Married, with Staying Power

Wisdom earned from 17 years of togetherness

by Annabelle Gurwitch
Photograph: Illustration: Brian Stauffer

If 17 years of wedlock has taught me anything, it’s that my husband sloughs off socks the way snakes shed their skin. Not long ago, there was a period of three months when I took Polaroids of sock clusters wherever I saw them and left the pictures as reminders by the pillow on his side of our bed. The worst part of this was realizing I had become the kind of person who takes pictures of socks and my husband had witnessed that.

Now that both of us are officially middle-aged, just over 50, our relationship appears to have middled as well. Beginnings are always exciting, if in a car-crash/impending-disaster way. Endings, even heart-wrenching ones, can be energizing. Friends who have gotten divorced go on diets and dates, which make for good stories no matter how they turn out. News organizations run wedding announcements and host divorce forums. But there’s no “They’ve Stuck It Out” section in any publication I’m aware of. Endurance is a thankless and invisible enterprise.

My husband and I are juggling freelance careers, assisting aging parents in declining health and trying to survive our son’s teenage years. I’m usually more focused on conjuring up our mortgage money than on conjuring up sexual passion. When the economy went south, we stopped taking romantic vacations; now we aim for restorative naps. Much of our communication in the past few years has been reduced to texts regarding “scheduling,” which may be the most unappealing word in the English language, next to the phrase “Can we talk?” Our typical texts: “whr r u?,” “hm” or “wrkng.” Extraneous vowels have disappeared. When we lose consonants, what will be left for us?

Most nights I work late, arriving home after dinner but before the nightly ritual of haggling over “Internet time” versus “homework time,” which is a prelude to sorting health care claims and bank statements. Two scintillating hours later, I collapse onto the bed as my husband comes in to say good-night; he’s heading to the bathtub to read.

“Did you think marriage would be like this?” I ask.“

I thought there’d be more sex,” he says.

“I thought there’d be more money,” I answer. It’s practiced banter that always makes us laugh.

Lying in bed, I mentally catalog my marriage pros and cons. But when you reach the point of having a list, the cons come easily to mind while the pluses represent the singular and quixotic souvenirs of almost two decades of cohabitation. Just the other day, I noticed that my husband had restocked the fridge with my favorite soymilk. It wasn’t the low-fat, sugar-free swill I should be drinking but the delicious beverage he knows I secretly covet. My husband has seen my middle merge into my bottom, but his eyes light up and he applauds when I undress. There will never be an item in the paper of note, nor any Facebook likes, nor a photo album to commemorate his daily feats of chivalrous compassion and hyperopic optimism.

As a younger woman, I was blessed with 20/20 eyesight but easily distracted by bright, shiny objects and grand, sweeping gestures. At 52, I’ve got reading glasses stashed in every corner of our home, but I don’t need them to see and celebrate even the smallest acts of generosity. Who would have thunk it? My vision has vastly improved with age.

Adapted from I See You Made an Effort, published by Blue Rider Press/Penguin Random House. Copyright © 2014 by Annabelle Gurwitch. 

Next: 9 Ways to Be Married: Explained

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First published in the April 2014 issue

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