I just pre-ordered a new book called Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give by New York Times columnist Ada Calhoun. Calhoun’s essay of the same name for the Times’ Modern Love column, which appeared two years ago, really struck a chord with me, and I’m excited to read more of her work. She writes beautifully and honestly about how life and the passing of time will inevitably erode even the happiest of marriages. Of course, raising kids plays a big part in that. Here is what she wrote in that New York Times piece on watching newlyweds toast each other at weddings:
“I will always be your best friend,” they say, reading from wrinkled pieces of paper held in shaking hands. “I will never let you down.” I clap along with everyone else; I love weddings. Still, there is so much I want to say. … I want to say that at various points in your marriage, may it last forever, you will look at this person and feel only rage. … I love this person, and yet she’s such a mess. And yet when I’m sick, he’s not very nurturing. And yet we don’t want the same number of children. And yet I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be single again.
The longer you are with someone, the more big and little “and yets” rack up. You love this person. Of course you plan to be with him or her forever. And yet forever can begin to seem like a long time. Breaking up and starting fresh, which everyone around you seems to be doing, can begin to look like a wonderful and altogether logical proposition.
But “and yet” works the other way, too. Even during the darkest moments of my own marriage, I have had these nagging exceptions. And yet, we still make each other laugh. And yet, he is still my person. And yet, I still love him.
Raising kids can be so hard on your relationship. The study results are conclusive: Marriages deteriorate once children come along, and the rate of decline in relationship satisfaction almost doubles after you have kids. Which makes total sense; any relationship is bound to suffer when you add in something as important and stressful as little lives that you’re both responsible for.
Sometimes we need to step back, take a deep breath, and tell ourselves that it’s not necessarily our partner that we’re frustrated with, but the chaotic and messy life that we share with him or her – and that we’re in this together. Or, as Calhoun eloquently puts it:
At weddings, I do not contradict my beaming newlywed friends when they talk about how they will gracefully succeed where nearly everyone in human history has floundered. I only wish I could tell them they will suffer occasionally in this marriage — and not only sitcom-grade squabbles, but possibly even dark-night-of-the-soul despair.
That doesn’t mean they are doomed to divorce, just that it’s unlikely they will be each other’s best friend every single minute forever. And that while it’s good to aim high, it’s quite probable they will let each other down many times in ways both petty and profound that in this blissful moment they can’t even fathom.
But I would go on to say (had I not by that point been thrown out of the banquet hall): Epic failure is part of being human, and it’s definitely part of being married. It’s part of what being alive means, occasionally screwing up in expensive ways. And that’s part of what marriage means, sometimes hating this other person but staying together because you promised you would. And then, days or weeks later, waking up and loving him again, loving him still.