My twenty-four-year-old cousin is impossibly gorgeous. She has a promising career, and lives with her two friends. They are all single and go out together most weekends. On a recent family trip I told her how lucky she was. She replied, “Oh, I know! It’s so awesome.” Then I said, “That’s so great. Do that for as long as you can.” And then I leaned in and whispered, “Or you know, just do that forever.”
She is young.
She doesn’t know.
She laughed and nodded as if she did. I’m sure she walked away thinking, “Wow, Annie must be really unhappy in her life.”
She would be correct, but also dead wrong. This is the contradiction of being married with kids. It’s awful and insanely beautiful all at once. This is impossible to comprehend until you experience it. There are days where the only thing that gets me through are the daydreams I have about being fifty-five and renting an apartment, in Paris, alone. At the same time, I’ve never been this happy in my entire life. I have never felt this amount of joy on a daily basis. I cry happy tears often. The birth of my first child forever removed my ‘filter’ when it came to really feeling the beauty.
Parenting is a crazy bipolar bitch.
As for the marriage part of this equation:
My husband and I recently celebrated twelve years of marriage and sixteen years together. I’m thankful that we’ve grown together over the years, and not apart. That may sound cliché but you have to understand.
I met him before he had facial hair.
I want you to let that sink in for a minute.
If your twenties are the decade when you discover who you are, well, I did that with another person. All day, every day. I knew who I was before, and that girl is still with me. But she is just that, a girl. That girl still has very strong opinions about the way I’m living my life. Sometimes I miss that girl. Sometimes I argue with her. I have to tell her she is only sixteen and has no idea what the hell she is talking about.
There is so much of me that is because of him. It is this that makes it hard to dissect my true self. To remove the layers of the years spent together. So much of who I am is because of all we’ve shared. Just the sheer volume of hours spent together. The way I cook Italian food, or view innovation, my love of Pink Floyd, mafia movies, whiskey, the music of John Mayall, and my intimate understanding of the island of Manhattan. A place I never lived, but feel as if I did.
Then there are the countless things we learned together. We learned how to be adults. We discovered real estate together. We learned bit by bit how to build a home, figuratively and literally. We learned how to start businesses, register for trade names, buy liability insurance, build a client base and apply for a patent. Shit, I even taught him how to drive a car. We don’t argue about money the way many couples do. We plant seeds, we harvest.
Both of us are intertwined in a way only teenagers in love can be. Adult love still leaves room for self.
We didn’t have that luxury.
Both of us came from a place that left us with the deep desire to build something real, something happy. Both of us desperately searching for family. My husband grew up the only child of a single mother in NYC. When I asked how he envisioned his future when he was a kid he said, “Wife, kids, dog, white picket fence, because that’s what I saw in every movie and TV show.”
We don’t want a family together. We want a dynasty, an empire.
I know a lot of women that use the phrase, “He won’t let me . . .” in reference to their husband when it comes to making a purchase, hiring a cleaning lady or babysitter when things are stressful. At our house I’m Boss Lady. “It’s your world babe,” he says, “I get up everyday and do work for you. It’s all for you.” I’m fully aware of how lucky I am.
I am so damn thankful for him.
But my nature is solitary. I need time alone to regroup. To convene with myself.
What is left of me.
Marriage is a warm winter coat. It envelopes you. It is a comfort when the world grows cold. But at times the coat grows hot and itchy. At times I have wanted to take it off, not in order to try on another coat but rather to walk unencumbered, without it.
It is a desire to know me, without him.
I’m not alone in this feeling. In the last year pretty much every married woman I’m friends with has admitted to feelings of discontent within their marriage. I have friends that had to take some time away. I have friends that have had to question “Is this feeling us? Is it the marriage, or is it me?” My friends who are mothers wonder if it’s just the stress of motherhood, that by the end of the day they have nothing left to give. They just want to be alone.
My friends without children speak of looking at their spouse and asking the question, “If I met you today, would I be attracted to you?” And like me, many of them have wondered, “Who am I without you?”
This is the thing with marriage. You’re accountable to someone else. Plain and simple. Children increase this feeling ten fold.
My cousin, the twenty-four-year-old, she wants a family one day. She wants to fall in love and have children. I always wanted it too. I hope she gets to one day.
I wish I had some neat and tidy way to wrap this up. Some uplifting words about marriage and family, about gratitude and sticking it out through the rough patches. I will tell you, for me personally (as the child of divorced parents) there are few circumstances that would result in the end of my marriage. I will tell you that American society is an individualistic one.
Marriage is not for the individual.
I will tell you that my generation often suffers from the entitlement of “If this isn’t fun then why do it?”
So, here is how I’ll wrap this up for you:
When my husband and I were young and first dating we discovered we both had a Rolling Stones song stuck in our heads. We couldn’t remember if we’d been listening to it. Was it possible we both randomly had the same song running through our minds? Surely, it must have played on the radio in the car and we just couldn’t remember. And then we went to see my Mom. She was folding laundry, and singing the same song. It was early on in our relationship, right as we were falling in love. We took it as a sign. Through the years there are times when the song will pop back into my head at just the right time.
“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.”
Yeah baby, you get what you need.