As people become more interested in me and my work, I've become acutely aware that my marriage is point of interest for many. For years I have known that people look at me with a quizzical expression upon hearing that I am married. Maybe I act too immature to be married. Maybe people have ideas that proper married women should not talk about sex and sexuality so openly.
I've been with my husband for 20 years. Yes, that means that we met and fell in love in the fall of 1991 or our junior year in college (I had just turned 20 and he was *gasp* still 19). We moved in together after we graduated from the Claremont Colleges in 1993. We got engaged in the fall of 1994, and were married in the fall of 1995. For those of you who are bad at math, that means we have been married for over 16 years.
Believe me when I say I'm not bringing this up to gloat about my own personal marriage success. Seriously, I'm not secretly saying in my head "I'm so great, nany nany boo boo." I've decided to blog about it because, in the past month, at least 4 different people have asked me how my marriage has been so successful. Granted, successful is one of those terms whose meaning can be very subjective, but it has definitely made me think about why and how I have been with my partner for 1/2 of my life.
Here is what has worked for me. Some of the information might be useful, but some of it may not even remotely apply to your relationship.
Pick the right partner: Good concept, don't you think? Granted, I have some impulse control problems (especially when it comes to jewelry, shoes, and hand bags), but I'm actually an incredibly practical person. Even though I was only 20 when I met my future husband, I had dated quite a bit, had multiple sexual partners (no, not at the same time), and had enough personal experience to know what a healthy and unhealthy relationship looked like. One of the main reasons I was confident I met the right "one" for me was because he was the only person I had ever dated where I couldn't foresee what circumstance would cause us to break up. Yes, I'm practical, but I am also a bit neurotic and tend to dissect and ruminate over people's behavior. Also, my husband was the most wonderfully consistent person I had ever met. Many people might not find this to be an attractive quality, but it was exactly what I needed in my life.
Before we got married, we covered most of the basic "what do you think about" questions. It was important to me that he knew I was fairly certain I didn't want children. It was also
important to me that he understood where I grew up and how I was raised. Fortunately, he was familiar with the North Shore of Chicago, and Winnetka to be specific, because of his family. I'm the first to admit that I am a snob when it comes to many things, and a lot of it has to do with my upbringing. Iconic 80's movies like Home Alone (yes, that house really exists and it was not that far from mine), Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Risky Business, She's Having a Baby, Sixteen Candles, and The Breakfast Club were all filmed in and around where I lived. Right or wrong, it was my reality. Having him visit me and my family made it easier for him to understand some of my personality quirks when it comes to living a certain lifestyle. I have no doubt he felt that I better live it up while I could because there was no way he would ever be able to support the lifestyle in which I had become accustomed to. Maybe I should just cut to the chase and admit that I am spoiled! There, is that better?
Don't lose your identity: I've always been a fairly independent person. I'm not someone who stopped hanging out with my friends whenever I had a boyfriend. We saw each other for a few hours every day but mostly in the dining hall and after we were finished studying for the night. I graduated with a degree in sociology. He ended up with a PhD in electrical engineering, so it's not a huge surprise that I am more social than he is. He spends time with his friends during work lunches, and because I work alone and from home, I tend to see my friends after work hours. That means that he is often on his own when it comes to dinner.
He also knew that once we were wed I was not planning on taking his last name. My last name is fairly unique when it comes to the Japanese so it was important for me to keep it. Because I was teased and bullied over my name I kind of feel like I've earned it. My name--Toyooka is pronounced just like Toyota (but with a 'k'), so it was interesting being an adolescent when one of the biggest car companies slogan at that time was "oh what a feeling to drive....Toyota!"
Develop your own rituals: This can be a bit tricky to figure out if you are a child free couple. Spending holidays with your family can cause a lot of stress. Knowing this, my husband and I created a "family can suck it" Thanksgiving ritual. We begin by checking into our semi-local Ritz Carlton and then treat ourselves to the most luxurious and decadent Thanksgiving brunch in the history of the world. We usually spend 2 nights being pampered, ordering room service, taking lots of naps, and walking the beach. Granted, not everyone has the funds or desire for this type of pampering. Maybe camping or a quaint B&B is more your style. The fact remains that we always look forward to this time of year because of our mini-vacation.
Rituals don't even need to cost you any money! We try to snuggle (I know, puke, right?) each night and talk about our day. Yes, we can get away with this particular ritual probably because we are child free. In a way, those few minutes of intimacy at the end of the day are the bread and butter of our relationship.
Try to be spontaneous (if you usually are not): Since I'm a compulsive planner, I've always been the one in the relationship to plan all of our trips. Twice in the past year I've been pleasantly surprised that my husband took it upon himself to book us a quick one-nighter away from home. He would make the plans on Friday and on Saturday we were on our way. Sometimes you just need to get away and decompress.
Remember why you chose them in the first place: Consider this an exercise in gratitude. After 20 years with someone, that intense passion and desire you feel at the beginning of courtship has a tendency to fade away. Recognizing this has been vital to my overall happiness. There are times when I simply have no desire to engage in sexual activity. I know this comes as a shock to most! During those sexual *lean* times, I try to be open with my husband about what is (or in most cases--what isn't) going on with my sexual state. During the times when we aren't sexually connecting, I continue to praise and appreciate my partner for who he is. Off the top of my head, the things I love most about my husband are: he is a freaking smartypants, he is lovingly patient with me and accepting of my personality quirks, he is incredibly good looking, he doesn't take himself or me too seriously, he makes me laugh every single day, and he always tells me he loves me--always.
We aren't a super-romantic couple by any means. What we are is thoughtful and generous. I also figured out years ago that my partner is infinitely smarter than I could ever be. I'm not knocking myself or saying I'm dumb. I just have a limited capacity to retain, understand, assimilate, and then call up information at a later date. Which is why I basically defer to him when it comes to big decisions. Yes, he is aware of this. No, he doesn't rub my nose in it. Yes, I can see the humor in someone so anal about things (me) willingly giving up control. Here's the deal: I figured that I would probably only be right about 20% of the time when it comes to disagreements so why not concede.
Would you stay with your partner if you won the mega lotto? This is the real 30 million or 100 or 300 million dollar question. This is kind of similar to asking yourself the question "would I still marry this person if I had to do it all over again?" I'll be honest and tell you that I wasn't always so confident in my answer to this one. The fantasy of winning 100 million or more is pretty freaking intoxicating. We don't have children and we don't have a mortgage so, technically, I could take off with very little personal ramifications. I've since come to understand that the chances of me winning the lottery are about the same as me leaving my husband.
Dang, sorry for the long-ass post and for all the over-sharing! It's also the most intimate of my blog posts so I was pretty hesitant about posting it.