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Why did no one warn me? It turns out that the fifteenth year of marriage needs a relational marker: Here be dragons.
True, nothing much has happened this year, at least not for us: no new babies, no selling or buying of houses, no new jobs, no new educational degrees. And certainly not all of these at the same time—an unbelievable combination of stressors that we’ve lived through before: twice. This is not terra incognita; we are living in entirely discovered country these days.
And that’s part of the problem, I think. We’ve had all the tiny babies we’re going to have (she says “probably”; he says “hell, yes”), but the children still require an enormous amount of energy and patience and attention. The Sisyphean myth as applied to parenthood is overdone, but it’s oh-so apt. Marriage, it turns out, is a ton of work: housework, yard work, children’s homework, office work, just plain old work-work.
We’re entering our middle age and the middle portion of our marriage. We have a son entering middle school. We’re pretty solidly middle-class in every way that is boring: soccer practice and piano lessons, old Volvos and retro push lawn mowers, Kraft mac-n-cheese and organic milk. We live in Middle America. This is the middle period of life in which people experience real tragedies in their lives—divorces, career failures, hospitalized children and parents, deaths in the family, more divorces. We look around us and realize that some of our individual dreams have died. So much for being an artist living in the West Village. So much for the Peace Corps.
This year, for the first time, I feel old: I’ve got undeniable wrinkles; the appeal of Botox now makes sense; my elbows have turned into elephant skin; my left eye has been droopy since the Bells Palsy; I can only do twelve push-ups (on a good day); and what! are those broken blood vessel things in my legs? My youth was wasted on a more modest me. I should have worn a bikini more often. Or all the time, actually: every damn minute of every pre-cellulite day. Is this what a mid-life crisis feels like? Does that Retin-A moisturizer really work? I should stop asking rhetorical questions and start P90Xing.
Frederick Buechner has famously written that each person longs to be both fully known and fully loved. And that’s true, in so far as it goes. But for two people who have been married a long time and who do, truly, love each other and know each other well, there’s another truth in play: sometimes you don’t want to be as fully known as you are. Sometimes I don’t want to be known in all my foolishness and silliness and ridiculousness. It’s like Chesterton says: “Marriage is a duel to the death no honorable man can decline.” Wait, that’s not the right quote. Forget that one. Look, sometimes I’d just like to be able to say, “That’s interesting, because in the nineteenth century…” and not have the entire family break into guffaws before I finish my sentence.
I name these dragons of the middle period in order to slay them: Boredom, Familiarity, Hard Work, Discontent, Vanity.
St. Georgina, that’s me.
I love that later today I’ll turn to you and say, “Do you mind that I wrote publicly about all of that stuff?” And you’ll say, “Why would I mind?” I love that in the evening we’ll turn up the music. We’ll wash the dishes and dance in the kitchen. We’ll have the same argument we’ve had every night for the last ten years (“Isn’t it your turn to put the kids to bed?”).
So yes. It’s predictable. And yes, sometimes one punts to habit in a marriage—that which is comfortable and known and worn. “To have and to hold from this day forward” is largely about our habits—habitus: to have, to hold; from habeo; I have, I hold, I keep—these are the emotional places we inhabit and which are habitable to us. Habits form the measure and scope of our being-in-the-world, this world of broken, rusted, dirty things that constantly require fixing, cleaning, wiping. This is our real habitude, as Shakespeare says, and it gives life and grace.
This is my Ebenezer. I place these words here as markers to myself: we made it through year fifteen, past the dragons, into calm waters. After the minor fourth comes the major fifth—hallelujah.
So tonight, let’s raise a glass of Prosecco to year sixteen; it’s cheaper than Champagne. But just in case you want to commemorate this fifteenth year in spectacular fashion, let me direct you to this diamond and emerald Edwardian ring—easily shipped from Boulder, Colorado by Classic Facets Antique Jewelry, (303) 938-8851. Think of it as part of my research into the long nineteenth century.
Sarina Gruver Moore teaches English literature at Grove City College.