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I thought I wasn’t the marrying type. The relationship type? Yes. But marriage is so… permanent. Long. Endless. Boring.       

I used to lay on the floor for hours, headphones on, music turned up. I would daydream and imagine my future. I pictured a life of work combined with creativity. With love that came with no contract. I wasn’t like everyone else, I thought. Boredom came too quickly to me and I could not imagine enduring a lifetime in a relationship out of obligation.

I told myself I would be independent and strong. I would make decisions about my life without consultation and without negotiation. Be my own person. And if a man captured my heart and wanted to walk through any part of life with me, he would have to play by my rules.

Yes, I had it all figured out.

Then I met him.

Our meeting was prophetic. I turned to look over my shoulder, saw him, and walked right into a wall. I stuttered an awkward hello as I rubbed my offended forehead. Introductions were made, pleasantries were exchanged, and I scurried off as soon as I could.

Months passed with small talk in the office, text messages sent in purely professional language. There was an energy between us that I refused to acknowledge or admit.

Then things changed. He asked me out. I said yes in spite of myself. I told myself it was just a date. It didn’t mean my plans were off track. It didn’t mean anything more than a nice evening with a nice guy. But even as I was telling myself that I knew it was a lie.

Everything changed. I fell in love. We fell in love. It was quick and intense and undeniable. It was nothing either of us had ever experienced. We marveled at how little control we had over what was happening to both of us.

I knew right away I would marry him.

Just like that, my life plans changed.

Just like that, the picture in my head of my future was a completely different picture. There was a house and kids and maybe a dog. It was everything I always thought I didn’t want.

And now I wanted it so bad I could taste it.

That was 19 years ago. I got the marriage. The three kids. The house. A dog.

Is it what I thought it would be? No.

There have been bumps in roads and curve balls thrown and surprises around corners. There have been many walls that have been run into head first.

There have been fights. And pain. And frustration.

But there’s also been comfort. The comfort of knowing we are both in this. The comfort of reaching out and knowing his hand will always be there. Of knowing that I can lay my head on his ready shoulder. That I can go to him for his advice and I will receive the unvarnished truth. That there’s someone there who is willing and happy to walk through life with me.

There’s been helping each other through loss. Lifting each other up when life knocks us down. There’s been stress that’s been carried by two sets of shoulders instead of one.

There’s been passion and laughter and love.

Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I had no idea what it would be like. All I knew was I was marrying the man I loved. I hoped and prayed that the rest would fall into place. People were full of advice, as is custom when young people get married. But looking back, there’s no way anyone can fully prepare you.

I couldn’t have possibly understood what it is for two lives to come together. To navigate all of the needs and curves of another person’s life and dreams and desires. To understand all of the life experiences that make and shape a person. That marrying someone meant marrying their past and their experiences and all of the things that influence them.

I couldn’t have known that the fights would be bigger because there would be more at stake. That hurts would run deeper. That the struggle to understand what truly lies behind every misspoken word would be the key to having less misunderstandings.

I couldn’t have known that it would mean digging into my own past. That all of my life experiences, my hurts and fears and expectations would hitch a ride to my new future. That my issues would bump up against my marriage and leave it bruised at times. I had no inkling of the depth of humility and willingness to learn and change that would be crucial to staying connected.

I didn’t know that through the years, you would negotiate and make concessions. That marriage is built on compromise. That to not do this would leave a marriage bitter and lifeless. But to engage in the act of compromise, to do it honestly and whole heartedly would make a marriage healthier and happier.

I couldn’t have imagined that the love that you started with? The love that kept you up talking to each other all night and walking around in a state of blissful exhaustion? That it would grow. That you would find yourself wanting to share good news with him first. That bad news sent you running to him for comfort.

That you would still get butterflies when he walked in the door.

That the deep connection and the years of getting to know each other’s intricacies and nuances would nestle deep into your bones and become a part of you.

That there’s a warmth and comfort in all that hard work but that it’s never too comfortable. That complacency or apathy will kill the passion and dull the life you’ve built together. And you will fight to keep that from happening.

I thought being alone would prove I was brave. I thought independence meant not tethering my life to another’s. I thought getting married would inhibit me and stifle me.

It didn’t. I’m still me.

I’m more me than I was before I ran into that wall so many years ago.

Giving up all of my plans of wild child, against the grain freedom and independence took me to far more adventurous places. Living a life on my own terms? There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s not a badge of honor I needed to wear. Living a life on our terms means  advocating for my own needs while taking into account his. There’s a glorious beauty in that. It’s a hard won challenge to stay wholly intact while becoming a part of something bigger. A feat of honesty to oneself and dedication to each other.

Easy? No. No one said it would be easy. I  know there will be many more walls that will be run into head first. Maybe that’s what marriage is… knowing you will run into a wall and agreeing to do it. To know it won’t be easy.

That’s ok. I never liked easy anyways.

Easy is boring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I met him in our college Spanish class. After admiring him from afar for the better part of a year, we fell into a heated relationship. I was crazy about him.  Our relationship was tumultuous. Until it wasn’t. Eventually the passion was gone.

