still, misery, the antonym of bliss, would not be an accurate word to complete that title sentence either. For me, marriage has trod steadily between the paths of blissful and miserable... traversing a road riddled with potholes, wearing blinders to warning signs advising it to reroute in a different direction from where it was heading, and coming close to falling off a cliff a few times.
When a marriage starts off as storybook perfect and ridiculously promising as mine did, this bleak assessment may sound overdramatic, or just hard to believe; especially for those who attended the wedding or have seen the wedding photos.
I was married five years almost to the day of meeting my husband at a birthday party in a karaoke bar. True, nothing about that fact sounds storybook or promising; but I assure you, as kitschy as the setting was, it was wildly exciting when our eyes met across a crowded room, and sweetly romantic when he wrote down his phone number, walked me to my car, gave me a hug, and earnestly asked me to call him.
Our courtship was immediate and exclusive, and we were engaged four years later. We took a year to plan the wedding; and a month out, our wedding photographer shot our "engagement session" - a photo shoot that solidified our status as a couple madly in love and destined to be together forever. I mean, how could we be anything short of blissful in marriage after those photos?
We snuggled in wildflower fields, explored coastal caves, walked hand in hand along the shore, all the while staring into each others eyes and kissing... everywhere... on the rocks, in the caves, on the beach, and in the water. Lying on the sand seductively smooching as the tides enveloped us, like Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (but with clothes on), we were the picture of true romance, burning passion, and undying love.
As a woman who was about to marry the man of her dreams, I had no idea just how little I knew about the realities of the life to which I was committing myself... how idealistic I was about my expectations for married life... and how firmly I believed that love will conquer all, love is all that matters, and love will sustain in the hard times.
Our wedding was an event to behold - flawless, gorgeous, timeless, and dare I say... perfect. It was the happiest day of my life, as I have attested to for years. It was so perfect and I was so happy that it all set me up for a big, fat fall. I soon discovered through the travails and trials of life, unexpected family tragedy, and birthing a couple of babies, that the actual experience of marriage does not equate to the elation of the wedding day, nor does it resemble an engagement session. Not even close.
Yet, this is not where I say how wrong I was to believe as I did. This is not where I admit defeat and profess how naive and unrealistic I was to believe all that foolish love mumbo jumbo.
Well, maybe it is.
It's not that I was wrong about LOVE, per se. I do not and will not refute the power of love to uplift, heal, and do all kinds of miraculous things. I truly believe love will conquer all, love is all that matters, love will sustain in the hard times, and all the other meaningful memes about love. Oh, "love wins" is another one.
What I was wrong about was the kind of love that conquers, matters, sustains, and wins.
Ultimately, as a young, fresh-faced, newly engaged fiancé, it was ROMANTIC love that I hung my hopes on and put my blind faith in. You know... Romance. Happily Ever After. Fairy Tale Love. Romantic Comedy Love. Whatever you want to call it, I was fully invested in this variety of love and believed wholeheartedly that the fervent love I felt was IT, the real deal. This was the stuff. This was the love that will last.
But romantic love did not live up to all the hype. The false advertising I was fed all those years as a young girl - one born, bred, and brainwashed by soap operas, romantic comedies, and silly love songs - was debunked by the challenges of marriage. I had believed, or wanted so badly to believe, that the dreamy brand of love that all those melodramas, far-fetched narratives, and sappy lyrics were heralding was not only the kind of love I should desire and seek more than anything else, but it was the only kind of love that mattered in the context of an intimate relationship.
Intensity, passion, conflict, drama, attraction, and the desperate love for another human being... these were the attributes in which I was indoctrinated to believe. These were the emotions celebrated and lauded as the essential ingredients that define true love stories.
But they don't. Oh my, how they don't.
Love is so much more than a passionate kiss in the park. It is so much more intricate than a romantic snapshot on the beach. And although swooning over someone is fun and exhilarating, it will not sustain a relationship... much less a marriage. Romantic love does not even sustain itself most of the time, its power is so fleeting and temperamental. Its delicate survival depends on an unrealistic mix of circumstance, expectation, and the existence of simultaneous feelings and efforts on the part of two diverse and complicated people. Of individuals who sometimes don't even know what they want themselves, while being expected to fulfill the needs, desires, and dreams of another.
Soon after pledging "I give you this ring," my relationship began to be strained by unexpected roadblocks and pitfalls that quickly challenged my notions and expectations of how married life would be for us. The story I had written in my own mind was not the one playing out in my life. Work and economic setbacks coupled with the death of my mother and the birth of my baby made the first few years of married life especially difficult.
Yet, more than anything, my husband's and my divergent viewpoints and differing philosophies on almost everything under the sun made our signature "opposites attract" love affair much less charming and endearing than it was before we said our I dos. The attributes in each other that had intrigued us in courtship were becoming liabilities in wedlock.
This disturbing new perspective did not bode well for our proficiency as partners in parenting; and the conflicts that arose between us after having children further eroded the fondness and devotion we had for each other - that which I had once deemed unshakable. I was forced to realize that love after, and within, marriage is so much more than a flutter in your heart, butterflies in your stomach, or desire in your body. I came to recognize that love has to surpass the romantic realm and elevate to a higher vibration in order to withstand all that life throws at it. That it must let go of ego, find humility, cultivate depth of character, and shed its romantic fallacy to transform into a version of itself that knows full well what it's up against, yet charges into battle anyway with a strong will to triumph.
Sometimes, love in marriage is as simple as staying. As simply being there. As being true to the intentions that fueled its existence in the first place. It is rooted in reality, commitment, and duty... in surviving late night feedings, postpartum depression, and disagreements about how to raise kids... in overcoming career crises, money issues, and disparate dreams for the future... in staying home Friday nights to watch family flicks, play board games, and wake up early for Saturday morning soccer games... and in understanding that the big picture we're living is far more significant and paramount than the small illusions we contrive in our minds and hearts.
The sprinkles on top of all that sobering responsibility and accountability can most definitely be romance, lust, candlelight, flowers, sex and candy... whatever floats your boat; but these sprinkles alone should never be expected to keep a marriage afloat. Unwittingly place romantic love at the foundation of your marriage, expecting it to hold it all up, and perfectly construct an imperfect union in peril of drowning under the weight, truth and actuality of life, careers, egos, kids, growth, aging, and the passage of time.
So as I enter my twelfth year of marriage, I take all that I have learned and move forward. Forward as a wife, mother and woman who knows what it takes; while still being a wife, mother and woman who knows it is not easy to do, be, or live what it takes. The knowing is now the easy part, the doing is definitely the hard challenge, and the trying means absolutely everything. Keep trying and soon find the doing will happen, even when it doesn't seem like it will.
And that doing of it... is LOVE.
*For the follow up story about how this post was received by thousands of readers, go to Honestly, I Want to See You Be Brave.