My spouse Helen and I recently celebrated our 25th anniversary (though our time as legal spouses is obviously shorter). Reaching a quarter-century together — just about half of my life — feels significant in a way that previous anniversaries, even milestone ones at the decade marks, have not. Here are a few reflections on the occasion.
We’ve been through a lot together, including six interstate moves as a couple and significant career changes. We met as struggling grad students and now have a son in high school who will soon be looking at colleges himself. For us, retirement is now closer than college. We’ve dealt with births and deaths in each of our families. We’ve disagreed and argued but also supported and encouraged each other.
How have we made this work? I don’t think we have any secret except that we’ve both managed — with difficulty sometimes — to change and grow over the years. We’ve learned each other’s peeves and sore points and how to communicate more effectively when one of us does get upset about something. We’ve been willing to adapt our roles and routines as needed around both outside employment and household tasks. We’ve offered each other support and sympathy, and remembered that ineffable something that drew us to each other in the first place.
Since becoming parents, too, and especially as our son gets older, I’ve become more aware of needing to set an example for him of what a healthy relationship looks like. Not that Helen and I never disagree — it’s also important for our son to see that two people can argue and still love each other, and for him to learn how people can apologize and reach resolution after an argument. But I’ve come to realize it’s often not worth sweating the small stuff.
We’ve also always believed that it’s important for us each to have time apart as well as together. Marriage, legal or otherwise, doesn’t mean being joined at the hip. (Except sometimes. Ahem.) Giving each other alone time, or time for other interests and friends, is critical for a balanced life and makes us appreciate each other anew when we’re reunited.
It’s equally important for us to spend time as a couple without our son (and not just in the hip-bumping way). When our son was an infant, my parents would sometimes watch him while we went out for a quiet dinner. He even stayed with them overnight for several days once while we took a real vacation. We came back truly rested and ready for the next phase of his ever-changing development; my parents loved spending time with their only grandchild, and our son gained exposure to new experiences and people. He’s grown into a pretty adaptable teenager who loves to travel with us, and I put a lot of that down to his early “travel” to Grandma and Grandpa’s. He’s old enough now that we can pretty much take him any place we go to (except for bars, which aren’t really our thing anyway), but it’s still sometimes nice for us moms to get away on our own.
Having said that, one of the great joys of parenthood for me is doing things as an entire family. That includes rediscovering things I liked to do as a child — visiting children’s museums, sledding in the winter, making cookies on a rainy afternoon. It also means being introduced to things by our 21st-century son, like VR games, ziplining and Harry Potter amusement parks.
Kids don’t make a marriage; there are plenty of happy and child-free married (and otherwise committed) folks out there. But for those marriages that do include them, children can expand horizons and give us extra motivation to work on our parental relationships (or conversely, to realize that things are so bad that one needs to get out for the sake of the children).
Raising children brings new concerns and responsibilities to the adults involved. Passing the marker of midlife, children or no, carries yet another wave of issues and decisions (and occasional backaches). But with responsibilities come also joys, and a good marriage carries love at its core, despite laundry, bills and other duties of adulthood.
Somehow, Helen and I have made it all work for 25 years now. We have a similar set of values yet complement each other well where we differ. (She loves hoppy beers, whereas I’m all about the dark and malty, so we never fight over the last bottle.) When I think about all the things in each of our lives that led us to meet 25 years ago, it seems a moment of impossible odds. I’m not the kind to put this down to some mystical move of God or fate. Call it luck, perhaps; luck with a lot of work that followed.
Marriage, of course, can be a fraught subject for LGBTQ folks and other marginalized people for whom it has been unfortunately mired in politics. At the personal level, however, it remains about love, no matter what politicians and pundits say. Happy anniversary, then, to the woman I love. I’m looking forward to our next 25 years and beyond.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.