It took Lara Dotson-Renta a decade to figure out the secret to a happy marriage. Now she’s ready to share.
Nearly ten years ago, my husband and I took our wedding vows in a beautifully decorated church in the humid summer heat. Nervous and fidgety, he slipped the ring on the wrong finger.
Our priest tried to gently redirect him to switch fingers and save face before anyone noticed. Covering up the mistake never even occurred to him; instead, he blurted out to our guests, “It’s on the wrong finger, guys. I’ll fix it it!”
We laughed. We breathed. And it’s so important to laugh and breathe.
We were married at 25, broke and in graduate school, still deciding what our careers and future would hold. While my friends relayed tales of dating and happy hours gone awry, I was trying to figure out whose turn it was to feed the cat or pick up a new shower curtain—in other words, how to build a life from scratch with another human being, as a unit.
Looking back at the last decade of our marriage, I see that bride and feel a tenderness toward her, this “she” that is “I.” I wish I could tell her that it was okay to feel beads of sweat on her forehead at the altar, to “not feel married” at first, to wonder about the commitment we made to each other and to ourselves, and to question whether our shoulders were up to the weight of forever.
There were those among our friends (probably more than will admit) who thought we were insane, far too young to make permanent ties. This stung at times, as we navigated our newly-joined path together.
I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
I didn’t yet have enough perspective to understand that a marriage is a universe unto itself, not a reflection of others. Even as we stumbled, we still grabbed for each other mid-fall, and so we kept going.
I couldn’t have understood that we think we know our partner, but we can never know the depth of another human being fully. The minute we think we know someone inside and out is the minute we stop asking, caring, wanting to know more.
It’s then that we take someone for granted and make them a stranger. To love is to notice, to seek anew; it’s the shared glance.
Marriage is continual change and renewal—or it dies.
And so, a marriage is made not in the public moments like the wedding day, but in the little ones that draw us closer or farther apart, the fragments that you protect from the world because they’re yours alone.
These are moments that make the chronology of our lives, that etch the colors of shared memory.
Sunlight streamed through the window on the morning when each of our girls was born. They looked up at my husband’s face, tiny and swaddled in his eager arms. In their gaze he became a father, and with it a new man for me to get to know all over again.
Grief is a phone with nobody on the other end, absence made visible. My father-in-law died suddenly, and in my husband’s slumped shoulders I was reminded that there are parts of another we cannot reach. I peered into a grief I couldn’t touch, and sat next to him in silence.
I saw panic in my husband’s eyes the day our daughter passed out and was rushed to the hospital, and we didn’t know what was wrong. We shared our fear, but each felt it uniquely and separately.
And I made a mental note to always respect that moments are shared but still distinct to each of us. We love one another, but remain in and of ourselves.
I close my eyes and relive the sensation of his hand taking mine in the car for every ride since the day we got married, the contours feeling different with time but consistent and warm, even on days when unsettled words might get in the way. An open hand is an open heart.
Each finger of those intertwined hands is a year of sunlight, of darkness, the breaking of dawn.
Now, more than ever, I understand the best piece of advice I received before our wedding day:
“Every day when you wake up, you choose. You choose to love, and you choose to stay, and do it all over again.”
I didn’t at first know that the point of marriage is not always thinking “are we there yet”; the point is to be where you are, as long as you’re there together.
My favorite wedding picture is now the one with me holding out my ring finger mid-giggle, while my husband makes a funny face trying to slip the ring off and back on. Every day since we’ve been trying to get it right, remembering to come up for air and laugh.
Choosing. Choosing us, again.
This article originally appeared on Your Tango. For more like this from Your Tango, try:
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