I was at lunch at Taco Bueno today and T– called to talk about a garage sale she wants to do sometime next month. At the end of our conversation, we spoke over each other a little saying, “I love you, bye.”
We do that at the end of pretty much every phone call. Sometimes it’s, “Hey, I forgot the garage door opener. I need you to hit the button so I can come in the house.” The call still ends with, “I love you, bye.”
I was thinking about that, after I got off the phone, and realized how important that little exchange is. It’s just something silly — and you could easily say it’s something overdone, undervaluing the real meaning of the expression, maybe, repeated so often — but it’s something we started doing when we were going out in high school. It started out as a stupid teenager thing, and we just never stopped doing it. Now we’ve been married for ten years, and I’m ready to call it the secret to a successful marriage.
I’m not talking about communicating affection, or keeping the romance alive, or anything as vague and trite as that. There’s nothing particularly beneficial about the way we end our phone calls, but there’s something special about the fact that T– and I — who have been romantically linked for, what, seventeen years now — are still caught up in a habit we started way back then. The important part isn’t even the habit. It’s the seventeen years.
Because when it comes right down to it, the real secret to a successful marriage is having a long marriage. That’s it. I can say that with some confidence, because everyone I’ve ever talked with who’s in a successful marriage has made that same point, in one way or another. That’s what it means when someone says, “Oh, we’ve had some rough times. But we toughed it out, and we’re better for it.” That’s what it means when someone says, “You’re not always in love with each other — heck, you don’t always even like each other!” That’s the whole reason the ceremony is built upon vows instead of love poems. Forget forging a bond between two destined lovers, forget the charming image that is one soul inhabiting two bodies.
The cornerstone of a strong marriage is staying married. The longer you do that, the better it is. Because in the end, it’s not about having someone to make you laugh or someone to make your skin feel tingly. It’s about having another person you can rely on, you can believe in, you can trust every bit as much as you do yourself. That’s what you’re working toward, and the only way to get there is through pain and suffering — through hurt and betrayal and disappointment and life situations that just make staying together impossible. Do it anyway, and that makes it just a little bit easier next time, and all those next times stack up, until you don’t worry anymore. Someday, somewhere down the line, you realize it’s not even a question anymore. There’s two yous that you can count on when things get rough. There’s somebody else sitting next to you on the couch when it’s cold outside. It takes dedication and courage and, at times, sheer obstinacy, but the result is what everyone was looking for from the very start: A relationship without fear, without doubt, without a shred of uncertainty.
The recipe is simple, but entirely unfair. The only secret to a successful marriage is succeeding at marriage, again and again, even when you fail. Sorry .