On a windy Calgary day on May 14, 1988, I got married. Rae Kenny-Rife to be exact. If my math is correct (in these matters it’s best to be accurate), that makes 30 years.
It feels strange just reading those words. A guy at my level of A.D.D. seldom manages 30 minutes at anything.
That’s 360 months. 131,400 days. 7, 884, 000 minutes – well, you get the idea.
Marriage has been compared to many things.
The slow, arduous climb up a mountain, increasingly steep, and constantly threatened by dodgy weather.
Cool. Lots to see up here.
Wild, adrenaline-pumping, white water rapids.
A crazy carpet ride down an icy hill. Partners in guts and glory. Fellow felons of fun and frolic, as it were, gathering speed, danger, and panicked screams along the way.
Go for it. Whether by fall, splash, crash or slide, it’ll wrap up all too soon – sometimes with an uncomfortable bump at the bottom.
Besides, you can cry or laugh alongside someone who also pissed themself on the way down.
We love to ask our elders, decades of partnership under their belts, “what’s your secret to success for a long and happy marriage?”
Of course, in the asking, we assume their marriage to be both “successful” and/or “happy,” whatever those ultimately mean.
Therefore, let me humbly suggest we begin with a satisfactory definition of terms. What do we mean by long, happy, and especially, successful? Is it successful only inasmuch as it is long and/or happy? Put another way, can short marriages also be defined as successful if they were happy most of the time? What about those decades-long marriages that, although long, were rarely happy? Are we to view those as successful as well? At the end of the day, is happiness or longevity the litmus test for a successful marriage?
I could wax philosophical and ask whether Shakespearean star-struck gooeyness makes for good lovers (if so, hide the kitchen knives!). After all, who doesn’t love a good love story? That impossible pairing of impossible opposites who, against impossible odds, stumble into bliss together.
Back to our aging honeymooners instead. Among the most common answers to the question are as follows:
Communication (including sex).
A sense of shared purpose.
Frugality and discipline.
Hard work and sacrifice.
Regular date nights.
Bourbon…the list goes on.
To those staring at 50, 60 years or more, 30 years seems like a drop in the bucket. So what? They felt the same way as I many years ago.
That’s a very long time and I’m proud of it. We’re proud of it. And, were someone to ask us our recipe for “success” I’d likely say, “I have absolutely no f**king idea!”
Communication. Let me land there for a minute or two. In any marriage, communication can mean many things. Lack of it might best be described as unseized potential for understanding. Maybe even happiness. Relationship carpe diem, missed.
At other times communication bubbles over like foam on warm beer.
Communication. In 2012, following an extended period of marriage difficulties, in what could only be described as a blinding hurricane of sexual renaissance, we were reminded about the powerful communication that can happen in the sheets. You can speak in a thousand different ways, but the robust vulnerability of intense bodily contact places trust at a whole new level.
Oddly, it can also be the best form of deception. Merely sharing orgasm doth not a relationship make. (That said, what a great way to find out!)
No harm, no foul, right?
On its own however, it is insufficient. It pales to the much less glamorous task of authenticity and mutual openness. The gristle gained in the grind.
Sex can iron out wrinkles sufficiently to make relational garments fit better. It can oil the squeaky hinges on the door that opens outward to freedom, inward to contentment. It loosens up tongues, long silent, to reinitiate the project of bridge-building.
It can, in the words of Richard Rohr, take us to the temple gates, but only the vastly superior love of God can open those gates and escort us in. Something much greater than a post-coital daze is necessary to sustain a relationship through the long, rigorously demanding years of life.
And those years are often hurled at us like glass in a hurricane rather than gently lowered down in a tidy basket of fruit, smiles, and puppies.
Laugh I’d say. If you don’t know how, bloody well learn. Few things are as life-giving as gut-busting laughter. This we have done in spades. The girl is a walking party. She attracts mischief and gloriously infantile guffaws like scuffs on new shoes.
Laughter? Yeah, we’re pretty good at that bit.
I wrote this on our 25th. Rae wrote this on our 26th. Now, on our 30th I add another 5. And, if someone felt the urge to ask me how we’ve managed this long – “what’s held it together? What’s the secret? How did you do it?” – I’d be hard-pressed to give a decent answer.
Was it the many times I could have more readily throttled her than cuddled her?
Was it the time we told each other to f**k off while losing control of Scottish teens at a church seaside games night?
Or, the screaming match in a church parking lot when I threw the car keys into traffic?
Was it the years we rarely touched each other?
The first or second time we separated?
Was it the nights, sometimes many, I decided to sleep elsewhere – anywhere else?
Was it those times I was so angry I couldn’t see straight or imagine another minute with her?
When the best remedy I could find was booze?
Or, was the nights, huddled under winter blankets, watching BBC together?
Our shared passion for justice, and distaste for ecclesiastical hypocrisy, and political bullshit (in America, those are the same thing)?
The Nirvana of a Welsh rain pouring restlessly over Tintern Abbey stone?
Mutual lump-in-throat dry mouth, driving B roads in rural Britain?
Our love for all things ancient and wonderfully impractical?
Those liturgical dates at a Taizé prayer service, an Anglican or Catholic Mass?
Well-honed inside jokes?
Favourite Spotify playlists containing everything from ABBA to Gregorian chant?
Writing dates at oceanview cafés?
The embarrassing hilarity of late middle-age sex?
The shared writing of a symphony, Opus 1 (Calum) and Opus 2 (Graeme)?
Yes. All of it and more. It’s been bliss at times, shit at others.
But, it’s our shit. The shit we know. The shit we’ve weathered together.
30 years and I’m still horrified at the sheer level of commitment required. I still blanche at the profundities of this whole deal – the distance there can be between contentment and chaos. How contentment, however spotty, gives perspective to said chaos.
Mostly, how God has managed to help us smell like roses in a sea of self-inflicted shit.
If a “successful” marriage, whether long or short, happy or not, is one characterized by awareness of its failures, but possessing a desire to deal with them, we likely fit the bill.
If “happy” simply means more sunlight than shadow, more gratitude than regret, more genuine than shallow, more honest than projected, more lived than protected, we likely fit the bill.
25 + 5 = 30.
For me, it equals quiet satisfaction.
Happy Anniversary, babe. Let’s keep adding numbers until we forget we were adding numbers.