That Blessed Arrangement

The hard work of marriage

I overheard a conversation in the blueberry patch last summer between two middle-aged women (the most fruitful eavesdropping occurs in berry patches, pun aside). One was talking about how the woman that she found her husband in bed with was actually happily married with children and had a husband who didn’t mind the infidelity. (I told you.) Anyway, the part that struck me for some reason that day was when she told her friend, “You’re so lucky to have a great husband.”

My initial thought, as I picked and popped berries into my mouth and my bucket, was, “Yeah, me too.” I have a great husband and I’m so lucky, right?

Wrong.

Luck has almost nothing to do with it. It’s been hard work for a very long time, for both of us. What we have now — whatever peace, shorthand, teamwork, whatever success — it’s been practiced. It’s been earned.

We’ve been fortunate, sure. But we showed up and we worked, every day. We screwed up, made up, and cleaned up more times than I can count. We’ve been, on occasion, blind, deaf and mute. We’ve raged and stewed and steamed and curdled. We were both very wrong while insisting that we were clearly right. There has been stomping and slamming and eye-rolling, inappropriate use of gestures and language. Red cards and yellow flags. But we get better at it all the time. We’re learning.

It’s not luck. It’s work.

It’s the same with the house, the kids, the content middle. Lucky? Sure, I suppose, somewhat, in some ways. We were born white and middle class in a culture that supports those things. We have our health. We found each other.

But we’ve built it, together, brick by brick. When it hurt, when we were scared, when it wasn’t any damned fun at all. When the money was tight and the food was bad. When we barely tolerated the sight of one another. Still we got up, every morning, feet on the floor and hands on task, even when heads and hearts weren’t in the game. Because it was all that we had and we hoped that it was worth it.

Turns out it was — worth it, that is.

Marriage reminds me of that Fitzgerald quote about two opposing ideas —

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

I would change it, though —

The test of a marriage is the ability to hold two opposed humans in the same building at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

We hung in there. Sometimes, that’s all we did — hang in there by our tiny weak, split nails. But, gradually, we softened, we grew patient. We remembered little things like kindness, flexibility, forgiveness and naps. We learned to help each other hang in there.

We are, more than a quarter century later — after all the toil, after some of the dust has settled and the fog has lifted — deeply in love and proud of all that work. Contentment is the prize. Getting older with this person — my best friend, the infuriating love of my life — who has been through the wars with me is a gift without measure.

So, consider — your hard work, your hard time, is just that — YOURS.

Don’t let anyone dismiss or diminish your challenges, your struggles. Don’t count on luck and don’t call it luck. Be proud of the work you’ve done and the burdens you’ve borne. Proud of the winnings and the wounds. Earn it and own it.

And, speaking from experience — abandon your illusions. It’s work. Calm down, be nice, eyes forward. It’s worth it.

Write it down.

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