Five years (part 2)

I’ve always thought it was hokey to celebrate dating anniversaries, but our first date is the only anniversary that my husband and I celebrate. We can never remember when we got married, and I prefer not to think about it because it was one of the most stressful days of my life. As an INTP who hates all kinds of parties and being the center of attention, I should have known better than to have a wedding at all. So I like to pretend it never happened.

At the time I thought that the day we became husband and wife would be a special occasion. It was really important for us to write our own vows and say them in front of our friends and family. Words are important to me, and I thought our wedding vows would be the most important words of our life, sealing our lifetime commitment to each other. But they turned out to be pretty insignificant, just as our wedding day turned out to be pretty insignificant.

The more time goes on, the more I realize that some words we said to each other X months after falling in love and deciding to spend our life together don’t define what our marriage means now or what it will mean in the future. The words that matter to me are the ones of consequence– the conversations we had at the beginning of our relationship that showed each other who we were, the first time he told me that he wanted to grow old with me, the words of support and reassurance spoken over the years in moments of crisis, the words of love we share daily over the din of toddler shouting. Those words are the touchstones of our commitment, and all of them hold more meaning and weight than our wedding vows. All the days we’ve spent together in the past five years are more important than our wedding day.

It’s too bad that we only recently moved to a state with common-law marriage, because that’s how I view our marriage. It didn’t start with a ceremony or a certificate on any particular day. When someone asks how long we’ve been married, I answer “five years,” as I think of the entire time we’ve been together as being part of our marriage. (And also, because I can’t remember the actual year our wedding took place.) Our love and commitment to each other grew continuously from the first moment we saw each other. If there was one day when everything changed, it was that day five years ago when we met with a handshake.

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Five years

Five years ago I got on a plane to spend the weekend with a man I’d met online. The flight was delayed and as I sat there I suddenly thought, “what the hell am I doing?” It was the craziest thing I’d ever done, and I briefly considered getting off the plane before it took off. I had a contingency plan to change my return flight to an earlier one if the first day was awful.

We met in a hotel lobby with an awkward handshake, and the first thing I noticed was that his smile was crooked and he talked out of the side of his mouth. Later I would discover to my endearment that whenever he lacks confidence, he subconsciously becomes paralyzed on one side of his body. Neither of us knew how to make conversation, and we resorted to rattling off questions that made it seem more like a job interview than a date. I knew he was a Republican, so over dinner I made sure to tell him about the life-changing experience I had at a Hillary Clinton rally in 2007. He sat really far away from me and I had no idea if he even liked me until we kissed at the end of the night.

Only an INTP and INTJ could have a first date that is so incredibly awkward be unbelievably romantic at the same time. For some reason that I still can’t explain, it was love at first sight. For him, anyway– INTJs are decisive like that. 30 hours after we first laid eyes on each other, he asked me to move to his city. I couldn’t change the subject fast enough, but I knew something magical was happening. I never believed in the concept of romantic chemistry (in fact, I was totally against it), but every time he touched my arm or held my hand I felt full of fireworks.

For me it was more like love at third sight. By the end of our third date a month later, after he started talking about our future children and made an Excel spreadsheet showing why I should move in with him, I was 95% sure I would marry him. I have always found Excel spreadsheets incredibly sexy.

Five years later, we’re now expecting our second child and it feels like we’ve aged about fifteen years (having children will do that). Our life is crazy in the most ordinary ways. There have been a lot of broken dreams, and there are moments (or months) when I look at my husband and think, “what the hell am I doing with this person?” But most of the time, I am wonderfully amazed at how eminently we belong together. 

I don’t believe in soul mates at all– except, when I think about the two of us, secretly I kind of do. We worked hard to find and keep each other, but there’s still an element of magic when we look into each other’s eyes and see each other the way no one else can. I can’t explain it, but it’s my favorite thing in the world.

Physiology

[I’m feeling sentimental, so here’s a little something that I wrote four years ago shortly after I met my husband, KJ. Free time and internet connectivity are both sparse right now, so I won’t be writing anything new for a couple more weeks.]


We are just chemistry, the Wilderness First Responder instructor said repeatedly. Oxygen in, carbon dioxide out; the blood becomes acidic and basic, its pH signaling the brain to monitor the drive to breathe. Oxygen transported by hemoglobin, exchanged through narrow capillaries to perfuse the organs. The vital signs are a window to the critical systems. They tell us the status of the respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems, the processes necessary to sustain life… 

If a patient has no pulse after a sudden trauma or fall, we are not required to begin CPR. This means the aorta has been ripped from the heart, its one-and-a-half-inch diameter emptying the body’s entire volume of blood into the interstitial body cavity in seconds. Death is instantaneous… 

The body is built to protect itself. The organs most susceptible to bleeding are protected by the ribcage—lungs, heart, liver, spleen. But there are exceptions: a little lobe of the liver hangs down below the ribs unprotected, where a sharp jab or well-placed blow can cause fatal internal bleeding… 

The first time we kissed, I felt KJ’s heart pounding rapidly in his chest. I was aware of the adrenaline surging through his sympathetic nervous system. My heart was pounding too, but his was more exposed, an offer of vulnerability, and it calmed me. I rested my head against his shoulder and watched the buttons on his shirt dance like puppets on the strings of his heartbeat, a rhythm so intense that it echoed through me.

The next night I lay in his arms, his cardiac muscle thumping gently below my ear at 70 or 80 beats per minute. It gave me immeasurable comfort, this pulse of life, a glimpse into his critical systems. I wanted to disappear into the curve of his sternum, my hand captured there between his hand and his heart. His fingertips stroked my shoulder as our feet touched gently, sending sparks to my limbic system. The tender lobe of my liver felt more and more exposed.

We are just chemistry. What are these rivers flowing through me, painting a strange and beautiful landscape? They take my breath away, altering my respiration unconsciously. When I think of KJ, my blood becomes acidic from too little carbon dioxide. I don’t realize it until my brain kicks in automatically to correct my breathing.

Exciting, but scary. To hand myself to someone, the unguarded lobe of my liver at his mercy. How can he not be scared? How can he open his heart to me, that tender juncture of smooth cardiac muscle and aorta so easily broken and spilled? Be gentle, I want to say. I am tender through and through.