Ryan and I had no business getting married at age 20, as nobody has any business getting married at age 20. Statistically, we were probably doomed, which is a thought I’m certain was present in at least a handful of heads at our wedding.
The day started early: an 8:30 ceremony at the temple, pictures outside, a formal breakfast with the wedding party, then preparations for a reception held that evening. The sun was out, but the temperature was freezing, with arctic blasts that stole our breath as we posed for another photo and tried to pretend on camera that we weren’t suffering. My parents were charged with transporting my dress in their larger car and forgot it twice, first on their way to the ceremony, and again on their way to the reception, causing stressful delays. Other tensions looming over the day were things like the absence of Ryan’s dad who died tragically five months earlier, his mom who was still in near-paralyzing grief, and the general strain between our two families caused by things like my dad yelling at Ryan that he would never amount to anything after he returned early from his Mormon mission the previous year after suffering from depression, and my brother treating me to lunch one day around that same time in which he told me in the middle of Quiznos I needed to break up with Ryan or live a miserable life void of God’s blessings. Things like that.
At the end of our wedding day, our cheeks were sore from smiling through a long reception line; our feet were sore from standing; we had already argued under our breath over something stupid, and we’d barely eaten a thing. We left the reception hall, drove straight to McDonald’s, then devoured cheeseburgers on the way to our new apartment to share our first night together as a married couple, where we immediately collapsed on the bed and fell into a deep, virginal sleep.
I’ve learned some things since then, the first being that you can’t put too much stock in a wedding day as a predictor of relationship success or happiness. The second, that eloping can be an excellent idea under the right circumstances. And third, I know exactly what I’m going to do with my time machine as soon as I get it.
We had no business getting married so young, but I’m glad we did. We grew up together. We encountered life’s Big Things together: the births of our children, deaths of loved ones, college and graduate school, sickness, mortgages, taxes, parenting young children, parenting teenagers, moving cross-country, leaving our faith, and deciding a significant amount of paint colors for the walls we’ve lived within. In between all the Big Things have been the pleasures of all the thousands of little things together, too: grocery shopping, road trips, passages of books read in bed, Saturday morning yard work, Sunday night dinner dishes, walks around the neighborhood, meals around the table and phone conversations on the commute home from work. We have laughed and cried and fought and loved each other for two decades of marriage, learning to do each of those a little better with each trip around the sun. I am not the same person I was twenty years ago and neither is he, but thankfully, we grew and changed in compatible ways.
It can be hard to effectively write about the most significant relationship in your life, especially when you are nose-close to it. How do I properly express the way I can feel my blood pressure drop and my heart rate slow when I roll over in bed and wrap my arm around him, tucking my cheek into his shoulder after being seized by a middle-of-the-night random anxiety? How do I capture the way we have come to occupy and inhabit literal areas of each other’s brains? How do I explain the honesty between us is as much about telling each other the trivial as it is the monumental, the nakedness and consistency of sharing our entire selves with each other to the point that the word honesty doesn’t even seem like the right word anymore?
Here is a poor attempt. A few weeks ago, while on vacation in Budapest with Ryan and our son Max, on a random street corner on our way to a museum, I pooped my pants. There were no warning signs, no rumblings in the colon, it just happened. And, no kidding, my first thought was, You have got to be shitting me. My next thoughts were ones of deep shame, embarrassment and panic. I was unequipped to manage this. To spare our 13-year-old son the details (and years of therapy), I communicated to Ryan in the special language of a near-twenty-year-old marriage that I had pooped my pants without saying it in exactly those words. He didn’t miss a beat. He simply smiled at me and said the most profoundly gracious thing in the history of mankind: “It’s okay, I’ve done that before.” I was immediately rescued from my shame as we quickly made our way to the museum where I unapologetically used the private handicap restroom for about 20 minutes. This is the sweetness of a marriage like ours, to trust someone with your first adult public crapping secure in the knowledge that this person will somehow love you just as much if not more, and still very much like to have sex with you again.
Today is our 20th wedding anniversary. Marriage, as it turned out for us, has been a much more pleasant endeavor than getting married, which, again, is not the statistical norm. We live as outliers, out here on the flat plains of this bell curve, our little home on the range. People look at us a little funny as they pass by because we are far too young to be here, and they are not wrong to stare. It’s okay, we’re used to it. We like it here, and the sunsets are amazing.