We were living together, making a home and making plans. Three years together and talk of a future, but I knew it wasn’t working.

I tried to save us. For well over a year I tried. He was pleasantly apathetic.

Eventually I was done.

He called. He wrote. He begged me to give him another chance. He promised to make changes. Things I had pleaded for, he now promised to deliver.

It didn’t matter.

I was done.

That’s how it works. You try. You fight. You fight for your relationship.

Until you’re exhausted and tired from all of the effort. Until you realize you’re the only one putting in the effort.

It’s that cold realization that is the nail in the coffin of a relationship. The loneliness that comes with the scratching and clawing for love… and looking around and realizing that no one else is getting their hands dirty. The harsh loneliness of sharing space with someone.

That was a long time ago. Just after that relationship ended, I fell in love with my husband. I was gun-shy and not looking for romance. I tried to talk my way out of it. I told him I had fears. I told him that I needed more than he could give. I couldn’t live a life of complacency.

I told him that I get bored easily.

He promised our life would never be boring.

I told him I need passion. I needed fire.

He promised a lifetime of passion.

I told him I needed someone who wouldn’t give up easily.

He promised me he would fight for me. For us.

That was over 18 years ago. Three houses, three kids, three dogs ago. A lifetime ago.

It hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Hard because we all have something, something that burdens us. Something that lives deep inside of us and comes out sideways. Hard because we’re all pretty messy inside. Hard because all of things that we all carry are forced to mingle with all of the messiness of this person you share a life with. And they bump up against each other and they feed each other and they confuse each other. And sometimes they hurt each other.

So what do you do with all of this?

You pick a fight.

You pick a fight with yourself. For yourself.

The fight you choose is the fight to become a better you. You trudge into the stagnant waters of long held pain and damage. You wade into the muck and you start cleaning it up. You fight through all the barriers and the defenses that we each cling to like a tattered blanket of comfort. You get dirty and you fight.

You fight through all of this because it’s the only fight you can really win. You can’t fight for him. It’s not about fixing him. If it was, there would be no break ups. There would be no divorce. The idea of fixing the person you love, of fighting his battles? That’s just a fantasy. His issues are his. They are borne of different things than yours. You can try to fix them but it will be fruitless. You can spin your wheels for a lifetime trying to fix someone else. Focusing on them and all of their stuff. This won’t get you far, I promise. It’s a twisted path to bitterness and disappointment.

But you can fight for you. You can work through all of your stuff. Recognize it. Deal with it. Learn from it. It may give you some peace and strength. It may stop the cycle of your stuff feeding his stuff and the chaos of emotions that tag along with that. It may give him enough room and space to see that something’s changed and that maybe, maybe he can start to work through his stuff too.

Regardless, you fight for you.

I picked this fight in recent years. It has been scary and hard and at times I’ve come close to giving up. But now I’m starting to see what comes after the fight. Some peace. Some healing. The burden of all of my stuff is much lighter and I feel more free. I am not so weighed down. I’m not as confused by my emotions. The other side of the fight with myself is a good place to be.

My husband has also picked his fight. He’s trekked into the depths of what burns deep inside of him. He’s never been one to be complacent or apathetic. Eighteen years and it’s never been boring. I’ve seen him refuse to give up and refuse to let me be the only one fighting.

I think back now, to that day years ago. The day I tearfully told the man I loved what I needed. What I thought was impossible for someone to give. The day I thought I should give up on love because my expectations were too high and unattainable.

He didn’t try to change my mind or my expectations.

He accepted the challenge and the needs of a naive young woman who thought she knew what she needed.

I never needed him to fight for us.

But he gave me things I didn’t know I needed. He did more than share space with me. He didn’t just sit and watch me fight my battles. He listened. He supported. He loved. And when I wanted to give up on my demons? He started fighting his. He showed me that vulnerability is the bravest place to be. He got his hands dirty with me. In fighting for himself he showed me just how much he loved me. The lengths he would go to to be better for us.

I didn’t need him to fight for us.

I needed him to wage his own fight.

I didn’t need him to fight for me.

I never needed him to fight for me.

I’m capable of doing that for myself.

I can fight my own battles.

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“Then we’d go running on faith,

All of our dreams would come true,

And our world will be right

When love comes over me and you”

-Eric Clapton, Running On Faith

If I could sum up the way I live my life, I would say that I wing it. I feel my way. I kind of just go with it. I’m not a big planner. Never have been and probably never will be. It’s neither good nor bad. It just is.

Some times the universe conspires to plant seeds in my mind…

Last week, Aussa wrote a post about life planning and Diana wrote about planning and organizing her blog. I do neither. My life has no plan beyond next week. My kids will be out of school for the summer in a few weeks. No plan. I’ve been writing this blog for 7 months. I average a post a week, sometimes two. I have no idea what I’m going to write about this week. Or next week.

