August 26, 2016 marked our first ten years of marriage. We celebrated in exotic Maupiti. It started as another blustery day, so we spent the morning just hanging out in Sonrisa. Tasty french toast, bacon and coffee for breakfast. For lunch, Andrew made cheese burgers with roquefort cheese, bitter greens and spicy pickles stashed away from Ecuador. We enjoyed a bottle of wine we have been saving for a special occasion. We looked at some of our wedding pictures, and re-read our ceremony/vows. We talked about warm memories we made together this decade.
As we reviewed the vows we made ten years ago, I was happy to see we are tracking with those promises more than ever. But, our marriage is subject to high expectations. The first line of our vows states that the partnership “will be a haven where the highest potential of [each spouse’s] existence will be sought, encouraged and deeply respected.” The vows hit on our specific promises to travel and explore, marvel at life, seek health and wisdom, celebrate successes and push through challenges, rest and love together. After this re-read, I noticed the one thing our vows never say is we will “be together forever no matter what.” Instead, "forever" is posed as a question inside a portion of one of our favorite poems.
Was that by design? I can’t remember. I think I like it, though. It is another reminder wrapped into our marital code that we cannot rest on our laurels or take this partnership for granted. I remember talking with Andrew on an evening walk shortly after he asked me to marry him. What is marriage? What is the point? Our reason boiled down to idea that life is intensified when it is shared. We can achieve a closer version of our best lives together than we could if we were going it alone. Our vows were an attempt at specifying for the other what we expect/view as our best life. We both know that if we fell short on too many of these promises, a deep unhappiness would settle in. We are each “devoted to creating the small elements of a life in which [the other] can flourish.”
When people say marriage is “work” and it is a “challenge”, I think what they really mean is that it takes attention. Sometimes the attention is in the form of dinner together and a bottle of beautiful wine, a mountain bike ride, a camping trip or a tropical island paradise. More often it is a twelve hour day at work, planning a budget, sweating for an hour at the gym, fixing the car, doing laundry or grocery shopping. Either way, when these things are done in the spirit of building something good to share, our marriage feels strong. When attention is given in the spirit of “trudging through,” “getting by,” “working for the man,” “keeping up with the credit card bills,” “making do,” or “because we should have a date night” marriage suffers. The human spirit can sniff out purposelessness faster than a drug sniffing dog can find a cocaine-stuffed bacon donut. The difference between purposelessness and fulfillment is really the intention behind your time and effort. A soul rarely cares about “getting by”.
That afternoon, we headed to the party ashore and watched Polynesian feats of island competence: another coconut shucking contest, a coconut peeling contest (a feat I was cajoled into attempting and failing), and the hoisting of enormous boulders, the heaviest being 147 kilos or about 300 pounds. We watched another fantastic set of Tahitian dancers, and once again I was invited to join the fun. Move those hips, Ladies!!! The sparkle in Andrew’s eyes shows me that all the work we invested in getting here was a wise investment. I am grateful to him for all the days he attended to our marriage by grinding out fiberglass or untangling a rats nest of electrical wires.
I am hopeful about our next ten years together. While our vows do not chain us to each other for eternity no matter what, I am optimistic we will choose to stay together. The last ten years have developed a habit of building toward something we both want. What else is marriage about?