We're starting to fall into a routine: every year we argue over when exactly our anniversary is. He says the tenth, I say the ninth, or the seventh, his mom, when asked to settle the argument, says the eight. I'm pretty sure that it's today, but if it was the seventh it will have already passed without much notice. We worked together, we had dinner with friends, we skidded around on a frozen pond. I know it's not the romantic Western idea of true love, with candle light and gifts pre-determined by the Chamber of Commerce or some other industry interest group, but really, who gives a fuck?
We don't celebrate either of our wedding anniversaries, we don't know the date we first met, the date of our first real date (which didn't exactly really even happen), the date of anything. Of course we do remember everything, but not the necessary hallmarks every couple is supposed to pass on their way to marital bliss. Frankly, I always have to count backwards to figure out how long we've even known each other.
What I do know is that we've been together for what seems like forever to me. My life before our relationship now seems a little like a dream that didn't make sense upon waking, or a movie I once saw and couldn't really relate to.
We're not the same people we were when we met. For one thing, we're bona fide grown-ups now, not young adults waiting for their Saturn Return, for the direction of their lives to become clear.
The reason why it seems like everything that happened before "us" happened to a different person, is that how we live now, who we are now, is the creation of two people, rather than one. For whatever reason, or instinct, we hitched our hopes onto each other, made an improbable commitment. We've grown up together, become better people, charted to course of our lives. We've made big decisions. This is how we live. This is who we are.
The romance-industrial-complex has totally ruined the words, but this, to me, is true love. Like most other ideals, our culture has a really twisted notion of what that is supposed to look like. Soul mates at first sight, the last few minutes in a romantic comedy, the big declarations, the swell of violins, laughing and crying in a downpour, sailing into the perfect sunset... The nitty gritty of daily life is often presented as a hinderance to love, not its reality and marriage as hard, drudging work, where the returns are stability and safety, rather than joy.
Don't get me wrong; long-term relationships, romantic or otherwise, take a lot of work and devotion, but as far as I'm concerned, its part of the right work for this lifetime; finding the people that matter and then trying to make your life with them.
If there's one piece of advice about "romantic" relationships that I've ever been given that I'd like to pass onto everyone, it's something Mali's dad once told me, during one of the many heartbreaks I suffered in my early twenties. "The person you're with, your partner, should also be your best friend." It seems so obvious now, especially written down, but from the perspective of a twenty-trhee-year-old who thought love should be intense and tortured and interesting, it was revolutionary.
The other lesson I learned around that time, was to let go of any expectations when it came to the superficial. When you're single you often have all these lists of characteristics that your ideal mate must possess (...has a beard, plays the banjo, tall, has the same religious beliefs, wears good shoes, must love Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter and so forth...), but the real non-negotiables are something entirely different.
Once, my ex and I got into a fight about whether our hypothetical future children would have access to a TV. It doesn't sound like much now, but the dismissive way he talked to me about it made me realize that for all of our seeming compatibility, our values were fundamentally different. Sometimes, the qualities we can't budge on in a partner are just like that, something we didn't even really know mattered, nor knew how to put into words. In this case it wasn't the actual potentially TV-watching offspring, it was his close-mindedness about something that I didn't even consider that alternative. And it certainly wasn't what ended that relationship, but rather was an indicator of the things that would eventually become unsurmountable for the two of us.
When I met my husband, he wasn't exactly the type of guy I saw myself dating, nor did he squarely fit into my life-plans at the time, but what I came to understand was, that none of that really mattered, because on some fundamental level we believed in the same things, not even in terms of narrowly defined ideas like religion, or politics, but rather, spiritually and morally; and that that was what connected us, not some preconceived idea of an ideal partner.
True love, to me, is not one big gesture, but a million small ones; caring for someone when they're sick, making a fire so that other person can have their breakfast in a warm kitchen, knowing when to back down, knowing when be soft and when to be tough, when the fight you're in is about something other than the topic under discussion, loving someone, not unconditionally with faults and all, but in spite and even because of those very short-comings...
When I look at the two people in these pictures from seven years ago, I hardly recognize them, yet at the same time, I remember exactly what they talked about in the dead of night in their tent, in the morning by the clear, man-made lake, on mountain tops and winding trails. I know their fears and hopes for each other and wish that I could reassure them of their future together. I look at them the way one looks at old photographs of long-lost relatives and wonder if seven, twenty, forty years into the future I'll look at pictures of us as we are right now with the same tenderness and joy and nostalgia.
I want to believe that we'll always be best friends, that we'll grow old together, that ours will be the kind of happy marriage that couples I marvel at have, but of course, as always, the future is unknowable. "Forever" is as subjective as any other word, it lasts only as long as those who say it continue to believe in it.
This much I do know: I'm proud of who we are today, delighted and puzzled by how far we've gotten, curious about what will happen next. And that love may not be one long, romantic moonlit walk on a beach and marriage isn't just pure bliss, but it is an adventure.
And I for one, feel really lucky to have found a good travel-partner.