On Being Married 21 Years

Today, Greg and I have been married 21 years.

TWENTY ONE YEARS, friends, which, as we say around here, is a lot of years not to smother someone with a pillow.

Twenty one years, which means our marriage is old enough to drink and doesn’t have to keep having its older friends buy it booze.

TWENTY ONE YEARS, which is ALL GROWN UP by, like, EVERY measure, you know? Our marriage can drink and it’s been able to vote and die for its country for years. I mean, our marriage can’t rent a car yet, but still, it can make questionable choices in evening wear and pick guys up at the local bar. It’s mostly grown up, is what I’m saying.

I’ve written eloquently about marriage in years past. Or eloquently-ish which is the best I can do most days.

I’ve been married long enough, I think, that I’ve lost the trite answers to the “how do you do it” questions. I’ve stopped giving the magic bullet responses like “marriage takes hard work” or “we’re still together by the grace of God” or “marriage isn’t 50/50, it’s 100/100.”

Honestly, those answers suck. Hard. 

Now, of course marriage takes hard work.

And I do believe in a gracious God.

And it’s important to go beyond our fair share in any partnership.

But to say that our marriage is intact by virtue of our work or God’s grace feels too close to implying others have failed for lack of hard work or that God has somehow withheld a measure of grace, and, well, I just don’t buy either implication. Some of the toughest divorces I’ve witnessed have come on the heels of a whole lot of hard work. And God, I believe, gives grace extravagantly, especially when it’s all falling apart.

The truth is, Greg and I work hard on our marriage. That’s a fact. Except when we’re apathetic and worn out and don’t work on our marriage at all.

And Greg and I are consistently tenacious and determined to make our marriage better. Except when we’re exhausted and just kind of done.

And Greg and I are committed to always being available for each other. Except when we’re myopic and selfish and can’t move past our own needs.

Honestly, Greg and I aren’t in a 50/50 marriage very often. Oh, we strive for equality. And we try to bear one another’s burdens. Sometimes we even hold up our ends of the marriage bargain. Sometimes, we rise above the difficulties and each give 100%, which is when the toilets get cleaned and the children are bathed and we don’t forget parent/teacher conferences. But sometimes we fall down on the job, friends. Sometimes, I give 5%, and Greg gives 5%, and we’re grumpy and petty, and we both wonder where the hell the other 90% went.

The real problem with marriage is the fact that we let humans do it. It’s the same problem with parenting, really. And with the church. And with schools. And with government. And with family. As humans, we’re fallible, glorious, well-intentioned, messy creatures who create fallible, glorious, well-intentioned, messy systems and relationships.

Yep. I wrote those things when we were married 18 years, and it’s all still true 3 years later; it’s just that, this year, I don’t have any eloquence — or partial-eloquence — available, so I won’t be waxing poetic on marriage today.

Instead, I’ll just share a few snippets of life around these parts, and what a 21st Anniversary looks like from this perspective.

a) I texted Greg this morning a heartfelt “Happy Anniversary!” sandwiched between our chat about our broken dishwasher that tried to burn the house down last night and an even more awesome conversation about our son with special needs who’s been telling female peer helpers at school that he can’t get his school work done unless he keeps his hand on their arms or foot on their foot. By comparison? That Happy Anniversary text was VERY romantic.

b) I confessed to one of my besties last night that I still fantasize some days about running away to Mexico, only to have Greg pipe up and say, “That’s OK; sometimes we fantasize about you doing that, too.” I think a Normal Woman would’ve been offended, but I was kind of relieved, and I LOL’ed, guys. I LOL’ed for reals, and I still CUMB (Chuckle Under My Breath) every time I think about it.

c) I found my undies on the floor in our entry way. I’m pretty sure they’ve been decorating the entry way for days now, while our neighbors and friends come and go. I’d like to tell you I’ve fixed that particularly hospitable gesture, but I think they’re still there.

The View of the Front Door:

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The View From the Front Door:

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In conclusion, later tonight Greg and I will high-five each other on 21 years. We didn’t buy cards. We didn’t buy flowers. We didn’t go out to eat. There are panties in the entry way that no one’s going to pick up anytime soon, and sometimes we all fantasize about Mommy skipping town. But you know what? We dream about abandoning each other TOGETHER. Our hearts and minds ARE ONE.

And even later tonight, 4 minutes after we fall asleep, which will be 6 minutes after we didn’t manage to stay awake for sex again, a 9 year old will have a nightmare and will crawl into bed with us. We’ll grunt and moan, roll over and reluctantly make room, and when that kid whispers, “I’m scared,” we’ll say, “I know you are — the dark is HARD — but you’re safe here. Snuggle up, baby,” and it’ll be enough. We’ll be content, and it’ll be enough.

