On the most basic, statistical level, married men live longer than their single counterparts. The opposite is true for women. Staying married should be a thoughtful choice for us. I am on my 24th anniversary of starting to date my husband. Dataversary? Getting married was anti-climactic for us, we were already living together with a baby by then. But the first night we kissed and became a couple is our special memory. And every year there is a part of me that wonders about it.
Marriage is a constant choice. Every anniversary I am confronted with the years ahead and the question of whether or not I want to spend them with this person. Sadly, for much of our time that choice of “yes” was based on fear. Being a single-mom with only a high school diploma with no happy alternative home options, made me vulnerable. We lived far away from my family. Then we chose to have a second child. It was at this time that someone asked me, “Are you happy?” And I answered, “That’s not something I can ask myself right now.” This doesn’t mean I wasn’t happy, but I couldn’t take the chance to find out and risk the secure place for my kids.
My mother was a single mom of two and struggled until I was in second grade and she remarried a rich, abusive man. We were pulled out of poverty, but I can’t say we were happier. Luckily, I can honestly say my husband is not abusive (or rich.) He never exploited my dependence on him, in fact, he never demanded anything, barely asked for much. Still doesn’t. I chose to have our babies, I chose to stay home with them teaching music on the side, I chose to homeschool, which kept me outside a lucrative career.
My disabled and recently divorced mother came to live with us while the children were young. Although her presence and babysitting helped me start school again, she would never have been able to support us financially if I left my husband, or physically able to watch the kids if I had to work full-time. During the years I was getting my degree I was still completely dependent. I chose my path and he supported us unfailingly the whole time.
But was I happy? Was he? There was a brief few months we wrote each other emails, I’m not sure who started it, detailing our feelings. It wasn’t helpful and we decided to stop. It had become a blame game. But I stayed. And he stayed. And we definitely had happy times. Many of them. We just didn’t want to talk about it. Is that a healthy relationship?
After graduation, I continued to homeschool my kids, but as they were older and didn’t need my time as much, I started a business. I was finally feeling like I could be an independent person, support my family if I needed to, not rely on someone else, make a free choice to stay or not stay without fear. Alas, this is also when I started to get sick.
It was gradual, but eventually devastating. Over ten years I slowly degraded until I could barely work, I continued to homeschool but couldn’t do everything and farmed out their schooling to classes and other organizations more and more, simply being a taxi cab. I was completely dependent on my husband’s health insurance as I went around and around trying to get help.
My business failed. I could barely do my parental duties and household work. I was more dependent on my husband than ever. Now not just financially but physically as well. I was depressed and vulnerable. It got so bad I finally realized I was slowly dying and would be dependent forever. Ironically, that is when I made, perhaps for the first time, a whole-hearted choice to stay in the marriage. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to.
This person had never let me down. Little things? Sure. Big things? Never. Even though I was so sick, I kept the hope that one day I would get better, so better that I could finally be there for him. Let him know I wasn’t staying because I had no other options, because my life depended on it, but because my heart did. It was at this time that he told me that he didn’t need me to do anything for him, that he just wanted me to be there. He didn’t want me to feel like I had to live up to some standard. He married me, not because he needed me, but because he was happier when I was around. That may not be the most romantic thing ever, but it was exactly what I needed to hear.
I chose to stay because he was the best partner ever. I always loved him and he loved me, that was never an issue, and something we always said and showed each other in gentle ways everyday. But creating a lifelong partnership is hard work and tough commitment. And I was ready to keep trying, God willing.
I was finally diagnosed with Cushing’s, and on the way to recovery as I type this. Within a year of a life-changing surgery, I knew I would continue to improve well enough to work again and be financially independent if I chose. This all coincided with our two children leaving home and living their own independent lives. I am finally free to choose without fear.
And on my important anniversary, the one where I started dating the man who would ask me to marry him a scant month later (I said, “No way! We’re too young!”), I now happily say, “Yes.”