When the vows go, “through good times and bad, in sickness and in health” (or, whatever; we didn’t say those vows, and also maybe there’s something in there about honoring the other one at every possible moment with a side plate of prince charming and forever temperate princess lilybucket — oops I dunno), I, as a child and through much of my early adult life, always imagined married couples struggling through bankruptcy or the death of their child or a hideous crime or illness. I imagined these hard times as the sort of truly ass-ending experiences that challenge the very fabric of individual humanity. I figured, if two people are good enough together to get married, then clearly the hard times must be utterly epic in order to even rank as hard times for such people.
I love long term relationships, friendship or otherwise. I get high off the history and the growth and the slow subtle shift to wider perceptions that feel like home because of how much care and love has gone into the gradually all encompassing embrace. When I met hubs, I knew right away we would share a world. I wasn’t worried about our marriage at all.
We got a few years into the thick of monogamy, and I thought we’d been tested. We’d had at least one horrible fight, we’d had miscommunications, we’d hurt each other, and we’d learned to reach with our chafed palms and mend the creaking parts of our bridge. I thought I knew what it was to have the fabric of my individual humanity stretched to ripping. I thought I knew heartbreak, all its coy fondling shadows, and heavy unrelenting clasps.
We rolled into our fifth or seventh year together, smooth like a favorite story told by your uncle with the velvet voice and perfect timing. I looked around and realized I didn’t know who we were anymore. I would stare at this man, who had so much of my heart so much of the time, and not have the faintest idea what we were doing together. I couldn’t find our chemistry, even though it swirled across our home, through my music, and into my phrasing.
I fought panic for months. I tried to find a specific why. We wanted different things? Nope. We weren’t attracted to each other? Nope. We didn’t have time for each other? Nope.
I became terrified that I had accidentally married a man I didn’t really know. That somehow all the years of ease were the equivalent of the longest honeymoon ever (and none of my relationships have honeymoons. Have you met me. There is no honeymoon in my life k). I started to see our differences as reasons, even though they had always existed and been a fundamental part of what made us work. I found myself believing that maybe our lack of chemistry was no one’s fault. It just was. Like sand and failure and unfiltered sun.
And I remember, sitting on the couch, realizing that this man might be the brilliant spark of humanity that made me fall for him, while also being not right for me. I sat there, with my full and uncompromised awareness of my husband, and wept. There wasn’t any blame; I felt the lack of fault like breath stopped by a fist, and as I gasped through my tears, I felt my humanity tear.
We worked through it, obviously. We found new ways to balance ourselves and better ways to communicate and, eventually, our chemistry brought warmth to our hearth, not like it used to, but like I’d always hoped it could.
I love stories that end (or don’t end) with a clear sign, like when I axed someone out of my life. I turned to hubs and confessed, “I’m worried (our mutual friend) will be angry that I did this,” and hubs retorts, without missing a beat, “Doesn’t matter,” not because my feelings don’t matter, but because they do matter and someone else being angry about my emotional well being is the very definition of immaterial. And I know that’s exactly what he means, because he has had my back every second of every day since the day we met.
But our story doesn’t end like that, because we always had that. Our relationship never lacked clear signs. Our story ends with effort. And exhaustion. The memory and wariness that comes with watching your humanity shred, and your literal life float like leaves in sewage. Our story ends with trial and judgment and failure. It ends with the exquisite twist of lived experience that walked each of us around our home to see its faults, only to kiss our hands and guide us in again.