Five years. How did we get here? I used to think I knew. I would spout out cliched advice to newly married couples that would ask what our secret is. Date nights! Loving yourself first! Cloning Paul! But this past year, a lot of people have gone through breakups, which has led me to reflect on us. And I realized that I truly don't have an answer rooted in science or logic.
We met in the midst of one of the worst years of my life. I was an unemployed college dropout with crazy amounts of self-esteem issues, lost in a fog of alcohol and a lack of direction. I was aware of how much of a mess I was and was dead set on ending a relationship of three years to (eventually) focus on school. Three days after breaking up with my boyfriend, I met Paul. It was the worst time to meet anyone of substance (or so I thought) and I was stubborn enough to deny this sunshine in my life because I was too young to figure out who I was going to marry, especially when I wasn't in the best state. But that's how profound meeting Paul was: if I wasn't careful, I knew I'd want to keep him around forever.
Our first year was messy and hard, but we walked out of the first year and just decided to figure all of it out together. And we found out that we were really good at the good, bad and ugly stuff of life when we worked as a duo. We argued about the dishes and would fight when we both drank too much. But then we grew up, got better jobs and went back to school. I knew I would eventually lift myself up and out of my drunk dropout fog but I didn't realize how much Paul would help. I didn't have to worry about him shattering my independence or choosing between a serious relationship and a career/college. Crazy nights when I worked and went to school for 12 hours, he made sure I ate dinner and left me to study. He was unconditionally supportive throughout finishing my undergrad degree and the bear that was grad school. We became a really good team. It became clear in year two that life was improving immensely when we were together. So we just kept hanging out, for almost 10 years now.
I don't think marriage is hard. It's not because we are some alien race immune to challenges, but marriage itself is the easy part. Working on yourself and realizing when you're projecting your own fears and insecurities is the hard part. I am lucky to have a partner that works on himself just as hard as I do. Our work is carefully making sure we're not blaming each other for what we see in the mirror. We're constantly growing separately and support each other when that gets tough. It makes it really easy to be nice to each other when you don't hate yourself.
But I don't have all the answers. I didn't love myself before meeting Paul. I didn't give myself enough time between breakups like you're supposed to. I was so young. Following all the formulas for long-lasting marital bliss wouldn't have led me here.
As much as I wanted it to be, love is not scientific. It's not a checklist. You can't boil down logistics and make it happen. You can't take the great advice from your friends and grow love in a greenhouse. It's just magic. It just happens. You have to be smart enough to notice it and embrace it and help it grow, but it does its own thing, whether you like it or not. Whether you're ready or not. Whether you're a very put-together 31 year old or a crazy drunk of a 20 year old.
I believe in fairies. I believe that trees talk to each other. And I believe in the Yo-Naus.
On Sunday morning after a rare late night, Paul and I decided to go out to breakfast at our favorite place. We didn't get there early enough and it was packed, so we ate at the counter. Two out-of-towner guys were sitting at the top of the L shaped counter. Paul ordered the biscuits and gravy, something he'd been waiting to order for months since it's not on the summer menu. When our food came out, one of the guys asked, "Is that the biscuits and gravy?" with wide eyes. Paul said, "Yeah! It's so good. But they don't have it in the summer." The guy got more excited. "I was going to order that but got pancakes instead. I'll have to get that next time." Paul nodded his head and took a bite. Then he turned towards the guy and said, "You wanna try it? We can split this. I'm not going to eat all of it." The guy politely declined, but I was in awe, and proud. Sometimes Paul's kindness floors me. Being willing to share your favorite meal with a perfect stranger (and not just waiting for my reaction) makes me fall in love all over again, and feel really grateful that I get to do life with him every day.
Five years. It sounds so long ago that we Jubilee'd at my grandparents farm. I'm pretty much done pretending that I have any clue what's ahead of us. Marriage itself may get hard. We both may change in uncharacteristic ways. But as naive as this sounds, I'm fairly certain that if I just keep believing, we'll still get to keep the magic.
And maybe if we're really lucky and if the past is an indicator of our future, it'll just keep getting better.