The key to a successful and happy marriage? Lowered expectations.

I never expected any of this.

When we were least expecting it, we found each other. Out of the universe of people, somehow we were the only ones on that rooftop in Soho eighteen years ago. The whole city receded from view, and there we were. That party led to dinner and dinner led to ice cream. A national tragedy brought everything into focus. We just went for it. We traipsed uptown and downtown, spent hours in Central Park, ate bagels and pizza and read the Sunday New York Times and listened to the guitar guy in Central Park. Every month that passed, we jokingly recommitted to one another. “Want to keep going?” one of us would ask. We always agreed to forge ahead.

We didn’t set any expectations for ourselves. We didn’t plan too much. Life was easier maybe–we were responsible for ourselves and no one else. But we didn’t push it or rush it or make our relationship into something it wasn’t. We took our time.

And then we took a risk and spent time apart, staying tethered through late night phone calls and emails and halfway meetups for dinner when we couldn’t find time for a whole weekend. We shortened the distance little by little until we were back in the same zip code. You proposed and we got married within the year. And even though I wanted to get married marginally earlier, marriage wasn’t some tectonic shift.

But marriage is weird. As we amass marriage experience, I often wonder how it all works. We’re each growing and changing as people. We live in a world that’s chaotic and unpredictable. We’re trying to raise and love two little humans who are growing and changing. The ground is always moving underneath of us. We’re wobbly, always wobbly.

Why would anyone do this voluntarily?

We learned early on that being married is easier when you’re in the same boat rowing in the same direction. It would be easy to say, it just works. Like there is no explanation for the complexities and nuances of surviving 18 years of friendship. That’s the easy way out.

The real secret sauce: we sweat the small things. We really sweat them. I’m not talking about the minutiae of everyday life (we sweat that, too). I mean we make sure we’re on the same page, that we feel heard, that we feel seen. We don’t crowd each other out trying to be the alpha person. Our commitment to consensus building is at times completely paralyzing, but the payoff is deep, abiding trust.

We’ve been doing this co-piloting for so long that in times of stress, when one of us has to back down or step away, the other simply takes the wheel. I never worry when it’s me who takes a back seat. I feel fine when you’re the leader. I hope you feel the same way.

But the real real secret sauce: Lower your expectations.

Better yet, ditch expectations altogether.

Every day and every year something new happens to take our otherwise settled life and turn it upside down. I’m reminded of how much life can change in looking at photos from every wedding anniversary 13 years running. That first anniversary on a family trip just after my mom died. I was suffering but you just held my hand. Two years in we went river tubing (knowing that we were pregnant). Three years in with a new baby. Four years, five years….Each picture, it’s us. A year older. We look the same but things have changed. We’re parents now, we have ever-changing careers. We have celebrated with our family in good times, buried relatives, walked side by side with loved ones and dear friends through difficult times. We’ve found our footing in a community of people that we love. What’s the secret? We just don’t know what it’s going to be yet. We expect very little.

And we become more like ourselves as we age. We know we won’t magically become someone else: our strengths become our best qualities and our faults grow with time. I don’t expect you to be someone you’re not. I know you don’t expect me to suddenly be someone else, either. In living and loving and maneuvering through this life we’ve created together, I know that if I want to make myself happy, I don’t need to rely on you. Life is happier with you in it, but I know that I have to buy my own flowers.

It feels like we just got started and yet here we are parenting two little girls. We’ve been together for nearly two decades. How can it be 18 years since that party? Or 14 years since that rainy Saturday when you proposed? Or 13 years since that impossibly sunny, hot day in July when we got hitched? Or ten years since we started parenting? How?

I don’t know. It just is.

Here we are.

Want to keep going?

I do.

Super. Onward.



About rglw

Sociologist mom writes for work and for pleasure.
This entry was posted in advice, blogging, everyday life, family, friendship, marriage, parenthood, personal, thinking, Uncategorized, writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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