My parents have been married for 35 years.
This past weekend was their anniversary, and I am inspired. 35 years? That’s a very long time to be with the same person.
That’s a whole lot of cranky Mondays and burnt toast. More flat tires, broken plates, and missed appointments than I can count. A bunch of mixed signals and eye rolls, with a healthy dose of snoring and bad breath tossed in there for good measure.
It’s also many birthdays and summer breaks. Hundreds of sunsets, delicious meals, cheesy photographs and songs to dance along with. And more inside jokes and ridiculous memories than anybody else would ever understand, to the point that a single look can communicate a monologue.
I can’t help but wonder what that must be like.
For a person who hasn’t managed to make a relationship last longer than a few summers, who dodges intimacy with the deft skill of a ninja, who likes to smile at good-looking people but is utterly bewildered if they actually smile back… for that person [ME], the concept of 35 years is fascinating.
Being known at that level is a desire that haunts me, both because it is tantalizingly beautiful and because it is horrifyingly vulnerable.
To be known by another person, not just for a few days in which you can present a perfectly unrealistic view of yourself, or for a few weeks in which the surface flaws are still charming… but for years and years. THAT is something I cannot envision. Such intimacy that goes on and on, knowing another with the depth of commitment that is required for a marriage to last 35 years, it is an enigma.
And I wonder if it has always been this way, or if I am a by-product, a symptom if you will, of a new cultural phenomenon, this generation of human that knows little of longevity of any sort.
A few weeks ago, I sat at dinner with a friend and we debated this concept. Over organic vegan meals [yes, make your judgment now], we sighed heavily across the table from one another and agreed: Our generation was only the beginning of a shift. We are the short-termers, the upgraders, the ones who would rather throw something away than fix it.
This is not something I have only recently considered, but rather a topic that has weighed heavily on my mind for some time.
When I was growing up, my grandpa would thoughtfully sew patches into the knees of his jeans. My mother would strew pieces of the toaster across the kitchen table, determined to find the one flaw that kept us from breakfast. And my first car, a 1973 Dodge Dart that my dad taught me how to change the oil on, had been kept up with diligence to make it last.
My friend and I lamented that we had become shallow. Dipping our blue chips into salsa, we wondered why.
We didn’t fix things. Not jeans, toasters, cars, or relationships.
Not every person, of course. But as a collective whole, our generation is short-termers. Our clothes are only useful for a few seasons, and then they are intentionally recycled at a local consignment shop, while we search for something new. Our toaster breaks and we simply toss it in a landfill, purchasing another at Target for $16.99. We are unhappy in a relationship, a job, a house… and readily move onward to something new. We upgrade our phones, our cars, our lives.
It’s a concept that brings me great pause.
Perhaps because I come from a family of long-termers. My grandpa worked on the Burlington Northern railroad for decades, going to work every day with the steady determination of a man who could be counted on. My parents have lived in the same house since I was a child, making repairs and adjustments as necessary while pouring time and effort into a home that has been paid off for decades.
And, the marriage.
When I was younger, I used to look at photos of my parents wedding day. My dad, all statuesque in a white tuxedo with tails, looking at my mom, glowing with radiant beauty in a beaded white dress. I thought they were perfect.
They still aren’t.
I cannot think of two people more different from each other than my parents. My dad is type-A, all organization and spreadsheets. My mom is a free-spirit, all enthusiasm and impulse.
Not a match made in heaven, by any means.
But they have been married for 35 years, and I have thought and thought about why that is the case. Here’s what I have decided: My parents have been married for so many years because they stayed married.
Profound, I know. I will be accepting my Nobel prize any day now.
When I was 13, I used to hole up in my room and read teen romance novels, swept away by the description of two people that simply could not have been more perfect for each other. And then my parents would disagree over something and I would look at them and wonder why they couldn’t just be like the characters in my fiction novel. They had to work and work and work at their marriage, always trying to get it right.
