On Marriage: The 10 Life Promises We Made To Each Other, 12 Years Ago Today (and How We Held Up or Failed)
Brian and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary last weekend (we’ve been together a total of 18 years). We went on a magical anniversary dinner date that was strangely romantic, and I say “strangely” because when you’ve been together this long, it’s easy for dates to lose that warm, love-y buzz. It was there last weekend, though, probably because he put a lot of time and energy into planning an extra special date and wrote me the best card ever (therefore speaking to both of my love languages—acts of service and words of affection). I’ll spare you the “we are happier than we have ever beens” because it just feels boastful although true, and not without a LOT of hard work mind you (if you want to do a deep dive into our ups and downs, go here). Because today’s post is about the unearthing of some historic marriage documents.
Last week, I was going through boxes upon boxes of hoarded memories when I found the documents below, from our honeymoon. September 28th, 2006—TWELVE YEARS AGO TODAY.
It was a very sloppy yet heartfelt (and specific) list of promises to our future selves. I vividly remember the lunch in Montreal where we wrote this. As you can imagine, it wasn’t Brian’s idea and he was a little hesitant because writing to your future selves is totally hokey. But this was not my first go at future-self writing for as a teenager, I had written my future mom-self a letter on how to parent my future teenager daughter and I still read it as a reminder to live up to our younger self’s dream of our older selves. Sure, we are naive and don’t understand the nuance of life, but there is also a lot of value in making simple promises to yourself. He warmed up to the idea more as we drank white wine, don’t worry.
As someone who doesn’t really believe in absolutes, I was surprised at how full of “we will nevers” and “we will always” it was. It’s the naiveté that can really only be genuinely captured at the beginning stages of marriage, specifically in your youth, before you understand life. What we wrote that day was different than our wedding vows; these things signified the type of people we wanted to become, and were almost meant to prevent us from turning into the type of people we wanted to avoid becoming. It’s two pages long, but today we’ll just talk through the first because, well, you see, I have a lot to say.
If you hate sentimental sap and don’t like reading about marriage and relationships, come back on Monday. Wait. That’s about marriage, too, hilariously (well, and wood, and how wood saved our marriage, but more on that next week).
I thought it would be fun to go through those promises now, 12 years later, and analyze why we wrote what we wrote and see how it’s all holding up.
“Life will never be boring.”
Then: This was our general fear of being “those people” who disappear from society and go to bed at 9 pm on a Friday night after they have kids. We wanted to stay cool, “with it,” and perhaps, most importantly, relevant forever. We wanted to always sneak wine into an outdoor music show.
Now: Our life feels anything but boring. Literally, that is the word that I would NEVER USE to describe us now, so I guess we have maintained that goal. Sure, there are times when I say “we are so boring now” but it’s mostly to get out of doing something that I don’t want to do and pretending to be tired. I’m pretty sure we weren’t predicting Saturday morning playdates or souping on Sunday afternoons. Your definition of “boring” changes obviously and while our active social life mostly includes happy hour play dates in our backyard (which are a real “parent” fantasies come true), I’m sure others could say that we have gotten boring. However, those people should come and watch the nightly show from 6-8 pm because I DON’T KNOW WHAT ENTERTAINMENT IS IF IT’S NOT THAT. It’s like a nightly docuseries on birth control.
I mean, we have opted to “vacation” at a quiet cabin less than two hours away without nary a bar around versus adventuring internationally with our kids while they are so young, which admittedly is a “boring” life choice, but one that makes us VERY happy. So I suppose with the lives that we have set up, we are actually looking for more “boredom” not less.
“We have to allow each other our days: Brian to watch football and Emily to go thrift shopping.”
Then: We feared losing ourselves to mundanity and the expectation that we would become one person. We didn’t want to spend every second together and valued our alone time or time with friends. The clichés of women never letting men watch sports just seemed so stupid and gross to me, so this was us trying to prevent that and just let us do whatever we wanted.
