This Monday is the 30th anniversary of my marriage to the guy I fell for when I was 19 years old. I wept when I came across the first published piece I ever wrote among my father’s photos and memorabilia when I was cleaning out his home after his death. This was a reader’s write column for the sun magazine, for which I won a year’s subscription. It was 1988, the year our first child was born and I was 26 when I wrote: “He laughs when he tells me, ‘so here you are married to the man of your dreams.’ He’s right, But I often forget that. The memory gets lost beneath the piles of dirty laundry, dirty dishes and frantic schedules. New baby and old family issues dominate the focus. But every now and then, seeing his penmanship or looking at him reading across the room, behind his round metal rimmed glasses, I feel the young girl of nineteen who fell in love with him. Grown up now, I fall in love all over again…But this love is a deeper one, born of all the efforts of conflicts resolved, communication achieved, joy and pain shared. It’s a love that fills all of me and all of my life.”
I could have written those words probably every year since that first publication. People often say of long term happy marriages that we are lucky, as though there was some magical stars aligned in our meeting that guaranteed its success. In fact, ours did not have an auspicious beginning, even our minister tried to talk us out of it. But thirty years in, I have learned a little about making a marriage work and I was smart enough to build a company and public persona around my education so that I would not only remain dedicated to constantly remembering the man I fell in love with but also be both willing and more prepared to do the work to find that love over and over again.
Let me say this, it is way more work than it is luck. Anyone who has the incredible fortune of loving over decades would tell you this. One of the most intelligent things that Freud ever said is that “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanity.” I would say that they are one in the same. Understanding love as the work we commit our lives to makes it easier to stay with it. Too many people wrongly believe that real love will always feel like the euphoric drug like state of falling in love. The real work of love sometimes gives you a glimpse of that sweet falling state, but it doesn’t come close to the sturdy foundation that real lasting love gives your life.
Here is my short list of what it takes to make love last: Loving takes the courage to have the hard arguments while being committed to fighting fairly. Love over time gives you the wisdom of knowing what is worth fighting for and how many small stupid things are not even worth caring about. Love teaches you the maturity to listen more than you talk (one that I am still working on) but thankfully one that he has always had the grace to share. Love teaches you the magic that caring more about what the relationship needs actually meets your needs more consistently than worrying about whether your needs will get met.
And sex, lasting love also thrives on the remarkable adherent substance of making love with one’s entire self, not holding back, not hiding anything. This kind of raw, truly naked sexuality where our erotic selves have free reign emerges from doing all the other love work that a long term relationship requires- showing up even when you don’t want to, listening more, disclosing more and giving up all your useless blaming thoughts. At least this is what happened for us when we felt safe enough in the container of loving each other- we were able to let our mysterious sexual fantasies free which moved us squarely away form the monotonous short list of sexual behaviors we had relied on for decades into a free flowing and surprising passionate meeting every time.
Every card I write to my guy starts like this- Marrying you was the best single decision I ever made, and every year, I count the blessing of walking down this path of life with you at my side… This is what I would wish for everyone, this is why I go to work everyday- this is the real work of life that makes life worth living.