The First Year: Lessons of the Marital Kind

I’m chasing a massive dust bunny across the living room floor when Andy calls for the fourth time in the past minute.

“Hey.”

“Hey. So they need all of our past addresses. This is so fucking stupid. What was our Raleigh address?”

I recite the street number, then quickly look up the zip code. In the background, he repeats everything to the customer service representative, followed by our Koreatown address, and West Hollywood address. The last, it seems, is the ticket. “Hallelujah! Alright. Hold on a minute.”

He mutes her, and then returns to me.

“Alright, thanks. I think that’ll do it.”

“Okay, breathe. Just think, this is the last time we’ll have to do this.”

We hang up, and I close the accordion binder bloated with our 401k paperwork. My mind drifts for a moment before a crunch-snap-crunch from the darkened bedroom pulls me back to the morning.

TOBE!

The noise stops abruptly. With his tail ducked, Toby pitter-patters into the living room, his saucer-like eyes cooing plaintively, “What can I do for you, dear father? I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. AND I CERTAINLY WASN’T CHEWING ON MY OVERFILLED TOY BASKET AT ALL. NOT WHEN I HAVE BAZILLIONS OF WONDERFUL TOYS.”

He performs his signature “I’m so cute” wiggle, and then investigates the dust bunny at my feet.

No. That’s mine.”

He snorts, then attacks his Woody doll.

I sweep up the dusty blob, and add one more item to my to-do list. The phone rings again. It’s Andy.

“I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS. I have to write a letter proving my current address. So I can request to change my password. So they can send me a new password. So I can roll this thing over…”

I reopen the binder.

This is our first year.

***

Andy and I met rather unexpectedly on May 5, 2012 – while we both volunteered for OutRaleigh 2012. We never exchanged numbers, only a handful of words and a few smiles; and then the sky opened up, and we parted ways in our respective mad dashes for cover. I didn’t even know his name until I asked a friend about him. A few weeks later, we met again, but still didn’t get anywhere. Only after I Facebook stalked him, messaged him, and waited for a week did we finally connect.

And the rest has become part of our story.

Today is our first anniversary as a married couple. And reflecting on the past year, and the years before, has been an interesting emotional ride.

Lots of people like to pontificate about what it takes to make a marriage work, but they often gloss over the less than lovely bits, making everyone else in a committed relationship wonder if they’re missing something – if their relationship isn’t sparkly-clean. Of course, every relationship has its own quirks from blending life experiences and their associated baggage. But I think there’re common threads for many, especially during the first year – regardless of who you marry. For me, I like to think back to when we first got together – trace our history through various relationship phases, and embody the lessons we’ve learned.

But before I delve into it, in reality, no particular phase was clearly demarcated or bracketed by experiences. Nothing happened in a linear fashion. After all, it’s not like Action 1 led to Action 2 led to Happy Resolution. Life’s not an after school special.

The Honeymoon Phase: Enjoying Each Other, Falling Off Friends’ Radar

Immediately after making it Facebook official, we were inseparable and I was smitten. Because he satisfied all of my major personality requirements:

Smart (we had to be able to have intelligent conversations, so he had to be my intellectual equal or smarter – and yes, I know that sounds snobby, but whatever)

Funny (laughter is wholly necessary to make it through anything)

Mature (emotional age at least equivalent to actual age)

Quietly kind (not all LOOK AT ME, I’M SO SWEET – the little gestures mean more)

Confident (confidence, not overwhelming pride)

So, we were set. And all about the selfies.

Our first movie together.

We did everything together; nothing could go wrong. Everything was popcorn and candy canes and movies and kisses and stubble burn. We were exhausted for all the right reasons.

Our first date...on a trolley pub

But part of being so engrossed with one another – discovering our loves and pet peeves, our interests and dreams – came the necessary reduction in socialization (aka: falling off the friend radar). Friends undoubtedly wondered, “What the fuck? Too good for us now, huh?” But that wasn’t the case. We were learning that maintaining and fine-tuning a relationship took more time and energy than we originally thought. And that came with a price. But that didn’t mean we didn’t love our friends. We were just trying to develop a basis for our relationship. Even if it required a million selfies.

