Easy love & hard-won happiness

“It used to be so easy,” my husband and I mused over margaritas and guacamole on a recent date night. We were checking in with each other and discussing how we’re feeling about work, stress, the future and so on. We never used to have to say “let’s check in” when we needed to vent or wanted to bring something up — life was a continuous date full of connection and conversational opportunities.

Now, we try to steal a kiss while tripping over our dog and catching the bowl of salsa our toddler is attempting to throw. We still text throughout the day, but it’s changed from debating the happy hour we’ll hit after work to questioning our budget (yes, I did need those shoes!), gushing over said crazy toddler and planning when we can chat in person. Life involves more bills and babysitters and less sleep and relaxation than ever. Our time used to seem endless, but now it feels like a constant, limited loop. It’s marked by work schedules and nap timelines and so much else we couldn’t have imagined back then.

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It’s taken us years (almost seven) to get to this point. We started out just as starry-eyed as everyone else. You don’t realize at first that you’re building the base for a big future full of marriage, babies and a mortgage. Dating begins with an indescribable feeling of possibility; a flattering pursuit. My husband and I met through mutual friends and he quickly convinced me that a first date would be worth it even though we lived in separate states. It took just one shared pizza to realize that I wouldn’t be able to walk away from this.

I admittedly see a lot through rose-colored glasses, but I knew marriage wasn’t something to be entered into lightly. He gave me confidence. I was also fortunate to have an excellent example of what marriage could be. My parents always put each other first, above us. As a kid, I thought it was strange that they wouldn’t take our sides when one of them was (clearly) wrong. As an adult, I recognize the respect they gave each other and the hard work that’s gone into their 30-year marriage. They are always a team, and in many ways, they make marriage seem easy — which is the ultimate sign of partnership. I recognized similar partnership potential in my husband early on, which made it a clear choice. I could see us choosing each other again and again, whether that was picking a date night over a work event or backing each other up in front of our (future) teenage children.

“Shouldn’t this be the easiest part?” One of my best friends asked when struggling with a long-term relationship that didn’t yet include marriage or kids. I listened to her explanation and quickly realized that she was right. The reality of love is so different than we expect. I recalled that recent check in date with my husband (along with the planning and money that went into it) and agreed that it only gets more difficult to connect and prioritize. It isn’t always easy initially, but it certainly doesn’t get easier when you add more stuff and tiny humans into the mix. You need a solid foundation before all of that comes along; an infrastructure that’s strong enough to withstand all of the inevitable trials. Sleepless nights and colicky babies require a lot of grace for survival. We all have different courtships and stories woven together by our decision to choose love; to put another person’s happiness above our own.

So maybe love should be easy at the beginning, but there are too many variables and tests over the years to maintain that level of simplicity. It can set your foundation, and that’s it. Everything else is built in time, through a partnership comprised of obstacles and accomplishments that may or may not include: paid debt, achieved goals, happiness, unhappiness, moves, children, travel mishaps, broken A/C units (testing love and our civility!) and so much more. If marriage starts with spontaneous notes and weekend getaways, it’s sustained by intentional compliments and on-going, sometimes mundane, acts of love and commitment. Now, he fills up my gas tank because he knows I’m too impatient to do it. I cook for him because I know that otherwise he’d subsist solely on scrambled eggs. Life is full of sweet memories and difficult conversations. We’ve gone through college courses, career shifts and vacation disasters. We’ve had periods of more money and then less. Our love has changed, grown and solidified. We still have a lot to work through and figure out together.

It’s not easy anymore. But it’s hard-won, and it’s ours.