How do you sum up 20 years?
Two young, dumb kids. In love, but not knowing what that meant. Not really. I don’t believe in fate. Or that romantic comedies leap from the screen to happen to mere mortals. I think that, a bit more than 20 years ago, I was lucky enough to bump into someone who was interested in dating an awkward 22-year-old with a distinct lack of self-confidence. Maybe she shared the same.
We worked together. I was the intern, she the copy writer. I already lived in an idealized world of big dreams, and she’d seen the shine come off her job enough to know how it really was. A pattern we still repeat, where she quickly grasps the reality of the world, and I build castles in the sand. One night, at a long-gone bar called Froggy’s she shared her dreams of going to Australia, and I told her in true college-boy earnestness that she should pursue every dream she had. Later, standing side by side, our hands touched, and she didn’t move away.
I didn’t care what we shared and what we didn’t. I cared that she was beautiful, fun, interesting and willing to be with me. And being in a city where I knew no one, I let her lead me forward to discover her friends, and create a place that felt like home.
I hear of the lifelong soul mates. The high school sweethearts. They are enviable and I was impatient. They have love built over time, where I had a burst of certainty this wonderful person was the perfect fit for me the way I felt in my heart. When I told her I loved her, just weeks later, the pause that followed was a chasm that nearly swallowed me whole. I was months too soon for her. Not for me. A little more than a year later, having convinced her I was not crazy, we were married.
The first five years of marriage are a honeymoon. You constantly discover new things, where you mesh, where you don’t. We laughed and celebrated. We traveled as cheaply as we could. I learned she loved the beach more than the mountains, a nice dinner more than a long walk. I worried about money while she knew how to live for the moment. I hated to fight, afraid she’d up and leave, since the paint wasn’t yet dry. We fumbled through it and found the places we meshed created a bond stronger than the tiny tears where we did not.
Marriage doesn’t get interesting until it gets hard. Kids. Homes. Jobs. Adult stuff. The noise that builds and builds until it can deafen the sweet song that you once sang so easily together. We never let that noise overwhelm us fully. Somehow, at just the right moment, it occurred to one or both of us that being together was still the single best thing in our lives, and we held on tight.
Traci has the remarkable ability to make me a better person. She taught me—although I still struggle—to speak my mind, to clear the air. She taught me to stress less, and enjoy more. She sees when I begin to tip over toward worry, and with just a few words releases the pressure building inside my head. It’s a remarkable feeling and I seek it out frequently. She’s supported every decision I’ve ever made, even the bad ones. She’s chased her own dreams, and if not all of them (we have not been to Australia), then certainly most of them, and all of the big ones. We work together. Can you believe that? I get to see my wife every single day, anytime I want. For some that rings like a broken bell, off key and disconcerting. To me it’s the greatest freedom of all. It lets us do what we want, when we want, together or alone, and know that we’ll be together at the end and on demand.
20 years ago. I hardly recognize that couple. They grew up.
Nothing is static, most certainly not who you are or how you feel. The core is what matters, what holds together the rest, like gravity drawing us ever together. The part that believes that being side by side is easier, better, more satisfying by far than being alone.
We travel more than we’ve ever dreamed, and when we do it apart there is always that moment where I see something extraordinary, atop a mountain in Nepal, or a side street in Seattle, when I want to turn to Traci and say, “Look at that.”
That empty spot—the place only she can fill—is home, where I find the love and friendship that 20 years have built.