Now: We were certainly great about this before we had kids and basically did whatever we wanted individually while still giving each other the right amount of attention. It helps that we have the same friend group. Since having kids, it’s harder to take that time obviously and it has to be done fairly. It can become a competition and you can easily start tallying your partner’s time off, which is a very dangerous and marital game that everyone loses. We’ve always tried to give each other one night off a week and if my girlfriends are around on the weekends I all but beg Brian to take the afternoon off because I know he’ll be a happier dad and I’m just as happy co-parenting with my friends so we can catch up on life.
Last Sunday, Brian literally watched football all day with a friend while I went shopping at the Pasadena Antique Mall with his wife all day, and this was BEFORE I found this letter.
Hot marital tip: If you want more time off to spend with your girlfriends (or be alone), the fastest way you can do it is to offer your partner a night out first. Start the cycle and if they will likely reciprocate.
Then: Fear of not being an active participant in our own lives and just going through the motions. Losing passion, interest and the general fight to make daily life a better one. Fear of being a 6 on the 1-10 scale of happiness.
Now: Personally and professionally, I’m the opposite of complacent, but in a strong marriage it’s hard not to feel complacent at times. We go in and out on this but have realized again and again that complacency in a marriage is a real bacteria that can grow into a serious disease if you don’t recognize it and shift gears as early as possible. After being together for 18 years, we’ve certainly had our years of being more complacent with our happiness level at a 6, but both really try to cognizant of when we are letting it slip, not connecting, just co-existing and we actively make that shift. Right now, we are in such a good place—I’d say a 9. 🙂
“Our children will never doubt our love for them and each other.”
Then: So serious, Emily. It’s like I was in a Victorian novel about families being ripped apart in war. I think it might have stemmed from me being the middle child of six kids.
Now: When it comes to the kids, I mean, they KNOW. They’d have to be deaf, blind, limbless and floating in a sensory deprivation tank for the next 20 years not to know and feel how much we love them.
But as far as our kids knowing how much WE love each other? I’d say we are pretty good at this now but haven’t always been and we could probably be better. We made a conscious decision three years ago when we were functioning as zombie parents to make sure we are verbalizing and showing our love for each other in front of our kids and not just telling them how much we love them. I think we were too tired to even greet each other with a hug. And it makes a difference. They watch and smile and it literally puts them in the mood, too, and they often want to do a family hug right after. Birdie always comments “You guys are best friends, right?” and then she’ll look at Charlie and say “and we are best friends, too!” and then I want to close the curtain on life and die because there is no better feeling than that.
“We’ll let each other fly away a little and come back.”
Then: I’ve got to give us some credit for knowing that at such a young age but I have no idea why we wrote this.
Now: I don’t know how we are doing on this. I know that you aren’t always going to be as connected which mostly has to do with your individual happiness and identities. Sometimes a little bit of space is needed knowing that being at the same point in life at the exact same time is virtually impossible. This is hard. Seeing someone kinda disconnect can be scary. I suppose we have been through this a few times, and I guess my advice would be to be supportive, let them know you are there and can be a touchpoint for them when needed. You aren’t always going to solve their problems. Fine. I don’t think I’m good at this. I want to solve problems. I’m not even sure if that was what we were referring to! Maybe it was about not smothering each other. If so then we are good at that. 🙂
“We’ll both always share in household duties.”
Then: I suppose I wanted to avoid this cliché argument and it made sense to him, too, being the modern man that he was and is. He also probably saw my household abilities and knew that it was an area in which he would have to pony up.
Now: Hmm…he leads on the cooking front and I lead on the organizing front, and we both clean all day every day, but cleaning this house with those kids is like painting the Golden Gate bridge—as soon as you finish, you have to start all over again. We do have help, though. Which leads me to the next one…
“We will deserve a cleaning lady.”
Then: Ha. I suppose I phrased it that way to imply we would both be working so hard on other things. We knew even then that neither of us is type A and that while we have our strengths, keeping a house clean and orderly is neither of ours. We try hard but fail harder.
