That’s because it captures the beauty of the day Mike and I chose to marry 17 years ago yesterday. I love the composition, the feel, the memory, and the moment this photo generates. When I look at it, all those sensations wash over me. It’s symbolic.
Marriage is not a throw-pillow saying: Today I marry my best friend… There is that, of course, but it’s so much more layered than that. I feel like throw-pillow sayings just simplify something far more complex and dilute the truth in the process. Next to parenting, marriage is, perhaps, the relationship in our lives that most expands us, contracts us, and helps us to evolve. It makes us examine our own strengths and shortcomings, often more than we like. Sometimes, uncomfortably so. Sometimes, exhilaratingly so.
How to mark the occasion, then? That commemoration changes, too. I spend time each year thinking how to honor that. This year, I signed up for a painting class which is something I’ve been talking about doing forever. I let my intuition guide my choice and it lead me to paint a Buddha looking into the sunset to mark our 17th anniversary. I tried not to right-brain it, but that’s hard for me. (Sunset? Really? Sounds cryptic.) But if you look at the photo above, it too, was at sunset. Sunsets mark the end of one cycle and the anticipation of a fresh one waiting on the other side. That explains sunsets. But why Buddha?
We had a Buddha painting when we moved from Torrance (though not a sunset Buddha), and we probably still have it somewhere, but Mike has been unable to track it down after looking for it. His dad was gifted that when he was bank president by some famous Japanese painter. Mike’s Jewish, and I had a Christian upbringing, so where would Buddha fit in? As our relationship matured, I feel Buddha fits in perfectly. Perhaps this was why I chose that image. I’m not entirely sure. I just knew it was the right image to mark our 17.
While at the paint class with 92 year old, Goldie, and a number of other ladies significantly my seniors, I created my first acrylic. I told them what I was doing. This lead to a conversation about marriage in general. The instructor, Sandi, said she’d been married for 47 years. She said a man in another class had been married 62 years.
Sixty-two years? Sandi went on to say that the man said marriage is like an onion. You go through layers–Shrek-style, I guess. Just when you think it stinks, a layer peels away and you see something fresh and new. Stitch that on a throw pillow.
But it felt more true to me. Not that I think my marriage stinks, mind you. But getting along in the face of many changes isn’t always a walk in the park. At the same time, there’s nothing better than sharing such a strong connection in the face of life’s many changes. Both are true. Marriage is a process and it takes active participation from both partners. It also takes hutzpah. And patience. And obviously love.
Then there’s flexibility, trust, appreciation, and a regular practice of gratitude. For me, it feels so much better to spend time thinking about what I appreciate about my mate instead of what bugs me. I don’t always succeed but when I do, I’m happier in that place. I think it every day. I say it far less often. I will work on that.
So how to make a marriage strong and create that “We” space in the face of all the other items on our lists? Mike and I are firm believers in weekly date nights. Each couple defines these differently and there is no ego on the hierarchy of what’s done. For us, dinner and a movie is what we’ve been doing for 16 years. It works for us. Maybe, it’s a trip to Starbucks. Or dancing. Or a hike up a rock cliff. The point is just to have that one-on-one time to share space and face while doing something we both enjoy together.
Marriages comes in all shapes and sizes. Mike and I had an interesting talk with a 16 year old from Pakistan on this topic last month. He said in his country, a mate is still chosen for him by his family. When we asked how he feels about that his response was telling and mature beyond his years: “I can choose to be happy in any situation. I will make it work in a good way when the time is right. I trust my mother to make a good choice.”
Wow. As a mother, that’s a lot of pressure. But don’t you love that attitude? I can choose to be happy no matter what. Of course, there are exceptions to this and I lived one of those exceptions in my first not-so-happy marriage. It’s really difficult to choose to be happy in the hotbed of abuse. Attitude is key, but in this scenario, that’s just not realistic.
I think the truth sits somewhere in the middle.
In a world where many argue monogamy goes against human nature, I find 62 years an incredible length of time to be with one person . That’s 12 years longer than I’ve been alive! I remember asking Mike’s dad what the secret to a long marriage is because I’ve always admired it and I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember his answer.
I do remember he never missed an occasion to send flowers. I do remember the way he carried an emory board for Mike’s mom in case she broke a nail. I do remember the smile he gave when he said, “Seems like just yesterday.” I knew he meant that.
That, to me, said everything. It’s about anticipating your partner’s needs before they do. It’s about tuning in, connection, fine-tuning. It’s about paying attention to growing individually and together simultaneously. It’s about admiring the gifts your partner gives you daily as they shift and change layer after layer. It’s about putting up with the stinky layers.
To my partner: thank you for anticipating and letting me learn to anticipate. Thank you for teaching me that each day is a blessing, each moment a gift. You’ve taught me more about what it means to be humble and present than anybody I’ve ever met. Thank you for knowing the perfect balance between sharing space with me and giving me my space. Thank you for reading my blogs–all of them. I think of you when I write them. Thank you for all your gifts I recognize, but don’t verbalize. I want you to know I see them in every moment. Te amo, mi amor.
62 years? Seems like a breeze.