On March 1st, Liz and I celebrate 10 years of marriage. I had mentioned to Liz, back when we first met, that I would probably never get married. So I think it would be really cool if I could go back in time, because I would have added “Except to you. For, like, ever.” And gotten down on one knee. (That woulda freaked her out, huh? And actually she might have called the cops. So…scratch that.)
Growing up, I didn’t have much of a marriage paradigm in my family. My parents split up when I was young and my older brothers and sister weren’t married until they reached their 30’s and 40’s.
So I always thought of marriage as something akin to extremely-long-term dating. And who has a great dating life? I’ll tell you who had a great dating life: Not Conor. That’s who had a great dating life. Maybe y’all cracked the dating code. Not me.
In the absence of seeing a traditional marriage working up close, I turned my attention to the advice of the General Population. (Who gives great advice, all the time.)
Marry somebody compatible! Gen Pop says. Marry somebody with your interests, but from whom you can learn.
That meant, I thought, finding somebody who liked the same movies (action!) and music (Beatles!) that I did. Then I could learn stuff from her, like how to play bocce ball. And boom: Marriage.
What you should never do, Gen Pop says, is to lose your identity in a marriage. This declaration was accompanied by the standard image of a leather-jacket-wearing hard type looking miserable as he sat in the parlor with his wife making pipe cleaner floral arrangements while out the window his friends were revving their motorcycles.
Find somebody who won’t change you. You stay you!
We took our kids to Ireland a couple of years ago. Finn asked why everyone couldn’t just use the same electrical outlets around the world. I said “Great idea! Who do you think should switch – us or them?” “…um, them?” he said slowly, sensing a trap. “But they probably won’t want to change – what if we had to change all our outlets and all our appliances and everything. Would you still want to do it?”
Finn hadn’t thought of the fact that to come together, one side had to change at least somewhat. Of course, he had a good excuse – he was six years old at the time. Me, I was 33 when I got married, and I didn’t understand that for a marriage to work, I would have to be open to changing, too.
I’ll be honest, and I’m not proud of this – that ignorance is why Liz and I had a hard first year of marriage.
Our dating life had been long distance – Kathmandu to Washington, DC. We spent all of three weeks in the same room together before I proposed to her, on a dock in Virginia. (BTW, in the middle of that proposal, with me down on one knee, I had to leap up so Liz and I could save her dog from drowning. But that’s another story.)
The reason our first year of marriage was so hard is that I didn’t understand what marriage required. I thought you just liked the person SOOO much that you decided to marry that person.
That’s not actually what happens.
What happens is that you have to make a decision that your spouse is going to be as important to you as you are to you. Not because they are SO beautiful or SO awesome but because that’s what marriage is – it’s putting your spouse before yourself. That required some changing.
I had a hard time with that. After 33 years of life I had figured out the Best Method for doing Everything in The World. Why would I change?
So Liz had to deal with that kind of self-centeredness and self-righteousness (she still does sometimes. Sorry honey!). But she stuck it out.
And an odd thing happened.
Marriage, unlike my dating experiences – got better, not worse.
Our relationship didn’t deteriorate, as the law of thermodynamics demands. Love, I discovered, seems to be outside of space and time. Our relationship actually strengthened. I was beginning to feel like we were cracking the code.
That, as we all know, is when you get the curveball in life. Let’s go there together, shall we?
We’re in the hospital, having gotten some highly disturbing test results. Liz is about to go under general anesthesia. She’s asking me if everything is going to be okay and I’m telling her of course it is. The doctor comes in and says to her “You’ll have to remove your rings.” So I’m taking my wife’s wedding band and engagement ring that she’s been wearing for almost 10 years.
I’m sitting in that hospital waiting room and there’s bad daytime tv muted in the background and those rings weigh about thousand pounds in the palm of my hand and I’m just staring at them blankly.
The wait is awful. Because I’ve found myself in a place where loving somebody has given me this terrible and beautiful moment where I fear for another person more than I fear for myself.
Liz was okay. Surgery went well. We had a scare, and it passed, she’s ok now. We are grateful for doctors and hospitals. I put the rings back on my wife’s finger.
I used to think it was so corny when people said “I love my wife more today than ever!” because give me a break, right? But our friend Elsa Brule always says that the sugar is at the bottom of the cup. Now I’m starting to see why that’s true and how that happens: Because Liz is more me now, and I am more her now. We aren’t perfect and we disagree and we sometimes argue and forgive. But we are closer to being one person instead of two. If that sounds like a loss of freedom then I’d argue you haven’t experienced it.
Also, Liz has to listen to my dumb stuff. Which brings me to:
The Top Five Things My Wife has to Pretend to Like Hearing About:
1. Why The Walking Dead Got So Bad After Season 4
Seriously with The Walking Dead – was there ever a show that went from so great to so terrible? I tried to explain all this to Liz, and she heard me out every time I ranted. I even made her watch about thirty seconds of the Walking Dead before she was like NOPE! because of all the guts and stuff.
2. The Dumb Podcasts I Listen To
At least twice a day I start a conversation “You know how I listen to this podcast…” and she says “I sure do know that! You love that podcast!” Even though she really doesn’t care about the Dan Le Batard Show on ESPN and how it’s not really a sports podcast but it’s hilarious and I love it and so I tell her stuff from that and she says “That sounds like a great podcast!” because she loves me.
3. Simpsons Quotes
I’m a man in my early 40’s, which means that I could, conceivably, speak entirely in Simpsons quotes. (BTW, if a super computer did that you’d be amazed. I do it and somehow it’s lame?) I’ll happily fling Simpsons quotes into most conversations, like rice at a wedding. Liz never asked me to stop. Not even once. She even laughs.
4. My Home Depot Adventures
I never feel more like a man more than when I have a successful trip to Home Depot. So of course upon returning home I breathlessly share the details with Liz complete with a big build up (am I going to identify the appropriate flush valve for the downstairs toilet?? Spoiler alert: YES!) and the story ends with me marching triumphantly out of Home Depot. All so that she will think I am more of a man. But I don’t think it actually makes her think that. I think she’s thinking: How long is this Home Depot story going to last?
5. Any Time I Do Anything, Ever.
I never thought of myself as a words-of-affirmation guy. Which is like the Hulk not thinking of himself as a punching-things guy. But it seems that I need affirmation ALL THE TIME. And Liz seems to never, ever tire of building me up. I’ll tell her that I got a good parking spot and she’ll say great job! This is her gift, and I never tire of receiving it. And thank God for that.
So she had to change for me too, I guess. And she does it. Because she loves me, and because that’s what we agreed to do in that church, ten years ago tomorrow.