Today is my 35th wedding anniversary. Pam and I were married June 3rd 1978 in Panama City, Florida.
After 35 years, my marriage is blessedly the most important thing in my life. But it wasn’t always.
We all marry a fantasy, an idealized image of the perfect husband or wife. A few months or years later we discover that our spouse is not perfect and wonderful in every way. (And they discover the same thing about us.) In my case, I just thought I had my work cut out for me: I would have to change Pam. Subtly and indirectly, but I could shape her into that idealized image.
It all started quite typically, in that period when young people are chasing that idealized image everywhere. We bought a series of houses, worked till midnight and every weekend, fixing them up to sell so that we could buy a bigger one and start all over. I went to grad school and killed myself studying till the sun came up. The kids came along, and since Pam always had a career in the food world, we simply had no time for anything but work and home improvement and children and school projects and Halloween costumes and Christmas presents.
Looking back, I was always trying to build a better house; raise better, smarter, more disciplined children; get a higher educational degree; get a better job; have a better, more perfect wife. There isn’t anything unique about that “better” trajectory. It’s pretty much the well-worn flight path of the early years.
I am 56 now. Pam is 55. About fifteen years ago we fell out of love for a time, came close to divorce. I don’t know how close—Pam has a direr memory of those days—but it wasn’t good. Or maybe it was. Because these crisis points are almost always an either/or proposition. Either you get out or you go all in.
Somehow we went all in. Pam has her own story of course, but this is mine. One day I just decided—maybe in desperation—to love my actual wife. And when I did, she loved me in a way that tore open my heart. To be clear: I did not fall in love. I made a decision to love, and then, gradually, love overtook me and I could not help myself and my heart was filled brimful and broken.
Now my marriage is the most important thing in my life. Houses and children and careers simply matter less. But this marriage allures and dazzles me every day. If there is a closer image of divine bliss, I’d like to know about it. For here we are, two people who know the naked truth about one another, and still we persist in this crazy affection. This wild love is piqued exclusively by imperfection, mistakenness and the sure, slow recession of all the assets of youth. The older we get, the more honest we get, the more we lose the better it seems to get. I don’t know.
If the mark of God’s love is that it persists despite knowing us fully and completely, marriage—at least this second-chance version—is the closest thing to it on earth.