We Made It To Tin
There’s no spelling error in that title, you guys! It’s a play on words (and I’m quite proud I came up with that title!). The traditional gift for the tenth wedding anniversary is tin or aluminum. We just celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary and, if you did the math, you’re probably freaking out at the realization that I got married at nineteen!
I grew up in Tennessee and in the “Bible Belt” culture it wasn’t uncommon for high school sweethearts to marry, and to marry young. I wanted to escape that so I moved all the way to Rexburg, Idaho to attend a little ole “Mormon” university, not realizing that the culture of marrying young was exactly the same! A cousin advised me to avoid all the “Returned Missionaries.” (A brief aside here… “Returned Missionary” is a shorthand that is jam-packed with complex cultural meanings for Latter-day Saints. Technically the label is merely descriptive of any young man or woman who has honorably completed a full-time 18 month (for women) or 24 months (for men) mission for the Church. However, at least when applied to men, it is, on another level, a typically-honorific-if-not-borderline-worshipful label within the Latter-day Saint church culture in Utah and surrounding states. The statement “He’s an RM!” conjures up in the fantastical imagination of many-a-Latter-day Saint young woman the exact same emotions as a “prince charming,” but with very specific theological and social implications. Latter-day Saint girls, on average, want to be swept off their feet by a holy and righteous spiritual giant and priesthood powerhouse, a virgin who will love you for also being a virgin, who has never and will never look at porn, and who will carry you and your shared children on a metaphorical white horse not merely into a gilded castle (or at least a giant house in Alpine), but unto the very throne of God. An “RM” is, in said fantastical imagination, just that holy prince charming. Moreover, “RM” is also a designation that implies (in the case of men, specifically) an eligibility for marriage, if not a presumption that the man is on the “hunt” for a wife in a context (if at one of the BYUs) where women outnumber men in a way that is very favorable for the men. By contrast, young men who are not “RMs” are presumed to be preparing to be missionaries and, thus, for better or worse, presumed to be not trying to marry you. At least not yet. Note that the “RM” designation has a fully different set of meanings when applied to women, but I can’t get into that now because this “brief aside” is plainly not brief at all. And there, aren’t you so glad that this “RM” culture is a thing you now know about Latter-day Saints?).
Anyway, so when a boy from Arco, Idaho who had just come home from a mission in Brazil (uh-oh, an RM!!!!!) asked me to go country dancing with him, all the red flags went up! (Surely he MUST have no social interest besides finding a wife!) I told him that I hated country music and when I saw the heartbreak in his face, I relented. No, I didn’t marry that boy. I married another Idahoan. Why I fell for this dude the second I talked to him when I was able to firmly reject the other guys is beyond me. Perhaps it was his South African accent (he was two weeks fresh off his mission in Johannesburg) which I ignorantly thought was a British accent. Or perhaps it was because I could sense that he was a genuinely kind guy who wasn’t looking for a brown girl who was DTF. (Notwithstanding the aforementioned righteousness culture, there is a smaller if no less potent counterculture in which men, including RMs, sleazily search for women who will fool around with them and expect nothing of genuine relational value in return). Anyway, I fell for Jordan and after a year of knowing each other, we got married. Now here we are ten years later, reflecting on what the past ten years has meant. There is no way to say all that ten years means, but I’ll share a few snapshots.
Exactly a week before my wedding I was crying to my sister-in-law about how I was worried I was losing myself. A recent conversation with my then-fiance made me aware of a major difference we had; traveling and more specifically, living outside of the country. No matter how I presented the idea, he was pretty adamantly uncomfortable with it. Long story short, two years later, In 2011 we traveled across Europe for an Art and Humanities study abroad. Then in 2016 we lived in Johannesburg, South Africa for three months for Jordan’s research. Funny enough, that time, I was freaking out about living outside of the States! Now we are constantly planning where we can travel and live next. Ten years means growing together.
