My husband and I, still in our first year of marriage, were in the middle of an argument. We had just entered that quiet, cold-shouldered span of time while both of us were recharging our energy, either to resume the debate or to withdraw from it completely. I lay on the couch, he in the bedroom, neither of us talking but feeling each others’ anger through the wall that separated us.
This is too hard, I thought. Remind me why I signed up for this? The argument was a particularly bad one with no resolution in sight despite the hours that had ticked away as we verbally volleyed back and forth. I could not tell you what the argument was about. The worst arguments are always about the most trivial things, so I assume it was terribly minor in the grand scheme. But in the moment, I was adamant. I was stubborn. (I am usually stubborn.) He was wrong, and I was right.
What if we never resolve this? Did I make a mistake? Are we going to get divorced in the first year of our marriage, and I will be a complete failure? And even more horrifying: What will my mother think? I looked at the front door and thought about how easy it would be to put on my shoes and walk out of the door. Never look back.
Commitment had always been a terrifying prospect for me. If I committed to something and failed, then everyone could see just how big of a failure I really was. If I tried something half-heartedly, and failed, then I had an excuse. I hadn’t really tried, after all. (I was also terrified of making a mistake.)
I was still living at home with my parents in South Carolina, and this was after graduating college mind you, when a friend asked me to live with them in Chicago. The Big City. It was also a Big Commitment. I vacillated back and forth, not wanting to give the friend a definite answer either way, and decided I would leave it up to fate. Put it out there and see what happens. What happened was I lost my job. (Thanks, Fate.)
This was as good a sign as any. I moved to Chicago. Best decision I ever made. I finally grew up and became the almost hard-working and relatively responsible individual that I am today.
I figured a relatively responsible person should have a master’s degree. Perhaps I could make something of myself, after all. But it was still had a hard decision on whether to enroll because it meant committing to three more years of living in Chicago. Never mind that I had already lived there for three years. Those were three, free years. The next three I would be forced to stay. What if my circumstances changed? What if I lost my job and couldn’t get another one in Chicago ever again and had to sleep, penniless and alone, on the streets? What if the man of my dreams came along and demanded that I fly away to Europe and live with him in his villa? “No, Mr. McDreamyPants, I have to stay here and be relatively responsible.” No rational person would turn that down.
Realizing that “rational” might not be the best word to describe my current state of mind, I enrolled in graduate school. Time passed. No European men offered to whisk me away to any villas. I received my degree. And I met my husband.
I started thinking about all of these things as I lay on the couch, looking at the front door. They were all conscious choices that also made me a better person for having done them. They were not easy choices to make, but I did not regret making a single one of them. I was willing to bet the same rational could be said about my marriage.
Yes, staying would be a hard choice. Working things out and not being so stubborn all the time would take continual, conscious effort. But at the end of the day, there was no one I would rather spend time with than him. A man who, when we are not having ridiculous arguments about trivial things, goes out of his way to put a smile on my face. A man who, when I am feeling sad, will search YouTube for cute kitten videos and watch them with me until I have stopped crying and have started smiling. A man who wakes me up in the middle of the night to tell me I am beautiful and how lucky he is.
Sticking through it will not be a choice that I regret, and it is not a mistake. When looked at in that light, walking out of that front door is no longer the easy choice. That is the real meaning of love. It is not the fairytale romance I read about as a teenage girl with its “Once Upon A Time” and “Happily Ever After”. Real love is a choice you make, and keep on making, because the alternative is inconceivable. Real love is getting off of the couch, walking into that bedroom, and admitting “So apparently I’m not always right.”
An “I’m sorry” or two is also recommended.