I remember, early on in my relationship with Jordy, my husband, when we were still in the throes of courtship and absolutely batshit for each other, drawing a picture explaining my feelings for him. Earlier that day, we had been walking along the beach in San Diego on a road trip to Mexico, as cheesy as it sounds, talking about what it was like to be together. For him, being with me was like having his watch. Whenever he wasn't wearing his watch, he said, he was half-looking for it until it was safely back on his wrist. For me, being with him was like having lived my life with one thumb, and now having two. I imagine that if you had only one thumb, you could do most of the things that a two-thumbed person could, and wouldn't notice the difference unless you then magically grew another thumb, in which case it might feel like a huge relief to finally be able to give two thumbs up, and break yourself out of the world of mild enthusiasm.
It turns out that when you equate being with your boyfriend to having two thumbs instead of one, people dole out lots of advice, since they don't want to be the ones on the other end of the phone when you go back to one-thumbedness. Take it slowly; be on your guard; he's too nice to be for real. I think that the phrase "In one ear and out the other" was invented specifically for advice. In my lifetime, I've heard mountains of it, yet can remember very little of what people have told me. There is one salient piece of advice, though, that has stuck through the years, and has taken on new meaning as time has worn on. You might not believe me when I say this (though you would if you knew her), but the best marriage advice that I've ever gotten was from my mother-in-law, Jeanie, who is an exquisite example of a human being.
I can't remember when in my relationship with Jordy this came up, and whether Jeanie told it directly to me or if it was hearsay, but Jordy and I have referred back to it as I changed careers, he went from medical school to a grueling residency program, we welcomed our daughter and faced the challenges of fitting parenthood into our relationship, and as we watched our friends face life's inevitable hardships. The advice is this: It never gets easier.
Funny that the best piece of marriage advice isn't about marriage itself, but about who you choose to marry. In the end, life can be pretty shitty and hard, so you better marry someone who feels like your second thumb. This little gem is also not as grim as it seems when you first hear it. It doesn't mean that your life together doesn't get better, doesn't get happier, doesn't get more fun and more fulfilling. On the contrary, equating ease with happiness, fun, and fulfillment almost sets us up for failure. As much as we want things to be easy, the world has different plans for us. However, if we want things to be happy, fun, and fulfilling . . . Well, a lot of that comes down to our choices. It's easy to weather fun times together no matter who you're with; the hard times, not so much. Given that hurdles in life are inevitable, choosing the right person to face them with is phenomenally important. The most difficult part about this is that (in my experience at least) you don't know whether the person you're with is the perfectly right person until . . . until you just know. If I had it all to do over again, I would keep Jeanie's advice in my head. I don't think I would have done anything any differently (after all, every relationship serves its purpose and imparts its lessons), but it would have made letting go of some people WAY easier, because I would know that if we couldn't face the world together at 20, the world at 30 would crush us.
It never gets easier, but it gets better, for sure. On every count, I feel closer to my husband than I ever have, and I love him more deeply each day than I did the day before. Our life is, in many ways, better than it was when we got married. We're a bit more settled, happier in our daily careers, and have ironed out (for the most part) the details of living together. But as we're getting older, the challenges that life has thrown our way, and the sacrifices that we're having to make for each other and for our family are only getting larger, harder, more seemingly insurmountable. Our relationship has been challenged more in the last four years than it ever was before that. And if those years are any indication, that's not the end of it.
Who would have known that day on the beach what we would face in the years ahead. A year of long-distance making-it-work, cross-country moves, illnesses, loss, mountains of change. It was easier then, just me and him, but it's better now, with me and him and the life we're building together. Because luckily, I married my second thumb. And I can thank his mother for giving me that perspective.