A year ago today, in my living room in St. Paul, Joe and I married each other in front of a couple of my friends. We didn’t tell too many folks before it happened and got to have a bit of fun by spreading the news with a “we did a thing” text and Facebook post.
(Is it still technically an elopement if you don’t even leave the apartment?)
We would, of course, have been happy if more of our family and friends could have been present to witness our promises to each other, but we knew that we’d already be facing plenty of logistical hurdles with my move to join him overseas. We figured our time and energy would be better spent on those than on the hoopla that surrounds most modern weddings. Besides, it wasn’t so long ago that folks got married in their front sitting room. What’s old is new again?
As we’ve been approaching our first anniversary and realizing that we’ll no longer be newlyweds, we’ve joked that our warranty period is coming up — that we’ll just have to live with whatever defects and flaws we find in each other from this point onwards. There may have been no tradesies before but there are really no tradesies now. It’s a good thing we like each other most days.
I think back to our simple ceremony and I’m even more struck by just how perfect-for-us one of our readings — a quote from Madeline L’Engle’s The Irrational Season — is for us and for this life we’ve made for ourselves.
To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take… If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom…
The past year has pushed me in ways that I never would have thought possible. And while I certainly won’t speak for Joe, I would imagine that it has for him too. And yet. I don’t think I could have ever imagined that yoking myself to him would paradoxically allow me to feel more freedom to truly be me than anything has before. It is, in the truest sense of the word, awesome.
They say that the first year of marriage is tough and they’re not wrong. I’m thankful that adjusting to married life wasn’t the hardest adjustment of the last year — in some senses, that was the easy one. Adjusting to life overseas as a Foreign Service couple, on the other hand…
Just the other day in one of the online forums, somebody asked what advice veteran Foreign Service folks would give to newlyweds just starting off in marriage and in this life. I hardly felt qualified to throw in my two cents amongst others with much, much more experience than I have at both FS life and being married, but I thought I’d make a list of the things I would tell myself a year ago if I could:
No amount of prep will get you ready for this. And by “this,” I mean it all. Reading others’ accounts of what life will be like at post or how FS marriages work or what sort of government red tape you’ll encounter may help give you a sense for what to expect but your mileage will, without a doubt, vary. After all, the official unofficial Foreign Service answer is “it depends.”
The good will be good. Waking up next to your sleepy-eyed, messy-haired, needs-to-brush-his-teeth person and realizing that you’re finally here in the same place at the same time will never get old. And when it does, you need to take a step back and remember all those months you spent waiting for your MED clearance to allow you to join him at post.
The great will be great. Adventuring together — even just to visit the new Dutch grocery store in the suburbs — will be better than you could have imagined. (Hold on to those moments and remember them when you miss where you came from.)
The bad will not break you. You will be annoyed when your spouse is so confident in your survival skills that he can’t understand why it’s terrifying to go grocery shopping on your own. (And you will realize you love him for it when you manage to get through those first few weeks of quotidian tasks without actually dying.) You will be even more annoyed when — in the midst of your first big fight — you make it halfway down the stairs and realize that you have no idea where you’re going to run off to because that guy upstairs in the bedroom is literally the only other person you know in the country you find yourself living in. And, when shit gets really, really hard, you will be thankful that you will not break as long as your person is there to steady you.
Your identity will, necessarily, shift. Literally and figuratively. Even though you haven’t changed your surname, every scrap of paperwork will identify you as his spouse and you will often be referred to as Mrs. His Last Name. Get over yourself. There are much worse things to be called. And even though you’re not entirely sure at first about being an “Eligible Family Member,” you’ll soon enough find some purpose in that role too. (You will, however, never get used to people calling your college sweetheart your “husband.” It’s only because they don’t know he’s really just your “Spoon.” Maybe don’t correct them though…)
Your home is with each other. It is not the house assigned to you. It is not where you last lived. It is wherever and however you find yourselves together. This is what you signed up for.
Photo credit: Joe, the love of my life and a pretty good photographer and copyeditor to boot.