But Diana and Aussa got me thinking. Along with the chaos that sometimes is my life. The rushing around, the race to get things done. The screw ups when you get schedules confused. I tend to live in laid back mode until the last possible moment and then it’s a frantic rush to get the stuff done. Accomplished. Crossed off the list I didn’t actually make. I always get it done. Just not in an organized, sane manner.

So no, not a big planner. I didn’t plan to have a third child.  I didn’t plan on going on a first date with my (future) husband two days after breaking up a three year relationship. I didn’t plan on leaving Atlanta and moving back to my home town. I didn’t plan on starting a blog.

What if I had planned?

It’s real easy to plan to not have a child…

Popping a small pink pill would have been all the planning needed. But what if I had? This child, who made our family complete, who brings me laughter every single day for the last five years, I never would have known. My “plan” was to go to graduate school. I had started studying for my GRE. The older kids would both be in school full time and it was time for me to work on me. But I got pregnant. And I panicked for about a day. I stressed over a third pregnancy. I stupidly stressed over what it would do to my body. I stressed over having a baby need me night and day when I had just started to taste the freedom that comes with kids becoming self sufficient.

Stressing didn’t stop the inevitable. She came barreling into our lives, quite literally, not even waiting for the doctor to show up at the hospital. The last five years have been a beautiful crazy mess of a whirlwind. That first year, I would hold her every afternoon feeding her before her nap, her tiny hand reaching to grasp a piece of my hair to twirl through her fingers. As she would stare intently into my eyes, I would find myself overcome with emotions. I would hold off the tears until she shut her eyes. The tears of joy and relief. Silent prayers of thanks swirling through my mind as I studied her delicate face through the haze of tears. Intense gratitude that my “plans” had been ignored. That someone, something, knew better than I did what I needed.

I didn’t plan on falling in love…

I had just ended my relationship with my college boyfriend. I had a “plan.” I was going to move in with my friend, sleep on her floor until I saved up for my own place. I was going to experience young adulthood as a single woman for a while. I had been a serial monogamist, in a series of relationships through college. My friends called me “Never without a man Gretchen.” I felt like I really needed to take some time to just be me.

Joe asked me out two days after I left my boyfriend. I was torn. I had a plan. But I also really wanted to go out with him. I did what any rational woman would do. I said yes to that first date. And it was incredible. I knew there was no going back. Eighteen years later I wonder what would have happened if I would have said no to that date. If I would have insisted on being single for a while. Would we have found our way to each other eventually? Would I still be single? Would I not have these three children? I threw my plans and caution to the wind and have a marriage that has endured and weathered and strengthened and a life I never could have imagined.

I never thought I’d move back home…

I loved Atlanta. I wanted to live in a large city, a city of art and culture. Not the small southern city of my youth with it’s conservative bent and unofficial uniform of khaki pants and polo shirts.

But one weekend I went home for a visit and returned to Atlanta with the overwhelming urge to move back. Joe agreed to move with me. A few months later we were setting up house in our new apartment, ten minutes from my parents’ house. A year later my brother would be diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

The prognosis was horrifying. The 18 months that he fought for his life were spent hanging out together, going to movies, going to concerts, having lunch. I can’t quantify the value of spending all of that time with him. I know that it would have killed me to live four hours away. My decision to move back home gave me the gift of time. Time to laugh and talk and soak up every second with my brother. Time that I look back on as treasured memories, the most precious of moments that reside in my heart. Time that I still cling to all these years later, time that was a gift.

I had no idea what I was doing…

A blog. I had flirted with the idea, but that’s about it. Then one day I read something that infuriated me and within minutes found my way to WordPress and set up a basic blog and started typing. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I didn’t plan to do it. I didn’t research the ins and outs. I just did it. I started typing and didn’t even edit before I hit publish. And seven months later I have found something I love, something I don’t think I can live without. Sleep, nights out with girlfriends, projects around my house- all things that I’ve sacrificed over the last few months for this blog. And I wouldn’t change a thing. Writing in this place has been huge for me. It has given me a voice I’d forgotten I had. It’s made me stretch and grow. It’s given me something… something all mine. And I love it.

So, what if I had planned?

What if I lived my life needing complete order and control. Following a carefully crafted blueprint? What if I agonized over every impulse and every unscripted action? It is completely possible, likely even, that I never would have had my daughter. I wouldn’t have fallen in love with my husband. I wouldn’t have lived near my family when they needed me most. When I needed to be here. I wouldn’t have started this blog. I don’t know where I would be or who I would be with. I don’t want to imagine. These things that were a consequence of lack of plans are some of the biggest blessings of my life. They are more than happy accidents. They are me, listening carefully. Following my inner voice. Listening to my gut. What works for me and how I go through life wouldn’t necessarily work for everyone. But for me, living life is not a race, not a straight shot for the goal… but more of a meandering. It’s what works for me. Planning would cloud my process. So I’ll take the chaos and the frenzy that comes with winging it. Because along with that craziness comes surprises, comes blessings, comes a beautifully unplanned life.