Settling In: Combining Households, Opening Arguments

There’re two schools of thought about moving in together: “Wait until marriage” and “Just get it over with.” For many reasons, we were in the second group. And I’m incredibly glad for it. Don’t get me wrong, there’re plenty of folks I know who didn’t combine households until the rings were exchanged, and they’re just fine. But combining households was a pretty big deal for us, and I know for certain that, had we waited, things would’ve been strained.

Like most people, Andy and I had to reconcile personal tastes, aesthetics, and sentiments in creating a home that reflected us both. I wholeheartedly admit that I’m a hard person to live with because I rarely budge on any of these issues. Thankfully, Andy dove in and we shed furniture, combined DVD collections (major step for two cinephiles), and bought furniture that we felt reflected our synthesized style.

The minute he bought this, I was imagining how great it'd look in the apartment. Our apartment.

But not before we had our very first fight. Over this sideboard:

Oh, sideboard.

We had two sideboards and I was completely vehemently opposed to getting rid of either of them. Because I sure as hell wasn’t going to allow his bedroom set into my our apartment. We ended up in silence (which we both hate). And I started filing through my emotions, and then I took stock of Andy. He was clearly upset – laying prone on the floor, staring at the ceiling. And then it happened.

“We can get rid of it.”

I didn’t even realize it was me saying it. But seeing him so upset triggered something, made me realize that a piece of furniture wasn’t worth bruised feelings.

“No, it’s okay. I actually like it. I was just being defensive.”

We listened to one another. We learned. We apologized. And we moved on. This was compromise. But more than that, each of us was putting the other’s feelings ahead of our own – a critical development point for us both.

We the Couple: Everyone Gets It…For Real. Shut Up.

We didn’t mean to do it. I don’t think anyone really does. But after moving in, after resolving the first fight, we began doing things not as Andy or Matt, but as “we.”

We went to the movies.”

We had a great time at so-and-so’s party.”

We love red wine.”

We just think that’s fabulous.”

We even jokingly called ourselves “Mandy.” This phase coincided with reacquainting with our friends – the ones we thought hated us for leaving them temporarily. Everything was no longer a singular, isolated activity. The “we” was peppered through everything, over-seasoning conversations and eliciting actual or internalized eye-rolls from friends.The perpetual "we"

Everyone got it: we were together, in a relationship, bound at the hip, boos. And as annoying as it was for them, it was okay. We were creating a foundation for our relationship – simply by its recognition by the people in our lives who mattered. So this thing we’d started became more real for us and our friends.

Meeting the Mommas-and-Them

When we realized that we were in this thing, we knew that it was only a matter of time before we met each other’s parents and sister. And we did in time. I went up to New York, and he went to Alabama. We were each examined, questioned, and assessed by the parents and our sisters, and we both passed despite the expected foibles and fretting. One thing that made meeting the families easier was having already moved in together; there was no question of “Is this a passing thing?” There was clearly something substantial there, so those questions could be discarded and replaced with more probing, incisive ones. Really, everyone won.

The two sides!

Now, not only was our boyfriendom validated by our friends, but our families were woven into it too. We started commenting on familial inner-workings, and figured out how we were going to fit into it all.

Working and Living: Financials and Healthcare  

After the green lights were lit, we re-assumed business as usual – but as a bona fide unit. We had each other to confide in, and the everyday hubbub wasn’t quite as bad. We could vent to each other, and we felt like we were making something together. What we returned to each night wasn’t an apartment, it was our home. And part of making that home a solvent, self-sustaining thing was addressing financials and maintaining ourselves health-wise. Without addressing those things, we were really just playing house. Andy and I actually combined finances and apartments really early on – some would say absurdly early. But we did. And it worked.

We’re both incredibly detail- and plan- oriented, so we determined what made the most sense (whose healthcare would we use, how much to put into savings…). These were all very necessary, difficult steps. There was a lot of adulting that took place during this phase, and we both grew up quickly. Each of us swelled with pride – we’d taken these steps together. We were legitimizing this life with as much legal protection as we could.

[Finally] the Question: Yes

After being domesticated gays for a while, and moving across the country, we made it official. Planning a wedding is hard, even if it’s tiny. And it frayed our nerves. But both sides of the families met. We said “I do,” and we kept moving.

