Friday, December 6, 2013

Another Year, Let's Celebrate

I always intended to marry and live happily ever after with my husband, children, generations of dogs, and eventually grandchildren, a 50-year wedding anniversary, great-grandchildren, etc. I wanted a partner who would support and cherish me, just as I would him and who would share my interests and play with babies and dogs alike.

Once upon a time, with the innocence of youth, I expected it to all take place with one man.

Ten years ago today, exhibiting either eternal optimism, stubborn determination, pure foolishness, or at long last the ability to get it right, I married -- again.

Getting married the first time was naivete. I was young. It was the right time in my life. We had a good time together dating. I didn't know how to look beyond that; how a relationship with someone was supposed to work; how to even think about what I wanted out of being married. I never expected that the way he treated his mother would be the way he treated me. I never anticipated sitting home alone night after night, or raising children without any emotional, physical or financial support.

Getting married the second time was stupidity. Kind of a rebound from a marriage in which all the fun had gone. That's right, quickly marry a good time guy who happens to be bipolar and on an upswing. And who is also an alcoholic, drug addict and a pathological liar, all of which I discovered after the "I do." (Did I mention he was probably drunk at the wedding?) I didn't realize he expected me to fix him, or become his mother. If I could get a do-over, I would erase that whole spell of my life, except for the fact that it made me the person who I am today and put me in the place to meet the man of my dreams, who at first glance didn't appear to be my Prince Charming.

I can still remember conveying my daughter to Elkin to meet a friend of her then boyfriend, who was in school at UNC-Chapel Hill at the time. That friend was to take a group to watch a fencing (think three Musketeers) match in which the boyfriend was competing. Her driver for the day turned out to be a leather jacketed fellow with a head of blond hair and bad cigarette habit. He stood at my door and talked a bit when I returned that evening to pick her up. A few months later, daughter talked me into visiting Greensboro to watch a fencing match in which soon-to-be ex and his friend were both competing. Not too long after that, we went out for a cup of coffee and so it began.

At that point in my life I was no longer looking for romance or dreaming of happily ever after. I had tried on-line dating and given it up. I went out or stayed home as the mood struck me, totally independent of any couple attachment. I had a long list of attributes I expected in a man, and he generally lacked most of them -- plus he smoked. But over many cups of coffee, through movies and dinners and motorcycle rides, I found that what I thought I was looking for wasn't what I wanted or needed after all.

Despite myself, I fell in love. Financial considerations aside, we married in December and sacrificed the tax benefits of being a single mother of two. Regardless of the odds, which had never seen me keeping any last name beyond the one I was born as long as a decade, I took the plunge.

But those failed marriages and false expectations had taught me a thing or two. Likewise, he had time to mature on the vine as a single man who had discovered he was capable of taking care of himself. Over the last ten years we've forged a true partnership in which we both encourage one another to remain the people we fell in love with, not become just half a couple, not a relationship in which I've adopted a third child, or in which he has to give up football, golf, or a TV in the bedroom.

Although a fair dose of bitterness sometimes makes me shrewish, I try to apologize when necessary and do it less than I once did. I no longer expect that a husband should be able to read my mind, or even remember everything I've told him. I give him a list of items for Christmas shopping and he treks to Victoria's Secret even though I don't put it on the list.

After years of independent living, rather than merge, we've divided what needs to be done. We each maintain our own finances and divide the household bills so that isn't something to fuss about. As long as we've done our share, whatever money we have left is ours to spend or save accordingly, although we do discuss and plan for long-term goals and big investments. We also divide the chores, each doing our own laundry, and whoever gets up last makes the bed. I cook during the week and often forfeit weekend meals to him, which means sandwiches, cereal or going out. When his new job let him take over paying my health insurance, something I had done for more than 30 years, I felt treasured in a special way.

Most importantly, we talk -- about our days, our dreams, what we want to change and what we treasure. We're honest about what we need and we overlook the things that don't really matter to how we fit together. We don't always agree, but we don't fight, and we certainly don't have the same discussions over and over because we're actually listening when we do disagree. What was a chore in some relationships -- a tiptoe through the minefield kind of experience -- is something I look forward to. Even when I've been upset by something, he's great at not overreacting and trying to fix it. And we laugh a lot together, which I have to say has always been one of our strong points.

We've survived job changes and job loss that led to multiple career changes, broken bones, minor surgeries and biopsies, times of plenty and times of getting by. Neither of us expects the other to live to our standards all the time, but we're both willing to give a little sometimes, even on important things. I still wish he didn't smoke, and he tries periodically to quit with varying degrees of successful abstinence.

It's hard to believe sometimes that it has only been 10 years. Looking back at our pictures, we looked so young! We've both lost weight. I have more hair; he has less. In many ways it seems a lifetime ago as there has been so much from before forgotten, and so much that has gone on since. My teenagers have grown up and left home. We said farewells to my grandparents, who we both loved, added a son-in-law and three granddaughters, struggle together to cope with my son's addiction, and are committed to a church family we love.

Out of the deal he got a ready made family, complete with all the dysfunction, drama and love of any family. I got a man who finally makes me feel like the princess in a fairy tale, like the center of his world, and family scattered far enough to never overwhelm. I often think I got the better end of the deal.

I still envy those people who manage to find the one their soul loves the first time around and wonder what special knack or knowledge I was missing that sent me on so many wrong courses. But then again, I know that the journey brought me here, so I suppose it was a journey I had to take. I'm just glad it finally got me to this point. Even if I never do see that Golden Anniversary, I finally made it to 10 years and I'm looking forward to the next 10 and the growth, changes and dreams fulfilled that they may hold.

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