A Valentines Day Tribute: Failures, Detours, and the Myth of the Perfect Marriage
I fell in love with my husband on our college campus when I was 19 and he was 20. He had shaggy blond hair and a smile that made me feel kind of tipsy. My friend introduced us as we passed him behind Raley Chapel and here’s how the conversation went: (of course he has no recollection of this; I remember every second of every detail)
“I have to go write a paper,” he told my friend after she introduced us and invited him to join us at a local ice cream shop.
“Well, you’re no fun,” I quipped, in a pitiful attempt at flirting (I was dismal at it).
“How about when we get married I let you write all my papers?” he replied.
This one little meant-absolutely-nothing statement carried me for months. I still have no idea where it came from. Probably just his attempt to return my comment with something equally pitiful. He didn’t flirt well either. But at several points in our relationship I actually believed he had some sort of romantic premonition of our future. We were meant to be together, I would tell myself. Soul mates. Destined. Created for him. He for me. Completion. It was all very beautiful, and it lasted until exactly four weeks after we got married. Since he graduated college the year ahead of me and headed back east to law school, most of our dating and engagement was spent in different states. We got married six days after he moved back to town. I was giddy at the thought that we would never be separated again, and that we could finally begin this most-perfect union of two soul mates who were always destined to be together. The illusion and the honeymoon ended with a heated and ugly argument about something I cannot recall. That afternoon I had not one thought about us being soul mates, destined for one another, created for one another, completed by one another. In fact, I actually threw something at him. It was something soft, like a pillow maybe, but he still ducked. I also drove to my parent’s house and told them I was sleeping on their couch that night.
“You get in that car and go home,” my mother said as she gathered up my belongings and opened the front door to usher me back out of her house. “What did you think this was, easy?”
Yes, as a matter of fact I did. I thought he was cute, and smart, and I knew that he was completely in love with me. And I was completely in love with him. And from “this day forward” meant that these two destined lovers would make this relationship more perfect as time went by. Before the heated argument, I could have written a love song. I was so enraptured. So full of romantic notions. And so very wrong about marriage.
I thought that a successful marriage meant that we would look back over the decades and be filled with pride at our accomplishments. We would be able to put on display all the promises we kept, the vows we fulfilled, the honor we brought to the institute of marriage.
Well, not so much.
We have stumbled and fallen hard. We have taken detours and shortcuts. We have failed epically at times, and then blamed one another. And yes, we have gone to bed angry and without apologies. I could write a book about breaking the marriage rules. Not all of the rules, but enough of them.
I’m a controlling perfectionist, so I’ve spent lots of time trying to figure out how to do this marriage thing better – how to make it stronger. But here’s what I’m slowly and painfully learning: the failures are what make us better and stronger. Each time we hurt one another with words or actions, we dig our heels in and go deeper into the truths of humility, forgiveness, and grace. You don’t learn forgiveness unless you are faced with forgiving. You don’t learn humility unless you get knocked off your pride perch. And you don’t learn grace until someone loves you even when you absolutely, positively do not deserve it.
So on this most contrived of holidays – St. Valentine’s Day – I’m thinking about love and realizing that I would not go back and change one moment of my marriage. I bought a Valentine’s Day card for Kyle with a photo on the front of two little kids crashing their bikes into each other. On the inside it says: “So glad we ran into each other.” Sometimes love is simply a deep down gratefulness that God brought us together as kids in one silly moment behind the chapel, and that he continues to show Himself in a million ways through the joys and pain of what He has knit together. My mother was right. It isn’t easy. But I don’t want easy. I want something so real and authentic that even the scars are beautiful.
Happy Valentine’s Day, husband. Your smile still does it for me, every time.