Now: This year, we looked at all the things we could use help on and what stresses us out as a family the most and it was the household mess. So instead of getting more child care, food prep, organizing help or a personal assistant we are getting more help in the house cleaning realm. As of this week, we now have a once-a-week full clean (that we have had for years) and a second 1/2 day cleaning later in the week to help maintain and start the weekend with less chaos. It’s a total luxury we realize, but my mental well being, like a lot of yours, is directly affected by the level of visual chaos in my house and I start cleaning the second I get home and I’d rather be spending quality time with my kids. So I suppose we think we REALLY deserve it—like twice a week deserve it.
“We will always say I love you, but not too much.”
Then: We knew it was important to say but we didn’t want it to lose its meaning.
Now: We say it with the kids when we are all saying it to each other, but a few times a week in private, we say it and most of the time feel it. For those of you married for a while you know what I’m talking about. This was something we changed early in our relationship because we felt we were just saying it to say it. But don’t worry, we are totally not sticking to this with our kids because I tell them I love them probably 25 times a day and I mean it every single time, but it’s excessive.
“We will always try new things together.”
Then: I see a theme here; we didn’t want us to get old, boring, uncool and complacent. What next? Did we promise that we would have sex every other night or something??? (ha, no we were smarter than that).
Now: BOY HAVE WE FAILED AT THIS, the “new things” part. Sure, we’ll seek out a weird restaurant for a date night every sixth date, but we mostly just do what is easy and familiar and fun. I’d like to go ahead and blame our kids for this because they have made us tired and uncreative and schlepping them to Malibu Farms just sounds like too much work (but likely worth it). But as I said, Brian, however, did plan a very wonderful and new date for us where we went to Topanga Canyon, ate at Inn of the Seventh Ray and then saw The Crucible at the outdoor theatre there, which was totally magical. Years ago, before kids when we were having problems and were complacent, we enacted what we called “Extreme Marriage Makeover 2012” and we committed to creating new memories together by experiencing something together we’ve never done, but lately, we haven’t. Fail.
“We will always maintain our friendships, they are very important.”
Then: Don’t be those people who fall out of contact and just go to BBQs once a month or send Facebook birthday wishes.
Now: With less time, you focus on the few friends that you connect with the most so no, I don’t go out as often or with as many people. We still definitely see friends and girls night is in my repertoire, but Saturday play dates are more common. And like I said, co-parenting with your best friends, making dinner for your littles together and having wine is what we had always dreamed of. The best thing you can do for your marriage when you have small kids is to find another couple (or few) where you both like each person. It’s life-changing. We even went “park hopping” when Charlie was a toddler because we only had one couple with a kid and needed a backup for when they were booked on Saturday mornings. It worked, by the way.
“Eventually we will both be in charge of our careers.”
Then: I’m not sure what we feared by writing that. I suppose just not having control over our time and creativity.
Now: While running your own businesses means you are in charge, it’s hard to say if you are ever “in charge” as a creative entrepreneur. Flexibility and freedom? Sure. But control? Nah. 🙂
Writing this blog gives me an excuse for some serious self-reflection and answering to your former self is a very odd version of this self-reflection. I think six years ago this might have been less of a positive thing to read, but right now with us in a good place, it was so fun to go through with a few painful “eeks.”
But I seriously can’t recommend doing this activity enough. I want us to do it for our own future again, make promises about how we’ll be when the kids are teenagers because once in it, we might forget the simple promises that seemed so easy before the fog of life blocked our decision-making skills.
Happy anniversary, my love. Saying that marrying you was the best decision I ever made is the understatement of the century. The girl who scribbled those promises was and is far from perfect, but boy am I glad she had the instinct to go after you and not let you go 18 years ago.
P.S. Let me know if you guys are interested in the other page of promises. This was already so long and I didn’t really feel like editing it down because it’s kinda a journal for me, but I’m HAPPY to do the other page which includes such promises as like what my max budget for a handbag would be (uh?) and where we promised we would never live. Curious?