Just Married: Our First Year
"The first year of marriage was tough," my long-lashed friend batted her eyes and tightened her lips around that last word of her sentence.
Her story seems to be a common one: Your marriage begins with a seed of love that is pressed into the ground with a vow of forever. The nutrient-rich dirt is full of trust, promises, and compromise with the hope and faith that your tree of marriage will grow into something rooted, storm resistant, and everlasting.
But what about the beginning where you become buried in the unknown? Where you do not know which way is the way up? Where the new earth surrounding you is not just yours anymore?
That minimum first year of marriage is capped off with a crust that is hard to break through. You think you know someone, and you believe that they know what is necessary about you, but then marriage reveals that there is a dark, thick soil surrounding your simple seed of love. It suddenly becomes not so simple anymore, and you have to learn to live with each other's organic matter, trust the roots you take, and then grow through the topsoil...
So, I must reveal, that my feelings towards my friends and their stories of new marriage hardships left me feeling warm with accomplishment. I had perceived myself and my relationship to be superior due to our messy past, but, what was worse, is that all of my accumulated moments of self-induced hell had somehow resulted in pride.
I told myself, "We have already been there, and we have been through worse."
These inner self-proclamations gave me a sad sense of power, and, although I did not share them with my women peers, my future husband and I would chuckle about it over wine, reaffirming what we thought to be true: We are better off than them because of our past.
So, where did our pride originate?
If we were to take the decade of jealousy, cheating, lying, confusion, and lust and weld each metallic sin to the other, we would end up with a fortress that had no real architectural goal. We poured a foundation of selfishness, renaming manipulation and drama as passion. We loved hard and then hated harder, reassuring each other of incomparable feelings, and then hammering fear and threats into each other's hearts. We took the idea of faithfulness and milled it into a fine dust that we sprinkled around each other and called “hope”. It was a wreck-less relationship that had been clouded with the uncertainty and confusion of being young and in love for the first time. Once ten years had passed and we finally allowed ourselves to love in a better way, we had lived within the darkest parts of the other person.
We walked into marriage knowing what nearly all "divorce-worthy" acts felt like, and because we had lived amongst these accumulated extremes, we convinced ourselves that this collection of outliers would allow us to be exempt from the majority of marital challenges. Our meaningless accomplishment of endurance gave us a feeling of immunity over all of the petty bullshit that taunted newlyweds, and the same sense of teenage invincibility that had haunted our young relationship was back. This time, though, it had disguised itself as pride and told us that there were no more challenges left to burn us.
All of our confidence in each other led us to the conclusion that we would spend our entire first year of marriage traveling the world, and, as seems to be our pattern, we began with the extreme idea of road tripping with our own vehicle through South America.
These days, as social media outlets suggest, traveling the world with the one you love seems to top the list for stereotypical “relationship goals”. Although our self-produced highlight reel on the internet agreed with the stereotype, it was not long into our ambitious idea that we found ourselves hip-to-hip in the back of our truck still hurt by our past and questioning our future. We had completed pre-marital counseling and made whole-hearted vows in front of our loved ones. How could we still be on edge with each other and full of doubts?
It was as if marriage was the beginning of a brand new relationship. As we slept out of, transported ourselves in, and cooked from our truck, we discovered so many nuances about the other that we never knew existed (and that we did not necessarily like). These things became challenges when we realized that not only was there no escape from the other person amidst the vast nothingness of the road ahead of us, but that marriage had given us no choice other than to accept it and work it out. We had to surrender ourselves individually to the idea of living in unison no matter what, and then absorb the fact that our vows were eternal and unbending. Although this seems to be an obvious undertaking when you sign up for marriage, bliss can be blinding, and the reality of our commitment unapologetically revealed itself not long after.
We had to adjust to marriage, even though we thought we would not have to.
Our realization was not a hopeless one. There is so much beauty in the balances of marriage. It truly is the first unavoidable lesson of mutually beneficial love and effort. Your happiness is dependent on the happiness of the other, and so you find yourself learning to ride a satisfying round-a-bout of selfless and selfish love. For us, it was a lesson that we could have only learned within the commitment of marriage.
However, our realization was not a revolutionary one either. Any person who has experienced it will say, “Marriage is hard work”, and most people who are not married will flutter their hands at that fable, roll their eyes, and forget about it. It is one of those wonders that is hard to understand until you are a part of the club, which makes it all the more shocking once you have joined.
Marriage has swiftly humbled us. We thought that we had built a concrete foundation made up of unnecessary suffering, but marriage quickly reminded us of the shifting earth below. We knew love, but we did not know that there was an even greater capacity for it; that the fertility of the soil around us was capable of supporting a giant. It is hard work, yes, but what we have learned thus far is that marriage is limitless when it comes to love and personal growth if you let it be.
Our first year of marriage will not be forgotten: The unexpected, dark places became depths of personal strength, and now we are not afraid to dig deeper and take root in them. We always knew we wanted what was growing above, but now we are sure of what is growing below.