So many people say, “Marriage changes everything” – even if you’ve already lived together. And yes, there’s a distinct change – you’re officially in this relationship together. You’re no longer free agents – able to do what you want when you want it. There’s a process, a system of emotional checks and balances. The transition can be a little bumpy. Even with everything we’d already experienced, we still had more to learn after the big “M” solidified everything. It was no longer just a partnership, it was a marriage.

Peaks & Valleys: Marriage Ain’t Easy

As exciting as it was to be puttering along together – setting goals and doing our best to bring them to fruition – we had tiffs and spats and hit limits, and questioned ourselves each time.

“Is this argument the end?”

“What will I do?”

“I can do this, right?”

No one is perfect. And we all show ugliness at one point or another. All of those questions bubbled up, and we were forced to answer them. And after every quarrel, after every shouting match, we reconciled. Reconciliation is one thing that any marriage can’t do without. And while we’ve established many tenets for our relationship, one of the main ones is this: Never go to bed angry. No matter how exhausting the conversation has been, we never let the wound scab over without thoroughly cleaning it out. If there’s any shadow of a doubt that there’s still something lurking under the surface, we rip that scab right back off and bleed the grossness out. And then we heal. What I most value in our relationship is the transparency: If either of us is sad or depressed or angry, we address it. There’s no looking the other way.

We all filter our experiences – determining what’s worth getting angry, sad, or frustrated about – and it’s those experiences that matter, those that have an impact, those that’re worth sharing that should be addressed, especially if they’re impacting our moods. Sharing our experiences – the good, bad, horrifically ugly – has helped bind us together, and makes our marriage stronger. Working through the hard shit is totally worth it.

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

No matter how much hard shit we’ve both worked through – separately and together – there have come points where we’ve both asked ourselves, “Should I stay?”

This question is scary as fuck.

I’ve been there, and Andy’s been there. It springs from a dark place, or a particularly pointed argument – or some combination thereof. But when I got to that place, I had to disconnect for a moment, and ask some other difficult questions: “What if this ends? Will I be okay? Yes, I’ll be okay. I can manage. I’ll go on. It’ll be indescribably hard, but I won’t crumble. I’ll remain. I’ll live.”

As weirdly horrible as it may seem, this is the healthiest, most reassuring question I’ve ever asked myself. Because I’ve learned that to make our marriage work, I have to constantly maintain myself – I have to be certain that I can be there, that I can be supportive, that I can be my own person outside of being a “husband” or “partner.”

And immediately after that realization, I knew my answer to the overarching question – “Is it worth staying?” – was a resounding “Absolutely.”

Love is complex. Love is hard. And to fully understand it all, I sometimes have to break down my emotions, ask pointed questions of myself (“Am I doing enough?”, “Am I trying my best?”), and rebuild myself to fully realize how much I love Andy, and how much I love our marriage.

Wrinkles in Time: Officially Growing A Year Older Together

Today, we’re officially a year old. Andy and I have traveled across the country three times. We’ve been to the brink and back in every possible meaning of the phrase. We’ve rebuilt and recreated ourselves, and we’ve extended our life together to strengthen the lives of two furry beings.

The dynamic duo

We’ve said painful goodbyes, and heartfelt hellos in the three different cities we’ve called home.

We continue to make peace with ourselves – reconciling our own insecurities, our fears – and share a life, and enjoy everything in our own ways. We’re redefining our individual interests, and are branching out to avoid intense co-dependency – something we’ve experienced, which can lead to smothering and resentment. We’re learning to let go of the past, and embracing what comes with open eyes and minds.

One half...

...and the other half

We’re planning for our future more than ever, and are considering what it’ll mean to extend our lives yet again – this time for a less furry being.

We’re in it completely.

***

Pride was a few days ago, and we ventured out sporadically. The spectrum of life seemed to flood by our building, and we stood there like stones in a stream as Toby did his business. So many people looking for someone special, or looking to be seen – trying to find someone for the night, or for longer.

And there we were, in the middle of it, two veterans with stained tees and a pooping dog. And I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

Always look for the beauty...

3 thoughts on “The First Year: Lessons of the Marital Kind

    • Awww, thanks! I’ve just gotten so tired of everyone always jabbering about how everything is lovely and rainbows and butterflies ALL THE TIME. Some of the more difficult moments are often the ones I’ve learned from the most 🙂

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