I’ll admit it, I was a smug fiancé. I’d found him, the guy I’d been hoping for, the one who made all the agony and heartbreak and uncertainties and disappointments of the dating realm worthwhile.  He was handsome, charming, hilarious, athletic, successful, my future husband. I was bopping around town wearing my Great Grandma Lucy’s vintage engagement ring (the one I always dreamed of wearing long before I had a man in mind), secretly planning My Awesome Wedding.  Engagement, no problem. Marriage? Sure. I got this thing down.

I’ve always been romanced by the institution of marriage (I blame my parents and their 33-year-and-still-going-strong marriage) alongside the popular culture I consumed: Carrie finally landed Bigdidn’t she? If all those contestants -cough cough- people on the Bachelor could find a life-long mate, I believed I could too. I watched Trista and Ryan’s wedding as a teenager and I dreamed of that kind of love.

Fast forward to early 2013, I spent a whirlwind few months preparing for our wedding. We’d attended Marriage Prep, we discussed the upcoming months post-wedding, we made some couple goals for 2013 and 2014. I had been giving our relationship great consideration and weight from the moment Jon told me he loved me; I just hadn’t given great consideration to how marriage was going to change our relationship. I, in fact, assumed it wouldn’t. 

In some senses, marriage changed nothing. Our day to day and week to week routines stayed intact, our living situation remained static. We happily rolled along post-ceremony. Early on I’d described it as “Cohabitation with rings”.

I’m not entirely sure when I experienced The Shift in attitude, but at some point in June I woke up thinking, “Holy Shit! I got married!” Followed closely by a whoa that seems like a crazy thing to do. I peeked over at my sleeping husband. I loved him so much, I wanted to be with him; why the sudden tremor of fear?

I researched this shift like crazy. I asked all my married girlfriends about it. Almost every single one of them verified something I intuitively always suspected but never really knew before: Marriage is work. Marriage can be tough. Marriage is difficult but rewarding. There was no isolated incident, no single fight or moment that stands out as I arrived at this actualization: marriage is like all relationships in my life. It will require energy, effort, enthusiasm and thoughtfulness to maintain. I felt like I’d been slapped in the face. All those marriages I admired from all those years ago- I only ever saw a little piece of what they were. The effortlessness which I assumed marriage existed was a myth. After all, marriages are relationships: like the other relationships  in my life, with my parents, grandmas, my siblings, my friends, my co-workers. Those require energy, effort, enthusiasm, why wouldn’t marriage?

There was some relief in reading about this and getting the perspective from the women in my life who I love and trust. I am reminded of Ben Affleck’s acceptance speech after he won the Oscar for Argo when he stands up, looks out at his wife and says, “I want to thank my wife. I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases. It’s good. It is work but it’s the best kind of work and there’s no one I’d rather work with.” Ben captured in this statement a mantra that resonates with me: it’s work, but it’s the best kind of work. Here it is this one sentence, the essence of discovery I unearthed in the early months of my marriage. This truth is deep.

As one of my smart gal pals put it (and I still re-read the email to this day, smiling thinking about it) “There are some icky and very challenging parts about tying yourself to another human being for perpetuity.”

We occasionally irritate and baffle one another. In December on a family cross country ski day, we rented skis and Jon took off, not to be seen again for hours. When he finally reemerged, after having skate skied through the entire Canmore Nordic Centre, he was baffled at my rage. I might have wrung his neck if I wasn’t strapped to my skis: How could you leave me alone? Today is my first day on cross country skis. It’s unfair. I thought this was something we were going to do together. I am constantly irritated by dirty clothes laying on the floor (why can’t they go in the laundry bin?). Jon is constantly irritated with me leaving dirty dishes in the sink (why can’t they go in the dishwasher?) and food next to the fridge (he constantly demonstrates the ease in which one can put food into the fridge from the counter) and my bullheaded stubbornness (he jokingly scrunches up his face and says, “nobody tells Holly Higgins what to do!”).  It’s simple, and it’s like having a roommate: at times they piss you off, but mostly they make your day-to-day life a lot more fun. 

I feel grateful that I married someone who has similar ideas of what fun looks like, who can find equal joy in drinking coffee at the counter of our kitchen over the Saturday Globe and Mail – only before hopping the car to hit the gym for a multi hour bike ride. He is equally enthused at having a bunch of people over for dinner (pizza and wine) as he is having Vietnamese in sweatpants; he’s interested in spending a vacation on the saddle of a bike, and thinks camping is the best way to spend a long weekend.  He never balks when I tell him I need a new bike (emphasis on “need”) and he’s the first person in my life to support and encourage the risks I want to take. He is really my best friend and my biggest fan. He is also the hardest on me: he shines light in places I preferred to keep hidden, he challenges me in the way no one else does. While I sometimes find this excruciating, I feel joy knowing I married someone who constantly dares me to be the best version of me. I believe we can continue to grow together because we are willing to roll up our sleeves and plunge our hands deep into the dirt of the marriage barrel, being uncertain what lay in the bottom but willing to explore it.

I know I still have a ways to go in being the Wife I Always Hoped I Could Be, but I think I have a long ways to go in being the daughter, sister, granddaughter, friend, co-worker I Always Hoped I Could Be. Marriage isn’t an exception to all the other relationships I have, but it’s the relationship of paramount importance in my life. If can keep working on me, and we can keep working on us, I know we can keep growing and strengthening our marriage.

After all, it’s work. But it’s the best work. Happy Anniversary to the Best Husband a girl could ask for.

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