When I first got married, my mom told me she hoped that I would have a lifelong fairytale romance.
At the time, I found that kind of unrealistic. I was 20 and my husband was 21 when we got married. We were best friends above all else with a phenomenal connection and I knew I needed him in my life forever. But I was never the little girl who dreamed of a fairytale wedding, straight out of Disney. In fact, I didn’t dream of my wedding day at all. And when we got married, my husband wasn’t particularly romantic and the way we came to the decision to marry ranks up there among the least romantic marriage proposals of all time.
We both had a lot of growing up to do when we got married. He was wary of marriage, a child of divorce who didn’t really have a positive model of marriage. I came from two parents who had been seemingly happily married for 20 years but didn’t show me much about how their marriage worked.
We also both had gigantic chips on our shoulders about the way we had been raised and life in general. Mine was particularly huge; I was so angry with my parents that it was beyond irrational. It shocks me now to think that I was ever that angry. We moved 1300 miles away from our families right after getting married and I often think that distance from family and the legal piece of paper kept us together in the first few years. We were both fairly selfish and immature; I would say I was more so than him.
For us, it was that deep friendship and easy companionship that kept us together. Fortunately, we waited four years to have our first child because neither of us would have been good parents before that. When we did have kids, he went into hyper-responsibility mode by working a lot because that was the example his stepdad had given him. I was profoundly depressed after the birth of my first child, something that didn’t let up for years, made worse because I was so alone with my husband working so much.
We never were the angry, name-calling, plate-smashing kind of couple, even at our worst. Instead, we were more likely to have only cursory interactions, burying our dissatisfactions deep within ourselves, sometimes sniping at each other under stress.
But in the intervening years, our mutual loyalty to each other grew into a deep love. After he revealed his longtime porn addiction three years ago, he worked on facing his own inner demons. His method for transformation was through his Catholic faith. I didn’t share the faith but learned to be grateful that it helped him so much.
Although the revelation of his hidden addiction explained so much about our marriage up until that point, it was one of the most painful things I ever went through. But it also strengthened us more than anything else. He had always worked hard to provide for our family and we had always been close and we enjoyed spending time together.
But after the total honesty on his part, he also changed and became the kind of fairytale husband I never dared to dream of. He started showing that he deeply valued me and calling me his beautiful bride, which he had never said before. I often briefly wake up to him kissing my forehead when he gets up to get ready for work. He sends occasional random texts saying I’m the best thing that ever happened to him.
He even gave me a cute nickname, his “little bird”, loosely taken from Matthew 6:26, the Bible verse about birds not needing to worry about how they’ll be fed because God will meet their needs. He gave me that nickname because I used to always be so worried and it was a reminder not to worry because everything would be okay. It may sound silly, but in doing so, it helped me work to overcome my anxiety (specifically about money.) Now its a nickname that doesn’t really apply to my anxiety anymore but still makes me feel treasured and cared for.
Once I started working on my issues, I came to love him as affectionately and deeply as he loved me. It’s true what people say: you have to start to love yourself before you can truly love others. He was part of how I learned to love myself, though learning to love myself is an ongoing process.
And I started working on how to be truly respectful of him, something I admit I didn’t always understand. Now I wouldn’t dream of wanting to criticize him or say something sarcastic about him or make a joke at his expense anymore, but unfortunately that wasn’t always the case. I started to really look at how I was treating him, which was less than it could have been.
It’s funny in a way because we had always had a pretty good marriage. We were two very imperfect people who nonetheless saw enough good in each other that we were able to be best friends and constant companions, even in the times when we were each too broken to understand what love really was and how deep it could go.
I don’t know what other people’s marriages are like enough to know if we just finally caught up to where other people start, or if what we have is rare. What I do know is that we both became completely vulnerable to each other as a result of working on ourselves and that transformed a best friendship into a deep, fulfilling, irreplaceable love. I guess in the end, my mom’s wish for me ended up coming true after all.
“It’s like a long book that you never want to end” – Pam Halpert in “The Office” finale, about her romance with her husband Jim