Eighteen years into my marriage, I am not the wife I’d thought I’d be, and my marriage isn’t the fairy tale I’d envisioned. I can’t speak for my husband (although I often try), but my guess is that he’d admit similar truths about himself and our life together. Confessions aside, with the national divorce rate hovering north of 40 percent, I’m proud that my marriage defies the statistics, even if it isn’t tailor-made for the silver screen. Like a bouquet of roses, it’s no less exquisite or fragrant because it has thorns.
As an author of romantic fiction, I obsessively study the concepts of love, marriage, and happy endings so that the relationships I write about feel authentic. Given how much energy I expend dissecting romantic love, one would think I could master my own. Sadly, there are no Love Guru PhDs hanging on the walls of the Beck household. Two moves, two kids, and multiple career changes have rubbed some of the shine off our romance, but they’ve left a richer patina.
That’s not to say it’s all rainbows and chocolate drops. If my husband’s and my love story were a romance novel plot, it would rest upon two popular tropes. First, he’s my brother’s childhood friend. Second, we’re a case of “opposites attract.”
Opposites Do Attract
In the beginning, our differences made for fascinating exploration, inspiration, and passion. But my mother may have been onto something when she issued one of her infamous truisms, with her index finger pointed upward — her favorite way to emphasize any point. One day she said, “Just know, when you grow to hate things about your partner, that difference that you loved most at the start will be the thing you’ll most hate.” Notice her use of “when” instead of “if?” Well, yeah…it happened. My husband’s playfulness sometimes makes me feel like I have a third child, while my intensity can make him feel like he has a second boss.
But the relative ups and downs in our relationship come mostly from the daily choices we make. Sometimes they’re selfish, like when I rush to end our phone calls while I’m out running errands, or put less thought into a birthday gift because I didn’t make the time. Or, in his case, when he sits on the sofa watching football while I fold three baskets of laundry right in front of him. You get the picture. One by one, those little moments of neglect seep into the foundation and, when things freeze, they expand and cause cracks.
But other times we take affirming actions, like shooting a grateful email in the middle of the day for no reason at all, picking up flowers while on a Costco run, or hunkering down on the sofa together to binge watch Ray Donovan with a bowl of popcorn. These moments when we remember to put the other person first are what I suspect men and women in the strongest marriages do consistently. Consistency is the thing we — and possibly other couples — need to improve.
And while my husband isn’t as suave as Cary Grant and no longer has the abs of a romance cover model, he is a proud champion of my accomplishments and an amazing father to our children. He treats my extended family with love and respect, always making them welcome in our home (which means he gets a regular dose of my mom, her pointer finger, and a long list of well-intentioned advice. He encourages me to enjoy trips with my girlfriends and to dedicate as much time and money as I deem necessary to further my career. When I think about the future, my family, and what I need to be happy, I recognize that all of these traits matter much more than candlelit dinners and pretty jewelry — although a few of those never hurt, either.
Getting Older and Wiser About Marriage
Being 51 has, for the most part, freed me from comparing my marriage to other marriages, and from comparing my husband to other men — or worse, to some idealized concept of the perfect man. God knows I wouldn’t want to be measured against some fantasy wife. Those comparisons will never fix what isn’t working. Instead of making that sort of evaluation when I’m frustrated, I look for realistic ways we can reshape the clay of our lives into a more pleasing form, knowing that this sculpture will be a constant work in progress. We aren’t destined to be the centerpiece of any art installation, and that’s okay with me.
In an era when the institution of marriage is under siege (whether from those who believe it passé, or from those who feel entitled to dictate who should and should not be able to marry), and when our country is plagued by violence, natural disasters, and divisiveness, I find strength and security in the commitment my husband and I have made to each other. He’s seen me at my best and my worst and yet chooses, each day, to stand beside me as we face new challenges. I don’t think any woman can ask for much more than that, so I’ll count my blessings and put down the toilet seat on my own.
This essay was written by author Jamie Beck, whose ninth novel, All We Knew (January 30, Montlake), covers the ups and downs of marriage. Beck is a working mother and former attorney who decided to leave the corporate world behind and become a full-time writer.