I got married in 1984, so our upcoming anniversary is that notable 25-year mark.
On the one hand, it's just a number. If you hang out with someone long enough, you'll eventually rack up lots of years by the sheer passage of time. On the other hand, if you find — as I did — that being a connected partner has taken more skill, energy and self-awareness than one could have possibly imagined, then reaching 25 years is something of an accomplishment.
Much has been written about keeping passion alive in a relationship. It's a commendable topic. It's something we midlife couples need to keep in clear view.
Yet when I think about my upcoming anniversary, something else comes to mind. It has to do with how to keep one's stamina up and one's emotional baggage at bay long enough to let existing passion take root in fertile soil. There are so many pollutants that could endanger that bit of earth.
In romantic novels, there are no pollutants — only challenges to true love.
Like many other readers of Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice, I was a great believer in happy endings. You go through turmoil, and the path to love is strewn with stones, but after lots of drama, you end up with your destined one. Thus, the story ends.
Anita Diamant, author of The Red Tent, once wrote: "Married love happens off-camera, long after the credits stop rolling."
That off-camera love is the province of two individuals trying to come close to one another.
In Yiddish, the word for "intimate" is oysgebundn. You bund yourself oys — "bind yourself thoroughly" — with another.
Many Detours Along the Way
Yet there are so many detours that take us away from that binding. They're not always visible at first. But soon enough, one partner or the other veers off in the direction of selfishness, neediness, or the urge for distance or control. Two people with separate histories and agendas come together to share almost every facet of their lives. It's inevitable that they'll bump heads somewhere along the line.
I came to my marriage armed with plenty of romantic notions and marital misinformation. It's a wonder that we even survived the first year.
I couldn't have predicted how much separating I had yet to do from my family of origin. I was shocked when I couldn't replicate certain dynamics of my parents' marriage. I had no practice in conflict resolution, or sharing time and space. Here I was, well-educated and with postgraduate training. Yet I felt as if I were just grasping the basics of Intimacy 101.
Waking up and going to sleep with the same partner, week after week, season after season, is daunting. Small irritations can burgeon into larger ones.
The plus side to that day-to-day living is having time to experiment, make mistakes, process feelings and learn how to make things good again with your partner. Someone who functions as a close friend, lover and perhaps a co-parent is worth all that relationship trouble.
Having the opportunity to share so many years together — combined with the perspective of friends and therapists — gave me the chance to sort through many of my former misconceptions. I was able to ultimately reframe my beliefs in how a couple navigates their way through the thicket of togetherness.
Given how many factors can tear at a couple, I find it a small miracle when two people can live side by side for so many years — and still like each other!
As we near our 25th, it's not a big party or the lure of silver that excites me. Rather, it's the satisfaction of having made it this far.
It wasn't easy or smooth. In fact, I never knew "happily ever after" could be this much work. But if you find someone in this fractured world with whom you could be deeply oysgebundn, then it's clearly worth the effort.
Mara Sokolsky is a freelance writer living in Providence, R.I. E-mail her at: [email protected] net.