Weekly Writing Challenge: My Funny Valentine. It’s Not Always FUNny.


February 14, 1987

February 14, 1987

This week is my is 27th wedding anniversary. We got married on Valentine’s day, 27 years ago, after dating for four years. There’s some irony for me in the Weekly Writing Challenge prompt “My Funny Valentine”: we asked the pianist to play one song for our wedding: My Funny Valentine. He didn’t know it, but didn’t tell us that until our wedding night.

Smart Guy and I went through college, graduate school and medical school together. There were some off and on years for us in the initial four of dating. It took us a little while to find our groove, but we did. Looking back, we met when we were kids– we didn’t think so then, but now that our kids are older than we were, it all looks very different now, and we grew up together. As individuals, we could not be more different. I’m short; he’s unusually tall. I’m expressive, loud, and bold; he’s quiet, reserved and private.  I dance; he doesn’t– though when he does, it’s an experience worth seeing! Watching him dance, was one of the first things that attracted me to him. I’m artistic, emotional– very right brain; he is as left as left brain can be. LEFT.  How we brought it all together is still a wonder to behold some days.

We went from college to grad school for me and medical school for him; there were a lot of years of academic focus and finding our way as individuals and then as a couple. We married during Smart Guy’s third year of medical school and as I was finishing my Masters in Social Work. At that stage in our life, we did a lot of studying together; we shared the chores around our wonderful apartment, and our world was filled with other students and good things. They were lean years, but our lives were simple for the most part, and we had a lot of fun as a couple.

We were poor together–  After medical and grad school we moved to Chicago for Smart Guy’s seven-year Residency in surgery. We had our first two children there, and Smart Guy worked all the time (and by all, I mean 100+ hours a week, for seven years!) while I was home with our kids, who were really young for the entire time we lived there. The theme of those years was struggle and friends.  We were always tired, and we were always trying to make ends meet, but we had great friends who helped hold us up. There were years when I couldn’t do the McDonalds’ breakfast with our Play Group, because we couldn’t afford it. I would go to the cash machine on Chicago Ave. for a withdrawal and I’d start at $30– then work my way down. Generally, $10 is where I scored. We were in for the free play dates: The Lincoln Park Zoo, Free museum days, the park, the playroom in our building; if it was free, my kids and I were there. Smart Guy and I didn’t go out because we couldn’t afford to. If we did splurge on a burger and movie, at least $50 night in the city back then– big bucks in our world– then I had to trade off on babysitting, and we were short on grocery money. Hardly worth it. Looking back, our marriage was not front and center. It was second, third, or even fourth behind: taking care of young children, trying to keep our heads above water financially, exhaustion and time challenges, and struggling to figure out who we were, as our lives kept shifting. We, the couple, was constantly being shoved to the back of the line.

August 1996, 9 months pregnant with Little Man, my third and final child.

August 1996, 9 months pregnant with Little Man, my third and final child.

We’ve been richer together– From Chicago, we moved to Michigan and lots of things changed, but the biggest change was financial. It was our first job, and we went from scrimping and scraping to financial security and comfort. The day we moved up to our new home on 37 acres, we felt like the Jeffersons. The kids had no idea why we kept singing Moving On Up, but it felt just like that classic 70’s scene, as we pulled up to our large brick home, with our measly possessions. Our lives shifted completely. Smart Guy no longer worried about measuring up, he was the UP; he wasn’t training, but the guy in charge. He worked hard, but our free time was easy. We could eat out; we could hire a sitter, and we weren’t worrying all the time. We had our third child, Little Man, who we’ve long called our lottery baby. But we didn’t really get that maybe we should check in on our marriage and work on it. I think we were both so relieved that the struggle was over, that we didn’t realize that marriage really is work. If you work it, it works. If you don’t… well. We certainly enjoyed more time together, and we had new things to navigate in our lives, but we didn’t zero in on us. We were there for six years.

We moved to the Pacific NW thirteen years ago, and entered a phase of our marriage that has definitely been focused on the us of this marriage. Our kids were young, but not little anymore. Our struggles have been more focused on us as a team, our marriage as a union, and it was a huge wake-up call. Marriage is not easy. Maybe we’re out there on our own on that, but the cliché: Marriage is hard work, is something we’ve really learned first hand these past several years. Approaching our 27th anniversary, I realize that the first half of our marriage was spent in a survival mode. We were struggling on so many obvious levels (kids, finance, time) that focusing on the union itself was often lost in the shuffle. This second half has been a whole other thing. The spotlight has been on us. And as our kids have gotten older– our last chick getting ready to fly, we’ve been faced with some cracks in the structure.

