My husband and I were on the last leg of our honeymoon, kissing in the parking lot of a French bakery in Quebec City. We had decided to explore Canada because we didn’t want to leave the autumn behind and travel to a warmer climate. Being here with him felt exactly how I knew it would feel — perfect. It was a time in our lives when we were so excited for our future, we couldn’t see straight. We wanted all the same things, and we wanted them at the same time. I was still high over the fact I was now Mrs. Smith, and I inserted “my husband” into sentences instead of using his real name whenever I could. My husband.
A woman walked by and watched us clutching each other they way you do when things are novel and exciting. She had beautiful gray hair that swirled into a knot at the nape of her neck. She was wearing red lipstick. She looked better in a pair of Levis than anyone I had ever seen. She was with a man, their hands intertwined. She knew I saw her, but she didn’t look away. She held my gaze, smiling. The man she was with was talking to her, but she wasn’t listening to him. She was just looking at me. I felt a rush of warmth, but something made me drop my gaze first. I tried to turn my attention back to my husband. It was impossible. I could still feel her staring at me. I felt like she was touching my shoulders. It was shocking.
The next morning, I got up early and l left my sleeping husband to go visit the bakery again. I would surprise him with croissants and crepes. The woman I saw the night before was sitting outside, alone. Her hair was the same, so were her lips. She was wearing bifocals and writing a letter. She paused as she saw me coming and greeted me with a smile. It was not the same smile she gave me the night before; it didn’t burn me like it had then. This smile was soft. It was different. “It was you I saw last night, kissing, right over here.”
“Yes, I am on my honeymoon.”
“Ah, oui, yes, the honeymoon. Sit,” she said, slapping the chair next to her once then pulling it out for me.
“I have been married 32 years. There is only one honeymoon. When it is over, and you start digging your heels into life, that is when you find out what your relationship is made of.”
Yes, of course, I had heard this. I had friends who had been married a few years. I knew people who were struggling, but not us, I thought. No, that will never be us. We have what it takes. We have a plan. It will always feel like this.
“Your marriage, it will feel heavy.”
No, it won’t. He is everything. We adore each other.
I sat and listened to her anyway, even though I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to hear it. What I wanted was to crawl back in bed with crepes and the man who had just promised to love me for the rest of his days. I could have gotten up and walked away, but I didn’t. I supposed I wanted to stay more than I wanted to leave, and so I allowed her to elaborate. Now, many years later, I’ve come to truly understand what she told me.
You will have days when you won’t want to talk to him, days when he will do something so small and insignificant and you will be so angry — not because of what he did, but because he did it again. And you will irritate him just as much. There will be times when you don’t bring your best for him. You will have periods when you stop seeing the person you married and you will have to fight hard to do more than just coexist. You will argue about how you want to raise your kids. You will disagree about money, sex, and who took out the garbage last. You will think about what it would feel like to put your hands on another person. He will think about it too.
There will be times you know you are damaging your relationship, and you will do the damage anyway. You will learn how to hurt each other, how to really hurt each other. You will have days when you hope he has his game face on when he walks in the door after you both have had a long, hard day. You will want him to take over because you will be done. And sometimes he will, and sometimes he won’t because that’s just not fair to him. He will feel like you are pulling and tugging at him as soon and he walks in the door and he will want to turn around and leave.
You will miss the way it used to be — you both will — and it will be really hard to talk about. Your marriage, it will have peaks and valleys, and sometimes you will be deep in a valley and you will wonder if this is what it is supposed to be. You might even wonder if it is the end.
But if you get through it, like my husband and I have, if you see it through and learn how to carry the heavy stuff together — and you still like each other after fighting so hard for each other, for yourselves, for your kids, for what you need — well then, that is a marriage.
I don’t remember everything that beautiful woman said to me that day in Quebec City outside of a French bakery. I will always remember her though — our talk, the way she did look at me, how I felt sitting next to her. I was not putting a lot of stock into what she was saying, but something in her, or maybe it was something in me, made me stay and listen that morning. And everything she told me has hit me a few times over. I have thought about her so many times in my marriage, and truly believe there was a method, a reason we met and had this conversation.
She comes into my mind for little moments at a time, this woman that I saw for a total of 20 minutes. Maybe to some it sounds crazy, but sharing those few minutes with her has done something for me.
And while I am not an expert on marriage, I have been in one for 14 years, and my husband and I have learned some things — like when marriage feels heavy, sometimes you can carry the load together and your marriage can do the heavy lifting. And sometimes…well, sometimes it can’t. Even the happiest marriages feel heavy, and just like everything else in life, we are all just trying to cope with our marriages the best way we know how, especially when they feel heavy.
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