My parents divorced when I was six, at a time when divorce among Catholic families was still a rarity. I often felt like a curiosity among my classmates, of whom only a couple of others had experienced the same thing. I never had any fantasies of my parents getting back together. I remembered the fights and I had no interest in reliving those moments. If anything I had hopes my mom would remarry because I worried about her being lonely but she always made us feel as though having her three children was enough. Her love then (and now) for her children seemed to define her. I think she was determined to love us enough for two parents and she did a pretty great job of it.
I made my peace with having divorced parents and actually came to enjoy the opportunity to live a dual life as suburban kid by week and country boy on the weekends. Of course I missed certain things growing up. My father’s love for us was obvious but he had difficulty expressing it at times. We spent less time with him that I would have preferred. I remember sitting on the bench crying at a Little League game because he was supposed to be there and he wasn’t. I also made up an imaginary friend once that was not my age but an adult, also a welder like my dad, and drove a pickup truck. I don’t need a therapist to tell me that this was a coping mechanism. But my sadness came in brief moments and luckily my occasional need for a male presence in my life were filled by a grandfather who was loving, wise, and always there when I needed him.
In my anecdotal experience, children of divorce often go in one of two directions. Some decide that marriage is a waste of time, have commitment issues and find the search for lasting relationships to be difficult. Others come to believe they can succeed where their parents failed. They want to believe they will find the perfect partner and have a lasting marriage. I fell into the second camp.
For as long as I can remember I wanted to be married. Growing up I was girl-crazy. I loved romantic comedies. I watched Friends for all of those years because I was rooting for Ross and Rachel. It’s the same reason I watch The Big Bang Theory now because dammit, Leonard and Penny are going to make it. I simply loved the idea of finding a soul-mate. When my friends began to get married in my 20s I was painfully jealous. When some of them later got divorced it killed me. How could they not make it work? Did they not try hard enough? Why did they give up? Even though I knew the particulars and for them divorce really was the best option, it made me unbelievably sad.
I had my share of serious relationships. My daughter’s mother was my first real girlfriend but ours was one of those drama-filled young romances that make you look back and shudder with gratitude that it is over. That we had a child together complicated things immensely but when things ended it was for the best. I dated several other girls but I had a habit of always assessing them through the lens of whether they were marriage material. When I realized they weren’t and those relationships came to their natural ending, I took it with no regrets. I had one other serious girlfriend before I met my wife and I definitely thought she was ‘the one’ for several years but again the universe was kind and it threw up enough warning signs for me to never pull the trigger on a proposal.
When I met my wife the best analogy I can make is that it was like a fog lifting in my brain. I remember thinking, very early on, “Oh, this is what love is really supposed to feel like.” I never hesitated, never looked back for a second. We had only been dating three months when I began to look for engagement rings. Four months in I had purchased the best ring I could afford and when I told my family and friends of my plans they were understandably reserved in their happiness for me. I think someone used the phrase ‘fools rush in’ and I couldn’t disagree with them because it was indeed happening very fast. But when you know, you know. We were engaged after nine months of dating and married less than a year later.
This year we celebrate our 10-year anniversary. Marriage has indeed been everything I dreamed it would be. The first few years weren’t easy and I always caution new couples that there will be tough moments, but if you make it through these, the payoff is worth it. Our marriage is far from perfect but that is okay because I never expected it to be. I learned through all those years of failed relationships and watching other marriages (successful and unsuccessful) that marriage is about putting in the work. Someone said that a marriage is like a house. You don’t build a house and then expect it to last forever. You have to take care of it every day and fix the things that need fixing. We have spent time in couples therapy and we have learned to talk through problems. We want to be successful.
The thing that I think has served us best though is that we made a commitment, before we ever said our vows, to the concept of marriage being forever. We agreed that the only thing that would ever make us consider a divorce was infidelity (we both have a zero-tolerance policy on that). So when problems come up it reduces the drama factor considerably to know that the other person isn’t going anywhere and that they will be waiting for us on the other side of this thing we are going through.
One thing about marriage that is maybe different than what I envisioned when I was a kid is that we each express love differently. I come from big, noisy family where we hug and kiss each other a lot and in a very Irish-Catholic way we over-share our feelings. My wife’s family is no less loving but they are reserved in their words and their public displays of affection. They show their love through less overt actions. My in-laws are incredibly generous with their time and gifts and there is no doubt they love their family. We are both our parents children. I tell my wife I love her several times per day. I hug her and kiss her and take some delight in making her hold my hand as we walk though the mall. My wife shows her love with thoughtful gifts and by running errands and trying her best to take care of me. It works for us.
Having previewed some of the other posts in this symposium I am struck by how many people see love as almost surprising and something less-than-organic. This doesn’t line up with my own experience as love comes to me almost like breathing. I use the word carelessly. Yesterday I told someone I love Cuban food. I am not usually given to hyperbole but clearly in this area I lack self-control. I also understand that the human experience is diverse. There are other actions tied up in emotion which come harder for me. I am not good at sympathy. I struggle with forgiveness. Love comes easily though and for me I have found no greater expression of that love than the voluntary choice to spend the rest of my life with someone whom I adore.
Mike Dwyer is a freelance writer in Louisville, KY. He writes about culture, the outdoors and whatever else strikes his fancy. His personal site can be found at www.mikedwyerwrites.com. He is also active on Facebook and Twitter. Mike is one of several Kentucky authors featured in the book This I Believe: Kentucky.