25 On The 25th

Today (June 25th), I have been married to the same man for twenty-five years, my husband, Joseph, the father of my children including the ones that don’t carry his personal genes. He is my companion, partner, friend, lover, creative co-conspirator. He is my best pal and I am madly in love with him. Even more than ever. But it took twenty-five years of daily agony to get here. Well, maybe not “agony” but close. 

We had the most joyful and romantic wedding a gal could dream of. When it was happening I kept stepping outside myself to ponder , “how can all this wonderfulness be happening to me. I felt like Cinderella waiting for midnight to chime; to discover my glass slippers had turned back into old blown out flip flops. 

We had the most fun ever with all the people we loved and who mostly still love us. People sang to us, musicians played our favorite dance tunes from the era we like: 40s and 50s big-band and crooners like Frank Sinatra. (Our first dance was to “When I fall in Love it Will Be Forever” as sung by Nat King Cole). Other folks gave us prayers and blessings and toasts. Someone even took the drunk babysitter home and put her to bed (it kind of brought home the point of having children after the nuptials but no harm done).  When June 25th finally ran into the early hours of the next day I reluctantly retreated to our hotel room. While my husband showered off the “dust” of revelry I sat on the bed in my wedding dress gently crying. 

“What’s up honey”, he asked with a quizzical smile. “Don’t you want to get in your pjs?”

“I loved this magical day. I don’t want it to end, I replied. “I’m afraid when I take off my wedding dress it will all be over. I’ll wake up and I’ll have used up my personal allotment of happiness for life”.  He chuckled. Then he took the thirty hairpins out of my hair, undid the twenty-five buttons down my back and tucked me into his tender embrace. 

We sailed back from Nantucket a few days later to begin married life. I had spent weeks culling and packing my apartment so as not to delay the movers or pay for stuff to be moved that we’d throw out anyway. Very practical. Thoughtful. Pragmatic. My soon-to-be-husband had bought us a house. Very thoughtful. Kind. He, however, did not cull or pack.  His lovely friends, happily lurking around after the wedding, packed him the day of the move. When the boxes ran out, they used 50 gallon black garbage bags. All fine except that, inadvertently, actual garbage, in black plastic, was packed, loaded and delivered by the movers to our new home as well where it languished for a week. I, not knowing of the garbage impersonating as possessions and, thinking a week was more than enough time for his junk to be lying around, began opening his boxes and bags.  Inevitably, I opened what the French refer to as “poubelle”. It was poo all right. A week of 85 degree weather in an unairconditioned house had done its job. I was indignant. How could he be so irresponsible? In a fit of rage I threw out an entire box of his shoes. I reasoned (and I was right) that as they all had holes in the soles and, that I had never seen them in three years of courtship, they would not be missed. It would come back to haunt me...but it took quite a long time. 

I had also begun to field phone calls from Joseph’s mother who seemed to ring daily inquiring as to whether I had written the 150 thank you cards for wedding gifts received. I assured her I had written my small percentage of the notes and that if she was concerned with the rest she should talk to her son. No deal. She assured me that men never did these things. It was up to me. 

It was then that I realized the wedding was over. The complicated trajectory of our marriage had begun. 

I had been married before to someone I really liked and respected. We were very young. I think we came together over a lot of shared immigrant experiences and we supported each other. He was and still is a very good man. Over the years I’ve wondered why we didn’t make it. It wasn’t because we argued.  In fact, perhaps it’s because we didn’t argue that we didn’t prosper. To this day I’m not sure what happened but I think I wanted more push back, more fire. We were kind enough to realize that we wanted the best for each other just not with each other. 

But this wasn’t so for Joe and me. We argued. From my vantage point he seemed to have an opinion about almost everything including stuff that I deemed “not in his wheel house”. As a single mother of two boys I was used to taking care of things in my own organized way. I planned ahead. I looked for the potholes at least ten miles down the road and started steering early on to avoid them. I was tidy. Prone to put others before myself, I had ambitions but my children always came first. Joseph was joyful, impulsive, and believed everything would just turn out fine no matter what. He was messy, late to everything but impossibly hard to harbor a grudge with for very long. He protected his own time and had a strong commitment to achieving his aspirations. Each thought the other’s way of operating was peculiar. We tried to convince each other of the merits of our own styles. But no one capitulated. 

In the intervening years we’ve had a lot of battles. We almost didn’t make it. We bombed out of a lot of therapy until we found Hilary and the Hoffman Process.  We discovered, as in so many other ways, we had vastly different approaches to parenting. Our fundamental struggle to find unity was a burden and source of confusion to our children. As a couple we’ve had to come clean with the unsuccessful patterns that have unconsciously driven us but no longer serve. Now, we are better at laying off the judgement and being generous with the compassion. It’s not that we’re jerks. We’re just human and we mess up. 

So, what keeps us together?  Despite our different habits, I think we actually share similar values. Most importantly, we love our family. We are what they call “blended”. A terrible term that sounds more like directions for a tropical drink. I’ve always admired Joe’s capacity for loving and providing for each of our boys without preference for his own “blood”. He’s always seen them as individuals with their own desires and abilities. Whatever they’ve needed to grow and prosper he’s done his best to provide. Maybe it was accompanying someone to court to get the message on irresponsible drinking or letting the goones in to drag another one off to the desert to rethink their priorities. But it’s also included the gift of a guitar that fit on the backpack of said boy in desert. A gap-year learning to skipper yachts in Australia for another who wasn’t sure of what to do next. College with no loans to pay off at the end for all three. Encouragement to have the confidence to follow their hearts into their chosen professions. Endless hours coaching baseball, soccer, basketball. Honoring them all as his sons and supporting their significant other relationships even when it has meant taking a stand with his family of origin. 

I share an intimacy with my sons that I think is just particular to mothers and sons. I’m part of the furniture. They know even if I say “no way” to the trivial things in the end, I’ll always save their butts. Sometimes I believe Joe feels left out. That’s the downside of being the “dad”. Joe has felt he had to be the hard ass.  Not an enviable position but in his own way he’s kept each of them healthy, on task and alive as much as I have.  

Joe and I absolutely appreciate our children’s patience with our challenges. 

As I’ve said, we’ve had our struggles to find consensus.  This continues to be our growing edge. Now, however, it doesn’t feel like life and death. We value open, honest and civil communication. Our faith is built on the conviction that conflict is inevitable, but curiosity over accusation will lead to understanding and compassion and that there’s enough love “glue” to get us through the unpleasant spots. 

Joe and I enjoy life more and more. Individually and together we continue to explore as creatives, business people, writers, philanthropists, gardeners, travelers, cyclists, chefs, philosophers, etc. Our time together can be limited due to our commitments but we appreciate what we do have. We are very blessed; by good friends old and new, work we love, and good health. 

The real story is so much more complicated and nuanced. After all a lot happens in 25 years. It’s a spiritual practice staying with someone for this long. By “spiritual” I mean being connected to something bigger than ourselves and involving a search for meaning in life. Practice means doing something again and again with an effort toward improvement. Safe to say it’s not easy. 

Basically, I’m just very, very, grateful. I feel deeply loved and appreciated. I think I light up Joe’s day and he mine. I couldn’t imagine a more bountiful life.


Photo Provided by: Noah Horning

Mason Gehring