I feel like I’ve been bamboozled, and that’s never a good feeling. I was taught that my goal in life should be marriage – the key to unlocking all of life’s true happiness. I was told that the man of my dreams and my wedding day would fulfill me completely – that kiss would be like the flipping of a switch. I should feel lucky if my life took this turn for the best because that would mean that I had been chosen. I would never be alone again, yet we should go about it on our own – just the two of us – blissfully, ignorantly happy.
Allow me to mention that today is my ninth wedding anniversary. Do I feel lucky? Certainly. Do I feel hoodwinked? Absolutely. Am I going to tell my story? I’m gonna try my damnedest.
I remember a friend calling me when we were just a few years out of college and telling me that she was depressed because she got laid off and was still looking for a new job months later. I thought Depressed? How can that be?? You were the first of our friends to get married! We did ALL THE THINGS we were supposed to do: the engagement party at your parents’ house with the piles of presents, the bridal shower with its ribbon-tied favors, the bachelorette party with that bartender and the banana (remember the whipped cream?!), and the wedding where we bridesmaids wore matching shoes and dresses ALL FOR YOU, so you could be happy FOREVER! You are barely 24 and you have a diamond ring and a house and someone to wake up to everyday. I’m the one living with my parents while I apply to graduate school ALL BY MYSELF. I can’t remember what I actually said to her, but I’m pretty sure it was equally ignorant to what I was thinking. (FYI. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to my 20’s, married or not).
Fast forward 16 years or so and I’m newly married and – you guessed it – depressed. I am trying to explain to my new husband, not at all calmly mind you, that I don’t like this new place or this new life. I want my city back and my job back and my grocery store back. I feel like I gave up everything (including my last name) and I regret it. After trying to rationalize circles around me, he simply says, “Why am I not enough? I should be enough.” I sacrificed so much and he has the nerve to say I should be enough?!?! Hold on. Crap! I thought he was going to be enough, too! I was told he would be enough and I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. I put The One first and foremost and now the other parts of me were starving for attention. (Let’s just say that sometimes déjà vu is a subtle feeling you can’t quite pinpoint and sometimes it’s a sledgehammer.)
We were a 21st century couple for sure, already together for four years and cohabitating for two of those, so our eyes were wide open to the day-to-day struggles of coupledom well before we got married. We were plenty in love and – I believed – knew equally that we wanted to live out this crazy life together, but there was still so much ignorance.
Now I’m thinking that we started off on an epic marathon instead of a honeymoon after that fateful wedding kiss. I thought things were going to get easier because now we were fully committed to this thing. I’m pretty sure we started out running next to each other, and probably were even holding hands at first, but now we were realizing that we each needed to use our own legs and feet to move forward but I was dragging a suitcase filled with my dead dad and loads of self doubt and he had a backpack on that was flopping back and forth with chivalry and an inability to talk about his true feelings. We each needed to nourish our own bodies in order to keep running together. (And let’s not even talk about timing and pace yet.)
We struggled big time until our situation changed and we moved and we were seemingly happier. We bought the house and had the babies and blamed the bad episode on me not liking California. Done. Let’s move on.
Fast forward to the morning of our seventh anniversary. We drop the girls off at school and head to couples therapy for the first time. How did we end up here? More importantly, why didn’t we come sooner?? We’d been running next to each other I’m pretty sure, but I think we dropped each other’s hand a ways back, and maybe we turned on our iPods a bit too loud to really hear each other when one of us said we needed water or a break. So we ended up in the med tent and we needed some real help.
At first, therapy felt like Bruce Willis trying to disarm a bomb that was counting down, nearing single digits – desperate, improbable, sweat-inducing. But very quickly, it evolved into a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire lifeline. We’d like to call our therapist, Regis. We just know he can help. Each week we learned a bit more about the dance we do as a couple and how our tendencies trigger the other person for better or for worse. We slowly unpacked all of our baggage in that tiny office and looked at everything we brought to the relationship. Only through this new awareness could we change our behaviors and get to where we wanted to be.
We are very smart people who couldn’t figure it out on our own. Why did we think we had to? We thought our Happily Ever After was supposed to be effortless because it was written into the script. We did all the things we thought we were supposed to do: found each other, fell in love, got married on the beach and kissed inside a tight circle of friends and family. We just didn’t realize that the fairytale was going to take so much work alongside all that love. Good thing we were up to the task.
So, today, on our ninth wedding anniversary, we’ll joke over dinner that two’s company, but three isn’t a crowd…it’s just therapy.