Despite being an incorrigible flirt and an ardent admirer of the male gender, I consider my long-standing marriage to be the crowning achievement of my time here on Earth. When I mentioned my upcoming 29th anniversary at work the other day (unsolicited, of course—my coworkers have lives), I was challenged thusly: “Yes,” asked Doubty Suspiciouston, “but how many years were you happily married?” My reply, “All 29 years” was met with stunned silence, appreciative smiles, and respectful head nodding.
Couples are expected to sail through the first few years of marriage fueled by sex, stupidity, and dreams (if you don’t, you’re doing it wrong), but when you can mark your relationship in decades, people start to take notice. How did you do it? they want to know. Indeed. How the hell did we do it? As far as I can tell, marriage—like most of adulthood—is a make-it-up-as-you-go- along sort of proposition.
Item #1: He didn’t propose to me, and I didn’t propose to him; we simply realized that marriage was where we seemed to be headed and decided to plan a little ceremony to make it official.
Item #2: I was halfway through my first pregnancy before we even realized a baby was on the way.
Item #3: We spent the money intended for remodeling on a trip to Ireland instead, and used money saved for a 25th anniversary cruise to buy our son a $2,000 musical instrument.
You might say those items simply prove that my man and I are just a couple of flakes. And although I’m not denying our flakiness, I’d like to offer an alternate/complimentary explanation: We are adaptable. We’ve adapted through changes in attitudes, changes in jobs, changes in hairstyles, weight, priorities, goals. Life goes on, and so do we.
Vive La Difference
A successful marriage might be seen as a living, breathing VENN diagram. The partners are individuals with their own personalities, ideas, and values—and marriage (won’t? shouldn’t?) change their individuality. But, oh, there’s magic in the areas that overlap! For example, my husband believes in the right to bear arms, and I believe in the right to arm bears. But we both believe in human rights and civil liberties. Bingo! He refuses to acknowledge popular music beyond the 70’s, while I feel absolutely disconnected if I don’t at least give a courtesy listen to what’s currently playing. But we both love music. Bingo! Marriage has to make room for differences as well as similarities.
Scott would walk barefoot for three miles on shards of glass if he were following Emily Dechanel. Lisa could eat David Boreanaz for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Bones = BINGO!
As George Carlin said, “Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things.” I don’t care how perfect two people are at the beginning, eventually they will start to annoy the bejeezus out of each other. Take Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie*, for example. She probably can’t stand the way he slurps his coffee, and he probably hates how she eats in bed. I’ll bet she despises his growing a long, gray ponytail as much as he despises her wearing pointy-toed shoes. But are they going to let those little things overshadow years of memories, triumphs, challenges met, crises managed, laughter, inside jokes, and the pleasure of each other’s company? Hell to the naw. They find that keeping thunderstorms in perspective assures plenty of strength in reserve come tsunami season.
* You figured out that I'm actually talking about my husband and me, right?
A successful marriage requires the touch of a civil engineer, as it is the construction, manipulation, and maintenance of elements both natural and manmade. After years of trial and error, my husband and I have arrived at a balance of togetherness and space, bickering and laughter, parry and thrust, allowing and withholding.
Handy chart for quick reference
There’s much more, of course, but you get the idea.
It’s All About the Dopamine, Baby
Warning: This section will make love and marriage sound about as romantic as a junior chemistry set, so feel free to plug your ears and sing la, la, la if you feel the need.
I’m as flowery as the next girl, but I have a healthy respect for the science of love. As it turns out, falling in love is nothing more than a rush of dopamine** to the brain, a chemical imbalance similar to those which result in feelings of grief, anger, depression, or euphoria. When such chemical changes occur, the brain struggles to regain its balance by raising levels of serotonin. We are glad when our rebalanced brain is free of grief, anger, or depression. But when the chemical reboot lessens the delicious headiness of attraction and lust, we fear we’ve fallen out of love. Science tells us that partners who remain attached to each other long after the dopamine rush has subsided are also producing significant amounts of oxytocin, a chemical abundant in nursing mothers and especially empathetic males.
The real cupid.
So my long and happy marriage is, in fact, a combination of good timing, good choices, good fortune, and good science. I can live with that, because we also make each other laugh. Our marriage started with a belly laugh when the groom admitted to the congregation that he’d never memorized his personally written vows and would be winging it instead. And we’ve been laughing ever since! We laugh like fools at puns, dirty jokes, each other’s foibles, oft-told anecdotes, and our childrens’ antics. In all this time, neither of us has encountered anyone or anything else worth giving up the life we’ve built together. Here’s to the next 29 years!
**I’ve simplified things a bit. Read here
for more details.