Several years ago, I was invited to a post-grad women’s night a friend of mine was hosting. It was a panel, she told me, a group of women several years older than us and several stages ahead of us in life. “It’s going to be amazing,” she told me, “A Q&A with women who have been where we are, and we can ask them anything!”
I was in.
As you can imagine, most of us were there to talk about boys. We wanted any tips, advice, wisdom, or insight they could give us on dating, engagement, and marriage. We wanted to know everything.
Sadly, I don’t remember any of their advice. I only remember the discouraged face of one of the panelists as she warned us seriously, marriage is hard.
My heart broke a little when she said that. I looked at the faces around the room — hopeful women in relationships, and several just a few months away from their own weddings. Everyone looked crestfallen.
What that woman actually said was, “Marriage is hard.” But what her face said was “It’s all a lie. All of it. Lower your expectations now before they’re shattered like mine were.”
“Marriage is hard.” It seems like the common refrain among married people. Is it just me that has experienced that? It seems like the married are trying to talk the unmarried out of it. “It’s hard, it’s a lot of work,” they report back. There’s no mention of the perpetual slumber parties it looks like from the outside.
And so I’ve always wondered about this. What is it exactly that makes marriage so hard?
Everyone’s experiences are different, and everyone’s circumstances are unique, but this is the very best way I can think to explain the hard part of marriage from where I stand, 367 days in.
Marriage is like a three legged race.
(Stick with me here…)
Have you ever run a three legged race? I hope so because they usually happen at events filled with family, and heaping plates of potato salad, or at summer camp which is just the best.
You tie your legs together, with the glee of the strangeness and silliness of the thing, and then you take your first hobbley steps together. Right, then left, wait, that doesn’t work. Outside leg or inside leg? And at first it’s fun.
But then someone yells “Go” and you’re off. You’re moving at a much faster pace now, which is when it starts to get hard. You try to take charge, right as your partner does. “Outside leg,” you shout, right as he yells, “inside!” which considering the logistics of having your legs tied together probably lands you in a heap. “Let’s try this again” you might say as you awkwardly try to stand up together, reconsidering, if just for a second, if this was really such a fun idea after all.
The tricky thing about three legged races is how much they force you to work together. They make it physically impossible to be independent. You can’t accomplish your goal if you’re not communicating and working as a team. You have to talk to each other, coordinate your every step. You have to agree, someone has to take charge, and then the other person has to follow their lead. You have to move at the same pace, and you can’t rush ahead even if you feel like the other person is slowing you down.
From what we’ve experienced this last year, this is the very best way I can describe marriage.
When you get married, you’re committing to run the race together. You’re tying yourselves together, committing to share your finances, your home, and even your bed. It’s intimate stuff! And now, both newbies at being tied to another person, you’re off. You’re charged with the task of tackling life together.
Sometimes this is easy, and often it’s fun. But there’s also an inherent awkwardness about it as you’re figuring out how to work together.
There are about a thousand things to trip over, and opportunities to bump into each other and hurt each other’s feelings.
You have two people’s bills and debt and finances to manage. You have two people’s stuff to shove into a closet that didn’t magically get bigger when you got married. You have two people’s daily habits and preferences, and you have two people with the ability to be in bad moods, and get Hangry at any given moment (Hangry is SUCH a thing at our house. The Wilsons should constantly travel with Cliff Bars at the ready).
And if that’s not tricky enough, then sometimes life turns up the heat even more.
Since we started dating, Carl and I have been through the cancer diagnosis of one of our closest family members, we lost another family member in a tragic, unexpected way. We lost two jobs each, moved to a new city, started two new businesses, and bought a house. There are very few major life upheavals we haven’t survived together thus far.
Now all of a sudden you’re not just walking with your legs tied together, navigating the awkwardness of the thing. Now you’re running, leaping over obstacles, ducking and dodging and rolling, and doing it all together.
But that’s the thing: More than marriage being hard, in this last year, life has been hard.
We’ve suffered losses this year, navigated transitions, and found ourselves so far beyond our comfort zones, we weren’t sure if we still knew how to swim.
But as we paddled out there, taking in water and getting tossed by the waves, we were wrapped in the comfort of knowing we weren’t out there alone.
Yes, marriage (from my limited purview) can be really hard. But it’s also really worth it, and that’s the thing I feel like I don’t hear enough.
My life is better because Carl’s in it. It’s more complicated, sometimes. But it’s better.
We’re smarter together, funnier together, holier together. He’s weak where I’m strong, and he’s a total ninja at the areas of life that I can’t seem to figure out. We make each other better — we sharpen each other, challenge each other, and teach each other.
It’s better because I live with my best friend, because my favorite person on the planet is in this life with me.
He’s walking with me, and leading the way, and pushing me from behind when I’m sure I just can’t do it anymore.
He knows me better than I know myself, he believes in me when I just can’t, and he loves me endlessly even at my weirdest, my quirkiest, and my worst.
We don’t have it all figured out, not even close. We trip and fall daily as we learn how to work together, and some days would be so much easier if our legs weren’t inextricably linked.
But we also know that the good things in life aren’t always the easiest, and that the best things are usually things we have to put a little sweat into. Marriage, so far, has been no different.
A beautiful, holy thing happens when two people decide to tie their legs together. The sum becomes greater than its parts. They become better, and are able to make the world better. And lots of times, it really does feel like an awesome perpetual slumber party.