A friend and I were talking the other night about relationships— marriage, and how we advise/ nurture/support our daughters and young women we love, as they navigate waters that we entered a long, long time ago. While most of this applies to our sons as well, as women we were talking about how to advise our daughters, given how we felt at their ages, and how we feel now. As women who have lived and loved for a lot of years now; we appreciate that each of us has our own journeys, but there are some lessons that should be shared. Daughters (and Sons):
#1: Don’t ever think that you know better than someone else, what they need. You don’t. And even if you do, they need to figure it out before they can be in a relationship with you. Don’t sacrifice your needs and desires to win the love of anyone. You will resent it, and so will they. Speak your truth; don’t speak to win approval or appease. Nurture goals that you both can support and will grow in, however that looks. Don’t rush into anything; give yourself time. Work as a team. Let a lot more go, than you imagine you will need to. There will be so many things to negotiate, and it’s a lot easier if you’re willing to let some of it go. Marriage is hard work; it really is. You’ll figure it out, as you go. But the work, the challenges, the losses as well as the rewards will make you a stronger person. Breath first, answer second.
Am I good at all of those things? No. That is one of the reasons I can pass them along. Live and learn, baby.
This year Smart Guy and I had our 26th wedding anniversary. I’ve now been married for more than half of my life; I was one year older than my daughter is now, when I got married. That is stunning, on so many levels. Has it all been easy? No. Has it all been fun? No. Is it work, as I was told marriage would be? You bet your sweet booty! Would I do it again… hard to say, but probably yes. Don’t judge; that question is loaded. There is so much I wouldn’t trade, and so much I wish I’d really known and understood back when I took that “plunge.” I appreciate the really long marriages, so much more than I once did, knowing what I know now. I understand the ones that end, late in life… when kids leave and couples realize they don’t know each other. There is so much that goes into making it all work, and each year that goes by, I am increasingly humbled by that. The grass is often greener, but greener grass has to be mowed more often. As my friend and I talked, I said: getting married young, is like buying your first house- you fall in love with it, but there’s a lot that goes into living in a house for the long run—just like there’s a lot that goes into making a marriage last for a long time.
Often, your first house doesn’t necessarily meet all your needs. When you’re young, your marriage meets all of your needs, when you start. Having started as a kid, and I do believe 24 is still a kid (not to mention that we got together when I was 21), you have no idea how you will change over time. You may be headed in one direction but veer off in dozens of other directions. Who you are at 21, 24, in your twenties, is rarely who you are in your 30s, 40s, and 50s. If we are growing (and few of us don’t), we are most likely changing as well. Add to that equation, that two of you are changing, and it all gets that much muddier. The years pass and we are challenged and tested by so many things: health; education; careers; the people we’re surrounded by; our own personal journeys; spiritual growth; children (if you have them) are an enormous game changer; travel; geography; family; there are so many things that impact who we become over time. Within a marriage, you may be experiencing many or all of the same challenges as your partner, but how you integrate those things, the spin you put on it all, is a huge factor in who you each become on that path.
Same with that house. When you buy a house, you often don’t get every thing you want, unless you are fortunate enough to build your “dream house.” The family room is perfect; the kitchen needs updating. You like the bedroom, but it needs fresh paint. Over time, you need more storage space… In any house, there are things you love, and things you might like to change. Short of that perfect house, you start out in your home and over time: you have children (more people in the house); you realize that like to cook; you enjoy entertaining; you have lots of guests; you like to garden; your tastes change; (insert many other possible outcomes) and your house may or may not fit those needs. You can renovate: you can paint rooms, you can try to add on; you move furniture and make adjustments to make that house work; but, basically you try to grow with your house. You try to make it work, but it isn’t always perfect.
Obviously, a marriage is a much bigger investment— emotionally, than a house. Both are a big leap of faith, and an enormous dose of sweat and commitment. You have to learn when to let something go. The dining room would look better with a new color or a new dining room set, but finances don’t allow it. You’d like to feel as special and new in your relationship, as you did at the start, but that’s rare. You hope you’ll both change over the years, in ways that compliment and support each other, but that’s hard too. You look for the places that your needs intersect, and work on accepting some places they don’t.
I am so not the person that married Smart Guy 26 years ago, and he is not the person that married me. We work hard at this. Some days that is exhausting and feels frustrating. Some days I realize that the work I invest builds one of the deepest relationships of my life, and some days I loose sight of that. But, it’s work. When you hear that, at the start, it’s impossible to really foresee what that work will look like. In my youth, I had no idea what kids would mean; how I’d feel watching myself age in the mirror; how I might feel figuring out whether I’d be working or staying home; what makes me feel fulfilled then and now— there was so much I didn’t understand. I know that for each of the things I’ve struggled with, Smart Guy has had his own struggles as well. We’ve shared plenty of them, but we each have our own things to work out. For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health… it’s the journey of all journeys.