How To Get Married At 22 and Still Live Happily Ever After
I have a distinct memory of sitting at a table in a coffee shop in my hometown with a friend from high school when the topic of marriage came up. I was emphatic that I had no plans to get married anytime soon, maybe ever, but definitely not at that moment. He was musey, wondering aloud, “But what if you meet the right person?”
At the time, the idea of the “right person” was one I didn’t believe in. To be real, I didn’t believe it in a year later when I got married, and I don’t believe in it now, a month past my eleventh anniversary. The reason for that is simple: I think a whole bunch of people can be the “right person”, depending on how you personally define what you want and need from a relationship. But I also believe that even a person you don’t know very well on your wedding day can grow to be exactly the person that you’re meant to spend your entire adulthood with.
I believe this because so far, it’s what I’ve lived. About eight months after that conversation with a friend, I met a guy who casually invited me to a Beck concert for our first date. That was great, because I loved Beck (a fact he had gleaned from my MySpace profile). The catch? The concert was in Philadelphia, a city that was a thirteen hour drive (one way!) from where we lived in Alabama, and I barely knew the guy.
I said yes, because when else in life are you going to say yes to something like that? Only when you’re 21.
I accidentally moved in with him when we got home, and when I say “accidentally” I mean it —my apartment was forty-five minutes from his house, and it was late at night. So we quite chastely cuddled on his twin bed, and dutifully attended our shared Sociology classes the next day. We had driven to school together, so we drove back to his place together, and at some point I started migrating my belongings there and just...stayed. We got married three months later, to the shock of just about everyone except the two of us.
Was it super weird? At the time I don’t think it felt like it was, and in retrospect, I wouldn’t change a thing.
We have spent the ensuing eleven (11!) years learning to become adults together. We have had some incredibly hard times, and weathered a lot of growing pains. We spent our first anniversary having a giant fight about, of all things, Buddhism, before paying $40 to have a taxi drive us all of five miles. We had our son two years into our marriage, and he was born two months early and has three chronic medical conditions—he received a new diagnosis the first three years of his life. We almost split up when our son was two, again when he was four, and again when he was six (I guess we like even numbers?), before we finally got our shit together, stared each other in the eye, and said if we really wanted to make it work we had to commit and go all in.
We had a rough patch a year ago (year ten, for those keeping track) that brought us to the most honest place our relationship has been at to date. And with that honesty came an intimacy that I hadn’t known could exist between two people who are choosing to be together every day.
Because that’s really what it’s come down to for both of us, at this point in our marriage, eleven years into a journey that has been both wild and terrifying, beautiful and devastating, open and closed, honest and scared, powerful and diminishing. We’re making a choice every day to wake up and love each other, and go to bed and love each other. We’re staring marriage and “til death do you part” in the eye weekly, and saying, “Hey, yes: we’re still here. We want to do this.”
Every time something threatened to rip us apart—and believe me, we came quite close a handful of times—we would sit down together and put it all on the table. We gave what was breaking us to the other. We have had exchanges and pain and confusion and uncertainty, and through that we reap the benefits: stability and calm and love and a rock solid certainty. When someone asks me how we’ve been together for eleven years, I tell them it’s been because we have wanted to, and that it’s truly as simple as that.
With any choice, there is always the possibility that one person (or both) will eventually stop choosing it. It could happen. It might. But this year, our eleventh and our second in the double digits, I have a calm about our marriage that I didn’t during our single digit years. There’s an understanding between the two of us, and in a way we’re stepping back and enjoying that those two kids—22 and 21 on their wedding day—have managed to invest enough into one another to keep this thing afloat simply by choosing to do so.
I can’t make promises about the future, and, to be cliche, life happens. But I can be here, making my choice, day in and day out, and I know that he is doing the same.
And really? That’s enough for me.