Although I haven't been to a wedding in years, I've attended two this fall. I love fall weddings. Daniel and I were married in late September, fourteen years ago. Our creekside venue and surrounding woods created the perfect backdrop. It rained that morning, and my aunt reminded me of the old superstition that rain on your wedding day is good luck.
Near the guestbook, we'd left a stack of notecards for guests to write their well-wishes and marriage advice. Every few years I find these notes and read through them again. Even though they are the kindest words from those nearest to us, the only piece of advice I remember was from my brother-in-law who told us, "Don't take anyone's advice." He was pointing out that everyone's marriage is different, and that not one thing works for everybody.
With this fall's weddings, I think about what I know of love. I think about the cards of congratulations I have sent, the wishes I have given, and the truths I would tell someone about marriage, if asked. The best descriptions of love and marriage have come to me not through greeting cards or poetry or art, but through my school teachers, and although these aren't your traditional descriptions, I have held their truths as my guide through the years.
One professor in college said in an offhanded way, "You know he's your husband because he's the one eating cake over the kitchen sink in his underwear." While this may sound like something you'd see in a Simpson's episode but hope to never see in your own kitchen, I don't take his scoffing at face-value. Instead, I come back to this mental picture as a reminder to embrace the weird and boring intimacies of everyday life.
Being married is like going through airport security every single day, awkwardly hunched over, removing shoes and belts, emptying pockets, digging out a shamefully mismatched collection of personal liquids, furtively glancing around to make sure you aren't being judged. Besides your immediate family and sometimes fellow travelers, the only person you truly share these everyday, real-life, dull intimacies with will be your partner. And even though these everyday intimacies can also become the things that require the most grace or patience (Could you please throw the floss into the trash can?!), it is such a beautiful release to give yourself fully to someone who will love you--not despite--but because of your weirdness.
One night, this mental image collided with my reality. I walked through the house, methodically locking doors and turning off lights. I rounded the corner into the kitchen and saw Daniel hunched over the kitchen sink, taking way-too-big a bite out of a sandwich. No plate, no napkin, no shame. He looked at me sideways, waiting for my response, his hands paused in brushing the crumbs from his beard. My professor's words echoed in my head, and I stopped and laughed at how perfectly banal and ridiculous this moment was.
Another professor had been dealing with a major medical diagnosis and on-going treatments. His wife became as much his caregiver as his partner. After a decades-long marriage, you'd think they'd have discovered everything there is to know, but their relationship had shifted into stark territory and a new exploration of how love displays itself. He quipped to me, "Love is cleaning the vomit out of the bed."
At the time, I accepted his comment into my file of "Gross Love Advice from Those Who Have Gone Before," but I didn't put much weight into it. It's hard to think about cleaning vomit out of the bed when you're young and virile and newly in love. This side of love comes with overhead fluorescent lighting, under-eye bags, and the full weight of reality, and it's impossible to filter it into anything magazine-presentable.
But what I know about love is that it reveals itself as much under duress as anything else, and maybe more so. I can look back at our years and tell you times we've thrived together and times we've barely survived together. The moments when things are falling apart--these are the times when love can do its best work.
Which brings me to the most important guiding truth I hold about love and marriage, because I don't chalk 14 years of marriage up to rainy wedding day good luck. Back when we were studying Shakespeare's sonnets and forbidden love in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, my high school English teacher said, "In marriage, you'll be friends way more than you'll be lovers."
I think through the marriages of my friends and family. The ones who seem to be getting it right have a genuine, enduring friendship with each other. We always come into marriage with two identities, two pasts, two sets of values and expectations, but the friendship that sparks between us breeds kindness, generosity, honesty, forgiveness, passion, and safety. The friendship in married life is where two people become one. The friendship is where wedding vows become hopeful and not heavy, beautiful and not grim. The time and space we share is alive with our conversations, our laughter, our darkness, our questioning, our hope, and in this friendship place, we have a million opportunities to care and support one another.
This is what I know about love. Love is being dull, real-life intimate. Love is showing up, even in hard times. Love is friendship forever.