It's all in your attitude...

It’s all in your attitude…

Last year, unbeknownst to a lot of people, Smart Guy and I separated for eight months. He moved out, and I lived in our home, alone with our youngest and my anxiety about what would happen to us.  For all those years we’d both been changing and not being mindful of how those changes impacted us as a couple. Sure, we had arguments; we had fun; we were living a life together, but we weren’t always working on our connection. We weren’t mindful of each other as individuals. In fairness, it is me that did the most shifting. Smart Guy was doing the same thing for a long time: working. He’s a phenomenal surgeon and a gifted health care provider. I hear from people all the time how compassionate he is, and how much they appreciate him, but I wasn’t feeling it in our relationship. I was a mom for most of those 27 years, and that role has been drying up. I will always be my kids’ mother, it will always be the main filter through which I view the world, but my role as such as been drying up. They don’t need me to do the things I did for so long; I am not busy in a role that defined me for so long, and that has forced me to look at a lot of things differently.

The separation came because I no longer felt like my husband understood me as a person– separate of my role as housewife and mother. I’m evolving, we were not. I was banging my head up against the walls of a role that I have embraced for so long. I am searching for new ways to define myself: writer, friend, blogger, board member, volunteer, traveler, and the involved wife and mother that I’ve always been, who has more time on her hands. That shift was hard on our marriage, on us. Those eight months were very challenging, and for much of it, I believed we might not work it out. As I hit fifty last year, my view on so many things had shifted. I don’t have the ability or motivation to work on relationships or issues that are self-defeating. I lost my ability to pursue and fix relationships that had been languishing in a difficult place– friendships and acquaintances fell to the side, as I focused fully on our marriage. There was no  reserve for fixing anything else.

There's a lot that goes into a marriage... love is just part of it.  image: momlifetoday.com

There’s a lot that goes into a marriage… love is just part of it.
image: momlifetoday.com

Fixing a marriage is not for the faint of heart. Trust me. We’ve dug so deep into these twenty-seven years of marriage that we’ve both found ourselves bruised and battered, inspired and hopeful, exhausted and refreshed; we’ve dug to China and back! Some days have been diamond bright, while others have been brutal. But we keep working because we have an investment. We’ve put thirty years into this relationship, and that’s not an investment that can be thrown away easily. We’ve had three children together, and our investment is their as well. We’ve come a long way in that effort. I’m not sure we’ve been as connected as we are now, in many, many years…  We’re not buried in the minutiae of raising our kids anymore; we’re not so focused on our our work that we can’t focus on what’s much more important, and we can afford to seek help, that we couldn’t do early on.  We’re no longer taking things for granted. We’re not assuming that it all will just work itself out. We are more hopeful than we’ve ever been, but we both know that the work is key, and it’s not over.  This year, for our anniversary we both know what’s at stake and what is most important in our lives. Smart Guy has been my Valentine for thirty years. I’ve been his. It hasn’t always been funny, and it hasn’t always been fun, but neither of us would have it any other way.

Note: I am so grateful to our kids, who have put up with our efforts to make things better, and who have called us on our shit, when we needed it. We love you to infinity and beyond, and certainly hope that working on our marriage is a lesson to them on sticking it out and digging deep, for the things and people that matter. I am grateful to our families who stood by us, and some of whom really lent some shoulders to cry on, and ears to listen. I am grateful for really good friends, who let us rant, and hugged us, and encouraged us, and gave us space, and let us shack out at their houses, and who are our family… when our other family is far away. I am grateful for so much.

Jump on in: Tell me about your Valentine; share your thoughts in the comment section. Have you breezed through marriage, or have you had some struggles? What matters to you, and what doesn’t? Join the discussion. Constructive or kind feedback is always appreciated.

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About talesfromthemotherland

Straight up, with a twist... my twisted view of things. Join me for the ride! I promise to keep it interesting.
Aside | This entry was posted in Aging, Awareness, Blog, Blogging, Courage, Friendship, Honest observations on many things, Life, Love, Musings, My world, Parenting, Personal change, Relationships, Tales From the Motherland, Writing, Writing challenge and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

63 Responses to Weekly Writing Challenge: My Funny Valentine. It’s Not Always FUNny.

  1. zeudytigre says:

    I think you have just managed to write honestly about a long marriage. Thank you. I am a little behind you on years of marriage but recognise those signs. This post is amazing. Thank you again.

