It was our two-year wedding anniversary last Sunday. We didn’t do much, didn’t exchange cards or gifts. Instead, we went out for dinner two days earlier at a Japanese restaurant that serves the prettiest set meals. Our anniversary just felt like another regular day, until I took some time to reflect on our last two years as man and wife, and everything we went through together.
I remember being at a work retreat several years ago. My colleagues gathered at a hotel conference room, and we each took turns introducing ourselves, since we all worked remotely and rarely got the chance to get together in person. One colleague introduced herself, then turned to us younger staff members and said, “I don’t think you younger ones know this, but marriage is hard. It’s really, really hard. You have to really fight to make it work. Nobody told me this.”
At the time, I was in my late 20s and single. But I remember thinking, “What are you talking about? All I hear is how hard and awful marriage is.” My generation is a product of divorce and broken marriages. So many people of my age group have been scarred by their parents’ dysfunctional marriages, and they carry that emotional baggage and psychological trauma into their relationships. My own parents have a long, healthy marriage, but they model a very traditional marriage that made me assume marriage is not for me. At least within my social circles, everyone knows marriage requires hard work and sacrifice. That’s why so many of us delay marriage for so long, or pay so much for therapy. I don’t know of any of my friends who walked into their marriage starry-eyed and giddy, but I know too many who became insomniac with anxiety leading up to their wedding, terrified of making the wrong choice, of wrecking things, of unforeseen changes and hardships.
And then I got married. Sure, marriage is not a breeze, but neither was being single. As someone who had been single for 32 years, I think being married is way better and easier than being single, especially when you’re past your mid-20s. In trying to set us up for realistic expectations about marriage, I wonder if some people went to the other extreme.
David and I got married at the start of the pandemic, when all church services and schools went online, grocery stores made you wait in line outside with masks on, and all wedding venues shut down. We spoke our vows in our backyard, our pastor marrying us from six feet away, and our friends and family watching us in their bedrooms via Zoom.
Year one of marriage was a bit of a blur. The pandemic froze time into one surreal era. It felt weird and impossible to celebrate typical big milestone events such as weddings, honeymoons, birthdays. We woke up the next day on our stay-at-home “honeymoon” with nothing to do. That year David and I spent a lot of time stuck at home, our marriage beginning and continuing in a long stream of mundane, sheltered activities. We worked from home, I read, he watched TV, we went on our daily evening walks, and repeat.
I suppose that’s just what married life is– doing mundane things together– but there was also a sense of being robbed not just of our actual honeymoon, but the honeymoon phase. I realized how important it is to celebrate life milestones with community. It is other people– their smiles, their cheers, their scent, their mere physical presence– that help mark those milestones, not just the milestone itself.
David began feeling somewhat depressed, and though I sometimes lectured him for letting the pandemic bring him down, when we’re both privileged to work from home, not suffer financially, and remain healthy (ever the preacher’s daughter), I too felt a loss– a loss that seems trivial in the grand scope of what was happening around the world and in our country, but still, on a personal level, a tiny loss that deserves some recognition and a formal burial.
Year two of marriage felt like a continuation of that frozen surreal era of the pandemic– until Sep 18, when David’s mother died. And then time, instead of feeling frozen, melted and roiled into storm and waves. We entered into a new era then, from pandemic surrealism to nightmare surrealism. Even now, David sometimes shakes himself, wondering, Is this for real? My mom’s really gone? Meanwhile, I resigned from my job, not knowing if I’ll ever find a journalism job again, spent three months unemployed, and then one month before starting my new job, found out I’m not only pregnant, but already in late second-trimester.
Yet we survived, and continue to survive– not barely hanging on, slogging through each day hacking and groaning, but strong and steady. Our married life is as boring as our second-year anniversary. We’re not cute, or romantic, or dramatic. We haven’t had any fights, nor is our love life hot and passionate, but it’s the small trivial things that formed the linchpins to our marriage– holding hands when we go for walks, tucking David into bed every night (he’s a baby), cleaning up after our cat Shalom’s pee spree, all with this lingering cloud over us that something is not quite right with the world, but at least we’re in it together, side by side.
Death shook us. Grief is an intensely lonely and personal journey. As much as I love David and want to be there for him, I found myself restrained by the very fact that it was not I who lost my mother. There were things that David had to face alone, things he had to hear from God and God alone. My words, my presence, my touch sometimes helped, often didn’t, and at times actually hurt, especially when it turned into preaching, when I try to rub in Scripture like ointment when David’s wounds still need washing. There’s never the “right” things to say to comfort and console someone in grief, because what David needs to hear changes by day, by moment, by mood, and more often than not, I learned that the fewer words uttered, the better. Time heals, but never brings back what’s lost, never turns back, never makes what’s broken whole. David is changed. I am changed. Our marriage is changed.
And just as David’s walk in grief is sometimes lonely, so too is my walk as a soon-to-be mother, when the father of my child can’t feel pure excitement for a new baby without the puncture of loss of his mother. Those two events are tightly coiled, impossible for David to untangle and separate. I can’t feel David’s happiness without also feeling his sadness, and that makes me sad, too. So like our wedding, which as joyous as it was, also had a tinge of loss and sadness to it, so too does my pregnancy feel like a tie-dye blend of contradictory emotions– joy and sorrow, excitement and fear, gain and loss, life and death.
Now, as we enter year three of our marriage, we also have less than eight weeks left till the baby’s due date. This is yet another era of surrealism. And just like so many people warned me about how hard and bloody marriage is, everywhere we turn, we get a lot of “just waits” about the coming baby. “Just wait till you hit third trimester, and the back aches and cramps begin!” “Just wait till the baby’s born, and you get no sleep!” “Just wait till the baby’s a toddler, and the terrible twos come!” I don’t need these unasked for advice and warnings– I’ve already convinced myself, long before I got pregnant, that having kids is terrible, horrible, no good, very bad. From the first time I involuntarily caught sight of my friend’s engorged postpartum boobs, to noticing the dark eye circles of new parents, to hearing babies screech and wail on the airplane, I had told myself and David, over and over, “We are not having kids, ever.”
But then, I thought the same about marriage, and as much as our marriage will never make it to a Hallmark movie, I enjoy being married, even its inconveniences and sacrifices and aloneness and irritations. Because at the end of the day, I have someone I can and want and will love– sometimes not all together, but there’s something simplistically wonderful about having someone to call yours to love, someone you daily strive to love better and wiser, someone whom you know God placed in your life to be loved specifically by you.
Happy two-year anniversary, David. I love you.