On Marriage, Music & the Fire Escape
Aaron and I just celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary. We met when we were 22, and we fell in love while we were working together in high school ministry, at rehearsals and retreats and standing in the church parking lot between our cars long after everyone else went home, at a summer camp on Lake Geneva and Cubs games, over gin and tonics at the House of Blues.
I don’t write about Aaron often, partially because he’s so much more private than I am. Poor Aaron, to end up married to a person who tells our stories as a job. But every once in a while, it feels right to spend a little time telling the good stories of these years we’ve built, and an anniversary seems like just the time.
Ours is not, to the outside observer, a marriage of similarities: He’s an introvert—big time. I’m an extrovert—big time. He wants to eat dinner at about 4:30pm—big hunk of meat, pile of vegetables, mound of rice. I want to eat at 8 at the earliest: wine, cheese, bread.
While I’m reading Ruth Reichl, Anne Lamott, and John Updike, he’s reading the Book of Common Prayer and a book about peace-making in Israel & Palestine.
While I’m listening to Damien Rice, Indigo Girls, Need to Breathe, Brandi Carlile, Lone Bellow, Civil Wars—singer-songwriters with acoustic guitars and a dash of Southern heartbreak, he’s listening to Sigur Ros, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Elbow, the Beatles—big sounds, big drama, innovative rhythms & instrumentation, and always a little edge of darkness.
I generally look like I just came from the yacht club. He generally looks like he’s on his way to a rock show. I’m a Paris girl—that classic city, rich with history and largely untouched by time. He loves London: a million miles an hour, wild fashion and music and art pushing toward the future.
All those years ago, part of what drew me to him so deeply was how much he surprised me. He wasn’t like me at all. He wasn’t like anyone I’d ever met. And all these years later, I still feel that. In some ways, I know every last thing there is to know about him, but at the same time, he still surprises me, and I love that.
He loves John Lennon and cashews and grapes, especially when they’re really crunchy and cold. He loves to laugh, and he always wants ice cream.
He’s intense and idealistic, passionate and articulate about the church and the world and who God is, about peace-making and liturgy and progressive theology.
He’s the best father to our boys that I could even imagine–always ready to play, to make an adventure, to teach them something about how to live in this big world.
Happy Anniversary, Aaron.
This season is one of such sweetness for us—lots of laughter, lots of dancing in the kitchen, lots of space and grace and holding hands. Lots of dreaming—that’s important, I think. When we stop dreaming together, we’re off track. Dreaming together is always a good sign for us.
Like every couple, we have our ups and downs, and we’ve had our sweet seasons and our dark ones. Sometimes it’s hard to get a handle on what causes what, but I’m paying close attention these days, because I want to learn how to live for longer stretches in this kind of season. How can we keep this sweetness alive in our home and in our marriage?
And as I look more closely, I think some of the hard choices we’ve made in the last year have cleared a path for this season.
Please, please don’t read this as self-congratulation, but instead as gratitude. And please don’t read it as advice from an expert, but as a hand holding out from a fellow traveler.
I’m so deeply thankful to be standing with Aaron in a spot of light and love and richness in our marriage these days, and these are the things I’m going to keep doing, hoping that they keep yielding this loveliness…
We’re slowing down. I suspect that I’ll be talking and writing about this issue for the rest of my life, because it’s so easy for me to get too busy, and for the fallout of that to have negative effects on the rest of my life. This is what I know: my life works better a little slower. Our family life works better a little slower. And our marriage works better a little slower, when there’s space to listen and laugh, when we read together on the couch after the kids are in bed, when we don’t have to be fast-paced business partners and just get to be us.
We’re creating experiences and memories alone together. Our schedules don’t allow for a set date night every week, but we’re doing a better job this year of grabbing date nights whenever we can get them—driving to the city for dinner, going for a run together, staying in for a movie.
And this may sound silly, but really I love it so much: one of my favorite bloggers A Cup of Jo posted ages ago about how now that they have kids, sometimes instead of getting a sitter and going out, they have a drink together on their fire escape, a mini-date looking over Manhattan.
That idea stuck with me, and even though what we have is a front step looking out onto our quiet suburban street, some nights when the kids are in bed, instead of watching tv or working on our computers, one of us will say to the other, “Fire escape?”
We open a bottle of wine or brew a pot of tea, and we sit on that step together for a while, talking and listening. It’s not a fire escape looking over all of Manhattan, but it’s our spot where we sit shoulder to shoulder looking out at our view—the moon rising, the trees, the airplanes to and from O’hare zigzagging across the sky.
And NYC. We heart NYC. We travel so much for our jobs and with my family that sometimes we forget how important it is for us to travel alone together and just for fun. The last two years, we’ve taken a 2 night trip to New York City for our anniversary—just us, no kids, no work, no coffees with friends who live there or work people that it would be smart to connect with.
I can’t even tell you what these days have done in us. For all our differences, we both love being in cities, and nothing knits us together faster than busy city streets, lights and subways and museums, discovering together, wandering together. I hope this is a tradition we hold till we’re stooped and slow, still holding hands on the Brooklyn Bridge or in the library at the NoMad hotel.
We’re going to counseling, together and separately. I’m such a huge fan of counseling, as you know. We go to the same counselor, and it’s such a gift to have a long-term relationship with someone who knows us well, together and separately, and can help us when things get rough around the edges.
We’re talking about our marriage with close friends, together and separately. When Annette and I catch up on the phone, she always asks me about my marriage, and I always ask about hers. I stood in their wedding and she stood in ours, and I’m so thankful to be a part of a community that takes that ongoing role seriously—Annette didn’t just support me on the day of our wedding, but she continues to support our marriage all these years later, and I’m honored to do that for her, too. Our small group and the Cooking Club girls and a few other friends are always ready to listen and help when we get stuck, and their voices of encouragement and honesty are such gifts. Secret-keeping takes its own toll, so even when things are hard, we tell the truth to our community.
We’re working hard to be healthy individuals—spiritually, emotionally, all of the above. A mentor of ours says that healthy marriages can only be made between two healthy people. And to be perfectly honest, looking back, we’ve never had a sustained difficult season between us when we were both at our best personally. Another way to say it: personal pain or brokenness or struggle leads to pain and brokenness and struggle in our marriage.
We’re learning that one of the best things we can do to build our marriage is to build our own healthy selves, whether that’s making rest and sleep a priority, or seeing a counselor or spiritual director or meeting with a mentor, or going for a run or saying no to something.
When Aaron and I can bring our best selves to our partnership, the partnership thrives. And, of course, the opposite is true: when all I bring is fear and fragments and exhaustion and anxiety, there’s not a lot to build on. I’m so committed to bringing my best self to our marriage in the year to come.
Happy 12 years, Aaron. You’re my person. I love you.
We’re in the bloom of a good season, rich and strong, easy to laugh, easy to let the little things go. We haven’t always been there, but we’re on-our-knees thankful to be here now, and learning all we can about how to get better at this wild, hard, beautiful dance of marriage.