  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    Congrats on your 27 years and for trying to work things out when they weren’t necessarily where you needed them to be. I remember my husband’s and my early poor days very well. We felt like kids in a candy store when we finally moved into our first home in our 30s. So much more space than the tiny 800-square foot apartments we had before then. :)

    • We were in 800 sq feet with 2 kids, for 7 years– I totally hear you! It was so unreal when we moved to our house in Michigan… surreal, frankly. Thanks for the kind words, Carrie; it was a challenging post to write. :-/

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  4. JudahFirst says:

    5 weeks after you tied your knot, I tied mine. The two of us were from such screwed-up families it’s a miracle we are still hanging in here together. I wrote an open letter to him about a year ago that you can find on my blog site. One day I hope to be in a place where we are done with parenting (our contrasting styles have been a source of contention for going on 25 years now); it will be nice to not have those fights anymore. Meanwhile, I just hope he can keep on without giving up on me.

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  6. unfetteredbs says:

    I love this painfully honest look into marriage. It is a full time job and it is hard work. I met my dude at 18, married at 23.. You said it well when you said you grew up together. You have a tremendous history together.

    Going on 22 years here… He’s still my best bud :)

  7. It is hard to voluntarily share your life with another person. My husband and I are obviously still in the raising young children phase of things, but sometimes if we do have time together, we don’t know how to enjoy it. This is a great reminder that we need to nurture our relationship all the way through.

    • I think hindsight is indeed 20/20, Kelly. While we were IN it, I know both my husband and I would tell you that we were working on “it.” We weren’t. We were surviving. We were delegating and micromanaging. But, we missed a lot of the opportunities to strengthen things. No one can take away the 30 years we’ve spent as a couple and the shared experiences, but I will tell my children some things that no one told me, about how to really work at it. Thanks for your time and energy.

  8. Katalina4 says:

    People used to say to me, “oh, I don’t know how you do it, being a single mom”, and my answer was, “man, I don’t know how people keep relationships going for a long time!”. I’ve never made it past 5 years, so BIG KUDOS to you two for your 30 years!
    I can imagine that sometimes a separation, as scary as it is, can be the only way to each find yourselves again as individuals, and come back together as a choice, rather than simply out of habit.
    Happy Anniversary!

    • I totally agree. I don’t think a separation is for everyone, and the getting back together was rough, frankly. But in the end, it has all strengthened us as a couple, and as individuals. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  9. Well done on all those years and in particular the last few :-) well done on putting the work in…

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  11. ROBINN DOOLEY-SERRILLA says:

    Happy anniversary! Another great story. I have only been married for 7 years but having been having doubts (since turning 50 and having a heart attack within months of each other). You made me realize how I love my husband’s with all my heart and soul. Thank you for making me think

    • Wow, really touched that something I wrote could impact someone that much… thanks for sharing that Robinn. I think that a heart attack at 50 is a huge wake up call on so many levels! If you’re having doubts, work it before you leave it. I believe that marriage is worth that effort. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment here; I’m honored that you are a reader. :-)

  12. Rita Russell says:

    Wow – good luck brave lady! I know first hand how challenging it is to negotiate new roles in a relationship, through grad & professional schools, careers, kids, nannies, stay-at-home-roles & rules, dogs and now “almost” empty-nesters. We will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary shortly, and though it seems like an awfully big number…it still comes down to the basics, like communication and commitment as I’m sure you know. And a little compromise on both parts doesn’t hurt. Hope you have an absolutely fabulous Valentine’s Day!

    • We skipped the nanny part! I was a stay at home mother, with all three… no nannies. That said, there was plenty of other things to negotiate, that made things challenging! I may have been less cranky if I’d had that nanny though! ;-) Mazel to you as well, “Rita,” for lasting equally long! We were up in Van last night for a concert; thought of you. :-) Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to share your thoughts; much appreciated.

  13. El Guapo says:

    Happy anniversary!!!
    I can’t imagine this was an easy post to write.

    My marriage gets constant tending, but it’s with the woman I love, who loves me, so it often seems more like fun than work.

    • It was indeed a *gulp* moment to hit send, Guapo. I write with few filters, and write what I’m feeling… sometimes they stay in the “draft” folder and sometimes I just hit send.The Weekly Writing Challenge Prompt, nudged me. Something like this didn’t pop into my head; I’ve been digesting it all for months and months… years. So writing and hitting send, yes, took a bit of courage.

      Congrats to you and your wife for keeping it real, and keeping it strong. How long have you been married? It’s always so inspiring to talk with couples who really are making it work, and loving it. My hat is off to you both!

