“Someone smeared poop on the wall in the bathroom.”
“Just on the wall-around the toilet.”
“I hope you know we’re never coming back to this store. No matter how much you like their video games.”
“Then, I’ll just be bored and die.”
“Nuh-uh. You ain’t leaving me alone in a world where people smear poop on the walls.”
“Alright, let’s go. You know you’re stuck with me for the next fifty years anyway.”
“You’re stuck with me for the next fifty years” is not a comforting statement. On it’s face, it seems harsh on yourself and cruel to your partner. Between us though? Whispered after a panic attack that convinced him the woman who held his heart was going to throw it out the window after witnessing his supposed weakness? Quietly stated at the kitchen table the morning after listening to her tell about reaching out to a friend instead of mending the wounds within? Giggled between breathless tickles while the dog danced around them both in circles? Murmured into his hair after particularly thorny week of suicidal thoughts?
Those words became a flippant finger to our insecurities. A dismissal of the thought of abandonment. A romantic promise disguised as a self-deprecating joke. The phrase comes as naturally to my lips as the peppermint tea with honey I drink before bed.
I don’t write about my husband often. Not on social media. Not in my articles. Only once before on Medium. (That was not a particularly happy snapshot.)
I never want to write lies. If I don’t feel a certain way, I don’t write it or share it. There’s no gushing odes on my Instagram during long silences. No stories of contentment on my Facebook during restless depressive episodes. We both routinely forget Valentines Day until about a week later then tease each other about it.
Eight years ago, a friend told me he was miserable in love after the five relationships and one marriage he’d had ended badly. “Every time I’ve tried, I’ve failed.” I used to think of that disdainfully.
Quitting? Throwing in the towel? Love is work and work is hard and you gotta burn your ships and all that jazz. Thought with all the arrogance of someone who had never been through it. Lived through it. This past year, though? I’ve remembered that friend and thought differently.
Listen. Love is a choice and work, but it’s also…………..not. When I thought marriage was work, I wasn’t telling him that. When I thought I want to escape to another country, I wasn’t telling him that. I was keeping my head down and plowing through. That makes no sense, but when you’re in the mindset that you’re stuck because you made a promise, you think you have to stay. If you’re in a bad/difficult/consistently unhappy relationship, you do not have to stay. There is no reward for spending years of your life racking up resentments. If all you’re doing is working hard and breeding bitterness and feeling stuck, you’re doing it wrong.
It’s been my husband and me in the same house for 355 days. Literally. For the first few months of 2020, we were co-existing. Together but barely. Friendly roommates.
When our conversations “turned ugly" which is emotionally immature speak for tough confessions and actually being honest about what we wanted and needed, it was messy. We were out of practice, to put it mildly, with authenticity. With all the grace of toddlers wielding scalpels, we talked. We cut. We cauterized. We screamed. We fucked. We reconciled. We actually communicated.
Shared how we had reached out to others instead of mending within. Shared our dreams. Shared our traumas. Had the conversations that come when everything else is stripped away, and you’re laid bare. When we essentially “met” each other again seven months into the decade that was 2020, we were quintessentially us. Not our idealized courtship selves. Not our potential future selves. No hiding behind religion or half-baked ideas of quitting. No hiding behind committment or obligation. Asking questions.
What do you want? What do you need? Are we getting that? Are we stuck in a rut? Are we growing together? When all you have is the here-and-now, you can take stock. Of yourself. Of each other. Of the life you’re living. Both of us had been constantly looking to the future. Having children vs. not having children. Settling down vs. living wild. Spending vs. saving. Five years of marriage, and it took six months of 2020 to get us invested in the present.
Love is life. It’s good cooking and better sex and questionable movie choices.It’s reading my books aloud to my ADHD husband and him teaching his woefully uncoordinated wife how to play video games. It’s choosing kindness and forgiveness and growth for both people. It’s having the tough conversations but also having the cheesy, belly-laugh-till-you-cry giggle fests. It’s sharing the existential dread. It’s keeping outside expectations and religious mandates and lack of autonomy out of your relationship. It’s not work-it’s all the beautiful things outside of the 9 to 5.
After writing this, I’m going to watch a stupidly soapy show, play in my husband’s hair, then fall asleep. Making out and cheesy pizza included. I know I’m a cynic and a skeptic. I’m clinically depressed. I’m exhausting with the existentialism. Right now, though, I’m pretty dang happy. Happy Belated Valentines, friends.