It took me a few years to figure out that those books weren’t real life.
When I was 19, I loved somebody desperately and he left me. I was confused because we were perfect for each other. It made a lot of sense and it seemed very similar to what I had read in books.
It took me a few years to figure out that nobody has a perfect relationship.
When I was 25, I changed everything about myself to be with somebody who was different than me, and then I wondered afterwards if there was anything real left inside of me.
It took me a few years to figure out that I hadn’t been honest with myself.
Relationships are hard work, and at any given time, either I or the person I was with was unwilling to put forth that effort. We just didn’t want to stay.
I look at my relationships and I wonder why mine have all failed, and my parents’ has worked. I don’t see any differences. I mean, some of mine were really dumb. But the point is that mine had flaws, and my parents’ has flaws. Maybe they aren’t the same flaws, but flaws nonetheless.
Oh, but there is a difference. A big one. It’s commitment.
Do I think my parents are perfect for each other? Nope.
But they stood in front of each other and a whole room full of people and they looked beautiful and they said things that they must have really meant, like: I’ll be with you when you’re sick, or when we have no money, or when you’re driving me crazy because everything you do is super annoying.
And I know that they really meant those words because they have done that. They’ve stayed. I’m sure there were times that they didn’t want to. I have no doubt that many, many moments occurred during the last 35 years that made them want to buy a bottle of lighter fluid and set the other person on fire, then drive away and never look back.
But they chose to stay.
Granted, I didn’t marry anybody. Looking back, I’m glad of that. But if I had, I can’t help but ask myself, would I have been able to stay?
And in the future, will I be able to stay, if it’s asked of me?
Because I am not hard-wired to do so. I’m prone to trade out my old dresses, shop for a new toaster, and upgrade my phone. I’m not used to sewing patches in my jeans and sorting through pieces to see how I can make something work. Staying at the same job for 5 years feels like an eternity, and I already am searching for new apartments to replace the one I have been living in for 4 years.
It makes my stomach flop to consider that I might not be a long-termer. Because I want to be.
As much as it scares me to admit, I think that I want to be 35 years married. I kind of like the idea that another person would know all my stories and quirks. It would be such an accomplishment to stay.
Because it would take determination and a level of dedication that I cannot even imagine. It would take faithfulness and patience and forgiveness and lots of other things that I do not really think I’m very good at. But I could learn, right? I could shed this attitude of disposability and strongly hold onto one of permanence. It would take a lifetime to do so, but I think I could.
And if I do, I hope that I can look back at 29 year old me, blinking away tears while tapping away at an old laptop… and think, “She did it. She chose to stay.”
Now, I’m not attempting to oversimplify marriage. Obviously I’ve never been in one, so I’m not so naive as to insinuate that all you have to do is stay. Sometimes there are serious issues that simply cannot be resolved, no matter how much effort is put in. I get that.
But man, if my folks can do it, I sure hope I could. They’re really different and they have been through hell and back, leaving permanent marks that cannot be erased. It’s been hard. I look at them and I pray.
And maybe I’ll never get married, and God will ask me to prove my commitment to other things. Maybe I will be asked to stay in other places that I don’t really want to, but have made promises that I would keep nonetheless. The point is that I want to be a person of honor.
If I say something, if I make a promise, I want to keep it.
To every extent that it is under my control, I want to be a long-termer. I want to be one who would stay.
Because I have seen the value of it. If you take care of something, it lasts. I want to be one who fights discontent and chooses to stay. I want to honor my commitments, and I don’t want to throw something away if it can be fixed.
I want 35 years.
And maybe someday I’ll have it.
But it takes practice now. I have to train myself. And it’s not easy. But I sure think that it will eventually be worth it. Everything that’s valuable takes time, patience, and commitment.
And to stay.
but you, run for your life towards righteousness.
pursue a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, and courage.
run hard, and fast in this faith.
seize the eternal life, the one you were called to, the life you so fervently need.
1 timothy chapter 6, the message