  14. Very brave of you to share. We were engaged on Valentine’s Day; a few hours after hearing my grandmother had died. We have great memories of the dinner we went to. We’ll be married 32 years this June. Hard to believe where the time has gone. While I do feel at times that passion is a bit backburner– we’re too tired— there is lifelong companionship and seeing our kids become adults (and parents) that is so rewarding and affirming.

    • Mazel on the anniversary of your engagement, friend! Thirty-two years is a wonder, and you both should feel really great knowing that you’ve managed to keep things going, despite and because of all those shared things. As always, thanks so much for sharing, Lisa. xo

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  16. Psychobabble says:

    We’ve done a load of work already – before we got married – and it keeps going on.
    Right now we’re hitting a poor-ish phase, and we’re not used to it. It’s kinda scary, especially with another mouth on the way.
    I agree, brave of you to share this story. I hope you find whatever it is that makes you feel happy and fulfilled.

    • Thanks Lyssa… we were poorest when our first two kids were new and little. It wasn’t so much scary, as it was difficult. There were so many things we couldn’t do. That said, they were incredibly happy years too. We couldn’t do things, but we didn’t entirely miss them either. Thanks for the kind words… I know you two will do great on this journey; you’ve got your heads on straight, for sure. ;-)

  17. rarasaur says:

    *hugs* Good luck with your journey, Dawn. :) I wish you nothing but happiness in the future. (And happy early anniversary!)

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  19. Dear Dawn,

    There’s an old saying that the plumber’s drain is always clogged.

    As a veteran of 42 years of wedded somethingorother (it ain’t always been bliss ;) ) I appreciate the work that it takes on both sides.

    When we married in 1971 I was 18 and fresh out of high school. What the hell was I thinking? Lots of battle scars along the way and three sons later, to say I have no regrets would be a lie. On the other hand it’s been worth the effort and those who said we wouldn’t last six months have long since shut their mouths. (Well, to be fare, most of them are deceased).

    I appreciate your honesty and the fact that you use nicknames to protect the guilty.

    Happy Anniversary, Dear Lady,

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

    • That should read “to be fair”…it’s early yet and I’m only on my first cuppa. ;)

    • Thank you so much, Rochelle, for sharing this honest and very heartfelt comment. It’s hard to believe that any couple, who lasts a long time, doesn’t have battle scars, but I’ve met a few. I am always so amazed and inspired by those couples who truly have no regrets and feel more committed and tight years in, than they did at the start. They are a wonder, and I mean that sincerely. The rest of us, I think just work at it, and hope it will all go well in the end. Thanks so much for this comment; it means a lot. I always appreciate your wise perspective. Shalom, Dawn

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  21. litadoolan says:

    This is so brave honest and inspiring. You both seem strong and wise and I wish you many good things on the road ahead.

  22. Dawn, thank you for your courageous and honest post. It was a privilege to read it and a touching testament to your commitment to each other. And happy Anniversary!

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  25. Cathy Ulrich says:

    Happy Anniversary, Dawn. A great post! Marriage is such an organic and changing thing – shifting sands, I guess. And it takes courage to hang in there, look hard and make choices, but I think it’s so important to evaluate where you are and the investments you’ve made. I wish you all the best as you continue to shape your life.

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  27. Pat says:

    Well said. I hope this Valentine’s Day, you both get a big pat on the back from each other. Lots of lessons from perseverance. Love you, and happy anniversary!

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  30. Valery says:

    Wow. It keeps getting harder for me to comment on your posts, because a comment just won’t cut it: I need a conversation! Nothing would bring me more joy than to sit face to face with you and really talk! The separation must have been quite an ordeal. Not enough couples take the time and/or effort to evaluate, communicate and make those adjustments. You two are living proof that it’s worth the effort! Happy, well-deserved Anniversary and thank you for sharing what Valentine’s Day means to you. Such brave, honest writing requires kick-ass courage and you’ve certainly got that covered! Some day I’ll share some of my experiences with you – ah, the wondrous world of relationships. We are indeed on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I wonder what Mrs. Toad would have to say about that? Ha – she’d blog it!

    • Valery, it keeps getting harder for me to respond; your comments are always so incredibly supportive and kind! You really give me such great encouragement; thanks. Yes, indeed, Mr.Toad’s Wild Ride just about sums it up, though not quite as amusing at times! ;-) Someday, I really look forward to catching up face to face.

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  36. What a beautiful post Dawn! ! I’m almost 2 years into marriage with a baby and we have a lot ahead of us. It was wonderful reading the ups and downs that you’ve been through and knowing that even with the downs there can be a happy ending. Thank you thank you thank you for sharing :-)

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