Happy Anniversary, Greg! We’re another year older and another year wiser, minus the part about being wiser, because we have no freaking idea how we’re still pulling this off. We’re scared some of the time; a lot of the time, if we’re honest. But we’re safe here because we made it safe. Good job, us. And snuggle up, baby.

Here’s to not smothering each other with a pillow for 21 more! (After that, all bets are off.)

With love,

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
16 comments
  1. […] say, YES, I’ve said it before, but it’s a UNIVERSAL TRUTH, and universal truths ought not be categorized as […]

  2. Happy, Happy Anniversary!!!

    Oh, Beth, how I’ve missed you!! I’ve been attempting to swim up to the surface myself lately and just had a long catch-up session with your blog. Depression is hard, y’all, and pregnancy depression is one of my least favorite kinds (even if it is my 6th go-round with that particular brand of depression). Thanks for the laughs on this cold, dreary morning!

  3. Congratulations you two! This post is hilarious and I can relate to so much, though we’ve been married only two and a half years. I am of the opinion that vow renewal ceremonies are for the purpose of stating (or convincing?) to self, spouse, and bystanders that it’s still really love and not just Stockholm Syndrome.

    The pillow thing reminds me of a night a few years ago that a good friend went (dragged by his wife–no doctor likes being a patient!) to the ER for what turned out to be kidney stones. My fiance-at-the-time and I went to meet them there. We offered to leave the room during the health history questioning, but he told us not to bother. And so it was that we got to witness the nurse asking him the standard question about whether he felt safe at home. He pretended to consider, and then pointed to his wife and stated “sometimes she gives me pillow therapy…” My fiance and I were snickering in the corner, because our minds went to the gutter. But he explained to us and to the nurse that pillow therapy actually just involves applying a pillow to the face and continuing treatment until the screaming stops. The poor nurse took him seriously at first, and was just looking back and forth between all four of us who couldn’t stop laughing.

  4. My husband and I will be celebrating 10 years married this June, just two months after our second kid is going to be born. I would desperately love to go away to New York City, but I have a strong suspicion we’ll be lucky to find an hour alone together between the toddler and the newborn. Not smothering each other with pillows sounds like a good resolution.

  5. Congratulations!

    We will celebrate our lucky 13th dating anniversary this spring. So we’re at the point where our relationship can be all “But if you don’t let me get my nose pierced I’ll just DIE.”

    We like to say great and terrible, like describing the Wizard of Oz. So it’s been 13 great– and terrible– years.

    Many happy returns to you and Greg!

  6. Oh, and HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!!!

  7. My parents have been married for 50 years. Recently I found out my mom takes antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds or something along those lines. I asked, “Why?” and she replied, “So I don’t kill your father.” So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that you can get through even MORE than 21 more years without employing the pillow!!!

  8. Literal lol at those pictures. Just can’t. Y’all are my heroes.

    Happy anniversary!

  9. Awesomesauce! Happy 21, we keep it real just like you do – I think we emailed rather than texted the well wishes last year. We’ll have #18 in March, but we’ve been together 24 in May so when asked how long we’ve been together we just say forever. 😉

  10. We’ll have our 21st anniversary in August. After last year, if anyone asks how long we’ve been married, I”ll just say, “OVER 20 YEARS!” And then I wait for his reply, “21 LONG, ARDUOUS years”. IT’s a given.

    And thanks for the reminder – our dryer really really died for the last time last weekend, and I need to get online and see how much that new one will set us back. S igh. Guess no anniversary cruise for us this year!

    Happy!

  11. Happy Anniversary Beth and Greg!!!

  12. Wow…I need to hang onto this, because I forget it and it is so darn true: “The real problem with marriage is the fact that we let humans do it. It’s the same problem with parenting, really. And with the church. And with schools. And with government. And with family. As humans, we’re fallible, glorious, well-intentioned, messy creatures who create fallible, glorious, well-intentioned, messy systems and relationships.’

    Thanks for the words of wisdom, congrats on 21 years, and I feel you on the dishwasher, though ours just stopped working, and didn’t try to burn the house down.

  13. Congrats! My 25th anniversary is coming up next month.. 6 put of 9 kids still in the home we built.. I don’t know how we do it either.. But that one mind thing is true… I don’t have the panties in the entry way but my bra was on the couch! Lol to another 21 years of no pillow suffocating but a good pillow fight can be fun!

  14. I laughed out loud at this. And I’m sure I will CUMB a lot for a few days. Thank you.

  15. Congratulations on 21 years! I just have to remind you about our friends who had 4 kids. They had an agreement that if either of them wanted to leave, he or she had to take all the kids, too. But they only had 4. (Wait, didn’t you just get home from Hawaii? and 4 kids were here…)

    1. Ah yes, but weren’t they both there together Judy? So I don’t think that qualifies as leaving. 😉

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