Our sexual relationship was great and easy early in our marriage, but a few years in, baggage from sexual abuse interrupted our flow...for several years. Then everyday stresses of life would put us in a rut where we couldn’t connect at all; not sexually, not emotionally, not intellectually. The #MeToo movement opened the door to healing from the scars of abuse. Therapy helped us connect again emotionally and intellectually. Ten years means understanding that sex is complex and can be difficult, but that through patience, communication and healing, those difficulties can be overcome.
I can count on three fingers the number of times I’ve yelled, “I hate you!” to my husband. One of those was an “I hate you so much I want you out of my life!” I may have, possibly, if my memory serves me right, thrown in a “F*#@ You!” There was a time I chose to sleep on the couch. He did it once too. We did it to get away from, not to punish each other. We found ourselves having the same conflicts over and over again. We hit this point in our relationship where we couldn’t work things out on our own. That’s when we decided to see a therapist, as mentioned above. Ten years means asking for help.
I don’t remember spending much time with him when I was finishing up my last semester at BYU-Idaho. It was a stressful time, but he was there at my BFA show beaming with pride at what I had accomplished. I was Lorelai to his Rory when he “smoked” (his word) his GRE, after every grad school interview, and waiting for acceptance emails. He was genuinely excited for every and any email I got that inquired about my work. No matter how much I would talk it down like it wasn’t a big deal, he made me celebrate it. He listened to every creative idea I had. After he read Michelle Obama’s Becoming, he wanted to go away for two weeks to work on his writing and I was all, “Yes, babe!” He didn’t hesitate to make it possible for me to go to my first creative conference. I would give him pep talks when he was nervous about teaching. He often picks me up when I am down about my work. I pick him up after he reads harsh student evaluations. Ten years means investing in one another’s goals.
Readers, indulge me; I need to write some paragraphs to Jordan directly, if you don’t mind listening in. Jordan, I was so broken after our first miscarriage. After our second miscarriage you were broken. You hadn’t proccessed the first miscarriage because you were being strong for me, so you were dealing with the loss of two babies at once. When we were pregnant with our Anthem, you developed an illness that went on through my entire pregnancy and beyond. If either of us had a bad day, we would spend our evenings sitting together in silence to allow the other to process. After my cousin commited suicide, I held you as you wept. After your mom’s cardiac incident, before we knew she would wake up, you comforted me when I cried because I didn’t tell her sorry for our misunderstanding the week before. Ten years means doubling the grief--yours, mine AND ours.
I brought basketball and video games back into his life. (You guys, he was still hella salty and downright depressed that John Stockton had retired. Like 15 years ago. Like he didn’t watch a basketball game, a game he loves, because he couldn’t cope.) You introduced me to Chris Farley and stand up comedy. Every TV show, movie and book that I’ve recommended to you has changed your life (well except The Wizard of Oz, but you should’ve read that when you were 8, not 21. So that’s your fault). On our many drives up and down I-15, I would show you how beautiful Idaho’s landscape is. When our kids do something utterly adorable, we give each other this OMG-I-just-died look. No matter how determined we are to make it to bed at a decent time, we end up staying up too late talking and they always always end up being some of the best conversations. You save me Time or The New Yorker articles that you know I’ll love. We became foodies together. . .well I kinda dragged into it because I wouldn’t shut up about how amazing the culture and science behind food is. We named our first plant together and you let me share my excitement when fiddle leaf Francine didn’t die after I chopped her up. Ten years means doubling the joy--yours, mine AND ours.
Postpartum recovery was difficult the second time around. Not only was I dealing with all this physical and emotional change, I found myself not recognizing you. Once again we weren’t connecting. And once again we went to therapy to find that we were both struggling with the change of having a new baby. We were both struggling with the same thing, but in different ways. We didn’t need to struggle alone. We listened to each other. We came up with a safe word. (Not a sex safe word, mind you...just a word to ask for patience and indulgence in acknowledgment that the transition to two kiddos has us not always understanding ourselves or each other.) Once again, we were connecting. Ten years means always finding a way back to each other.
Marriage is complex. There’s no formula for a happily-ever-after marriage. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of listening and willingness to learn. We often reflect on how we made it this far and I have no answers. It’s cliche to say, but I just got lucky. Happy (belated) Anniversary to my love, my person, my best friend.