Last week, one of my students dismissed marriage – the idea of marriage, the institution of marriage, my marriage – with a shrug and a few thoughtless words. He asked where I’d been the day prior and I responded, “With my husband at MD Anderson.” He said, “Your husband? The same one you were with before (“before” being last year)? You’re still with him?” I told him we’d only been married three years and of course we were still together. His response was, “It’s 2016, so you never know.” Just like that. So nonchalant.
It’s 2016 and suddenly marriage doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. It’s outdated. It doesn’t work. Everyone knows it. Even kids know it.
Well, it’s not really working out, so let’s just call it a day.
I think I’m interested in someone else, so I’m going to try that out instead.
I feel ignored.
I’m unhappy with something and I don’t know what it is, so I’ll say it’s you and end things.
Class continued, but The Great Gatsby spurred questions of marriage and relationships, fidelity and trust. One girl asked me whether I’d stay with my husband if he cheated on me. I thought for a long time, stumbling over my answer, before settling on the simple, but honest:
“I chose him.”
The girls asked what I meant while one boy mumbled that I should have more respect for myself than that. I explained to them that marriage is complicated, that it’s not easy, that while we vowed to love each other, we still have to choose each other every single day. Because getting married is easy. It’s deciding to stay married to each other that’s hard.
“But if he cheats, he doesn’t love you!” They insisted.
I hesitated, weighing my words carefully, wanting them to be meaningful, considering how I might feel if my husband ever were to cheat on me.
I told them that yes, it would be difficult for me to get past and I would have issues of trust. I told them that forgiving him would be hard, that I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to because I’d never been in that situation. I told them that I would probably struggle everyday to get past the indiscretion. Then I told them that I’d try because I love him, because I promised to love him forever – in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, until death.
I chose him. And he chose me.
I talked about mistakes and how we’re fallible because we’re human. Hadn’t they, after all, been placed with me because they’d made mistakes? They nodded, thoughtful. We resumed class, but the idea of choice, of choosing to stay married to my husband, stuck with me.
A few days later, my sisters came to visit. One of them is getting married in a few weeks and part of the assignment their pre-marital counselor gave them was to ask married couples what their biggest struggle was and how they overcame it. Nearly every married couple said the same thing: choosing love, choosing to fight for love, choosing to fight for each other – that was the biggest struggle, but it was also how they overcame.
I’m still relatively new to this whole marriage thing, but I know that if I want my marriage to work, to be successful, to last, I have to make the conscious decision to choose him every day. And he has to choose me too. We have to choose each other. When I feel like he’s ignoring me and he feels like I’m nagging him, we have to choose each other. When I’m tired and he’s frustrated and the baby has been crying for 12 hours, we have to choose each other. When he wants to buy a golf cart and I want to go to Hawaii and we can’t agree on anything, we have to choose each other. When I feel neglected and he wants his space, we have to choose each other.
We’re fooled into believing that marriage and happiness are the same thing, but sometimes marriage isn’t happy. Sometimes marriage is hard and horrible and scary and weird, but we get past that because we made a choice to love each other even when it’s hard.
And it may be 2016, but I do know one thing – I’ll choose him forever.