I believe in marriage. Not the “happily-ever-after” kind. Or the kind that is somehow “sanctified.” What I believe in is a marriage that results from the relentlessly hard work of maintaining a relationship with another human being. A relationship that persists, as they say, “for richer or poorer,” in “sickness and health,” — or in the face of whatever else comes along.
I had such a marriage. George and I met while I was still in high school. Full of the naiveté of our age and time, we thought we were ready to be married when I was barely 20 and he was 21. We were both in college then, paying our own way, and for those first few years we lived on macaroni and cheese, saved S&H green stamps and struggled to pay the rent. At the end of my junior year I quit school and got a job while he finished his degree. Then he worked two jobs — teaching during the day and stocking grocery store shelves at night — so I could finish. We were young and foolish but we were partners, whatever it took.
And it wasn’t easy. Over the next few years we changed a lot, sometimes growing in the same direction and sometimes in opposite directions. In the 13th year of our marriage – when I was 33 and he was 34 — it became so difficult that we separated for, as we later called it, our “sabbatical year.” Ten months into that year, we each decided we’d rather be married and, more importantly, that we couldn’t imagine being married to anyone else.
So we got back together and began to apply the same energy to our marriage that we had applied to our careers: figuring out how to tell each other what we needed, learning to stop “pushing those buttons” on one another, and practicing the art of laughing at ourselves. Those who knew us would say we didn’t always succeed, but we were never out of balance for too long.
Eventually we were both successful business executives, but whenever anyone asked either of us what we were most proud of, we would say, sincerely and without hesitation, “staying married for ____ years.”
When George died last year, slightly more than two months after his 60th birthday, I counted myself both the unluckiest and luckiest person in the world. Unlucky to have lost my best friend in a freak accident while we were on vacation in Greece, but even more unlucky because I wouldn’t get to see how the next 20 years of our marriage would turn out.
I was also, of course, lucky to have had four decades with a man who loved me, respected me and was proud of me. Most of all, I was lucky to have had someone to come home to, someone to complain to, someone to learn from, and someone to hug.
Now, a year after he is gone, I’m still wearing the wedding ring we bought at J.C. Penney. And when I have to fill out a form, I refuse to check “single” but instead write in “widow.” I am letting him go little by little, but I can never really let him go because all those years made him part of me. We worked too hard. We changed each other too much. We were married.
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