The very first day of this most Christmasy month was my and Clint's twelfth wedding anniversary--an even dozen years of wedded bliss. In typical male fashion, Clint didn't seem overly enthused about celebrating the milestone, until I pointed out that we have managed to coexist together for 12 whole years without causing each other any serious bodily harm. And that, my friends, is reason to celebrate.
We took a three-day weekend to the Virginia mountains and spent a fabulous time at the Homestead resort in Hot Springs. Twenty-six Presidents, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, have stayed at the Homestead...and now they can add "Stancil" to their very distinguished list of guests. We arrived to find afternoon tea in full swing in front of the fireplaces in the Main Hall. Every square inch of the place was covered in both charm and Christmas decorations--a very winning combination in my book. As if that weren't enough, we woke Saturday morning to find almost a half a foot of fluffy white snow on the ground.
Dressing for dinner Saturday night, I discovered that I had forgotten my deodorant. Without hesitation, Clint told me I could use his. "Of course I can," I matter-of-factly replied, already in his toiletry bag digging. Off we went just in time for our reservation, dressed to the nines and both smelling sweetly of eau de Right Guard Sport. You see, upon marriage, not only do the two become one; all the personal belongings also become community property. Toothbrushes, restaurant entrees, t-shirts--it's a free-for-all. Last week, I gleefully bragged that even though Clint had meticulously marked all his old college CDs with "Stancil," that's my name, too, which gives me free reign to pilfer and use what I want. Call it the John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt effect.
There are plenty of things about being married that no one warns you about. When you are engaged, you hear tons of clichés about how married life will be and how you should act in order to maintain harmony in the house. People offer up pearls of wisdom like "treat your spouse like your best friend," "listen more than you speak," and tons of tips about compromising. But there are other survival skills and warnings that are left unsaid. These things are learned through pure marital experience, and boy, are they an eye-opener.
The first phase is "getting to know you." What's that? You honestly believe you know the person you married? Wrong! That is precisely why you vow to stay in this conjoined state for better or worse. Maybe your fiancé promised that he doesn't snore...you will discover on your honeymoon that he rattles the windows with his zzzzs. Perhaps you were dating a self-confessed neat freak? Um-hmm. You'll wake up one morning and discover that they left yesterday's dirty underwear on the bathroom counter, right next to your toothbrush. And those dirty dishes left in the sink? Why, those are just "soaking" until the time is right (which will turn out to be half past never). I will spare you the gory details of sharing a bathroom--you can earn those nightmarish stripes all on your own.
We were also offered the sage advice to never go to bed angry. This is much easier said than done. Clint really, truly, absolutely (well probably) has narcolepsy, and he can and will fall asleep any old time he wants. He can be mid sentence, mid thought, mid argument...Rip Van Stancil will get his solid 8+ hours of deep slumber. I have been in full rant mode, only to watch him pull the covers up under his chin and drift right off into REM sleep. Sometimes you will go to bed angry. You will hug the side of the mattress to stay as far away from the other person as you possibly can, and you will drift off to sleep with a scowl in your face and visions of continuing the feud in the morning will dance through your little married head.
I once heard Oprah say that sometimes in a relationship, you have to decide, "Do I want to be right, or do I want to have peace?" I think her point was to persuade viewers to pursue peace. I have to be honest with you, though, and tell you that sometimes you just want to be right. And it is worth digging in, holding on, and risking wrinkles from keeping your angry face on for a while. Even married martyrs need to hear their partner admit to being wrong once in a while. Peace on earth, good will toward those stubborn enough to wait for the apology.
Remember that part where you vow to love your partner in sickness and in health? Oh sure, it seems like a no-brainer, but you want to really consider this one. Because the time will come when your partner will have commandeered both the couch and the remote control and turned your entire home into their very own sick ward. You will hear every possible complaint about the condition and deterioration of their health. They will assure you that no one has ever had any sickness that comes close to the epidemic they are battling, and because of those vows, you are now the nurse on duty. I wish you many years of good health, for your sanity's sake. And maybe register for matching hazmat suits.
You will, inevitably, tell each other the same stories over and over. Once you get a few years of matrimony under your belt, you will each learn the "trigger words" that set off such tried and true tales. When one of these triggers is uttered, you will reflexively wince and wait for the story to be set in motion. And it will. Every single time, until death do you part. Some days I pretend the story is new information, other days I assist in the storytelling to speed things along, on less jolly days I make it known that the story is more stale than leftover wedding cake. And vice versa on my husband's end. Even fairy tale romances will wind up in the anecdote twilight zone, you wait and see. Once upon a time, these stories were new. Now is definitely not that time.
Another little thing I discovered after a decade or so: don't try to pick out an anniversary card while you are angry. You will read all those sweet, flowery sentiments and think, "None of these describes that doofus I married." A week later, you will return to the same store, read the same cards, and think, "Awww, this perfectly describes that doofus I married." A short memory is one of the best tools for a happy relationship. That, and learning how to smile and nod while having your other half completely tuned out. The heart wants what it wants, and sometimes it wants to be left alone. Hallmark chooses not to recognize that fact.
There are plenty of other little surprises that crop up once the knot has been tied, but there's no sense in spoiling all the fun by telling you. Part of the joy of marriage is discovering these truths, rolling your eyes, and sticking it out. In return, you'll get a partner for life, someone to share your days and your memories with, and a backup deodorant any old time you find yourself in need.