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10 Things I Learned from 20 Years of Marriage
Tips for those who are thinking about a long term relationship.
Ain’t nobody listening to you. After 20 years together, your partner is probably not listening. Not even to your answer to the question they asked. Especially if they asked while semi-mobile. That means standing, getting up from the couch, or walking into the room with the sole purpose of asking you said question. You can try talking fast. Bullet pointing the gist. Trailing your sentence off and grumbling, “Well, you asked…” in an attempt to guilt them. It ain't going to work. They already left the room.
Your opinion doesn’t matter so much anymore. In those first couple of years, the compliments you gave, the advice you shared really landed. Think back to that time you said, “Wow. You look beautiful tonight.” They blushed. They got butterflies. By year five, I had a PHD of knowledge of my wife, Mary and yet for the rest of our lives, nothing I say will convince her as much as when Jeff from accounting says it. Fucking Jeff.
Continuing on that thread, nothing I say will ever be as funny as something Jim Edwards said to Mary back in the early 2000s. Last week, we were at the movies and I made a joke that was moderately funny. Mary laughed. I felt a moment of pride for making my gal laugh after all these years. Then she laughed way harder than she should have. I knew the joke wasn’t that funny so I said, “Wait, what are you laughing at?” She said, “Oh, that just reminded me of a thing Jim Edwards said about Mary Tyler Moore.” And she laughed and laughed and laughed. I scrunched my face and thought, “Death to Jim Edwards.”
Those pesky pet peeves keep on coming. If in year-one of your relationship you’re bothered when your partner leaves the kitchen cabinets open, you are still going to be bothered by the cabinets 20 years later. Don’t go into things thinking your partner is going to significantly change. Sure, we grow. We get better. We listen and communicate more efficiently, but in a lot of regards, we are who we are. The good news? The sword cuts both ways. You still do all the annoying things you did that first year too. But you’re committed to each other and you get better at ignoring those things. Sort of.
While I can’t completely change, I can shut my mouth. I’m not the biggest fan of how Mary loads the dishwasher. The anal retentive in me wants things lined up a certain way for efficiency and water conservation. For a while there, I had a lot to say to her about dish placement. Fed up with my direction, Mary said, “If you want it done differently, then you do it.” Ouch. That landed. I have a choice. I can either micromanage the crap out of her or take it over, which I’m not doing. So, when I open the dishwasher, I say thanks to Mary for doing a task that I have zero interest in handling. Thanks, Mary!
Vacation vibes matter. My friend Tom once told me that if you vacation well with someone they’ll make a good partner. 20 years later, I’m here to say he’s right. Travel is where you notice all the idiosyncrasies about your S.O. Like do they support you when an old lady punches the back of your seat because you reclined your chair on a nine hour flight? Do they mind if you wake the entire family up at 4:45am to drive home from Ohio because you couldn’t sleep and you’ve turned into your father and you might as well hit the road and make good time? Not that any of those things happened to Mary and me, but if they had, Mary would take it all in stride. If those things happened. But again, they didn’t happen.
If you have kids, get yourself some grown up time. Those early relationship days where you vacationed at the beach, explored Europe, or took day trips are the memories your relationship is built on. The tough news is once you have kids, there’s an excruciatingly long period of time when the kids are young and going to a restaurant would push the boundaries of patience for even the Dali Lama. Hang in there, though. Quality time together comes back around. Before you know it, those kids are hanging with their friends or wrapped up in extracurricular activities, and you have the opportunity to find each other again. A neighborhood cocktail can feel like a weekend away the first time you leave those animals, I mean kids, home alone. Eventually you’ll be able to go to the movies or dinner with friends. All those grown up hangs are where Mary and I have come back together. Now, I love that moment before a movie starts when I look over at her, grab her hand, squeeze and think, “I’m so glad we’re here together.”
Do your own things too. In the beginning, Mary would gladly(ish) go camping with me. When we told her niece that we were camping for the weekend, she said, “Titi Mary is going camping? Is there sour cream in the woods?” Needless to say, once Mary nabbed me, her tolerance for camping dwindled to a negative number. That’s also true for me. In the beginning, I’d happily go to a jazz club to spend time with Mary. Today, I’d rather sit in a hot car on a summer day than listen to the skeet bop of jazz solos. But that’s ok. It’s important to have things you love that are your own. Those things refill your cup so a joyful person comes home to their partner.
I’m not saying kids make things hard. But kids make things hard. There was a point in where we felt like we were in Vietnam, trapped in a bunker with incoming from unknown locations. Don’t panic. Read number seven again. It comes back around if you work at it.
Long term relationships are like a bouillabaisse. That’s what my friend Kim said to me, but I don’t have a refined palette and I’m not 100 percent sure what bouillabaisse is, so I prefer to say it’s like beef stroganoff on day two. The cream has thickened, the meat is tender, and it’s richer than when you made it on the first day. If you don’t understand my leftovers analogy, let me say it like this, nobody knows me like Mary. Nobody supports me like Mary. And when she looks at me, like last night, and says “You look really, really pretty right now.” I know she means it. She doesn’t have to say it to keep me around. It’s been 20 years, where the hell am I going? She said it because she felt it, and that means so much more to me than most things from year one.
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