What Marriage Really Looks Like

“Love is a friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.” – Ann Landers

We’ve had friends describe us as an “A-list” couple. I’m not sure if it’s because we take photogenic pictures or because when we’re good, we’re something special. At our best, our love vibrates and lights up like an ultra ball that’s caught a rare Pokemon. And that energy is contagious.

(Judge me all you want for the Nintendo reference. My game boy color stocked with different Pokemon versions, Frogger, and Wario land brought me a lot of joy back in the day. And there are few joys in life that parallel that of a kid wielding their first video game.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we got here. Not about how we met – our story was not a love at first sight kind of plot.

No. I’ve been thinking about the time we sat down for lunch at what would come to be our favorite Thai spot on Broadway near Columbia University, the one that’s no longer there. How the third person that was supposed to meet us for lunch canceled last minute and we decided to meet up anyways.

I don’t believe in coincidence.

I remember how the corners of your mouth tightened and your eyes opened up wider, lifting your naturally straight eyebrows when we were offered the outside seating. I didn’t know about your OCDish tendencies then. You mentioned your fear of some crazy new yorker spitting in your food or any general passing of bacteria onto you in some casual way because you were sitting too close to the sidewalk.

I remember how you texted me that same day, after lunch and before you left work, to ask if I wanted to grab a drink with you. How we sat in Amsterdam Cafe for six hours without planning to because the conversation kept flowing. The energy was effervescent. We were just two friends, two old souls connecting over conversations about life and love and loss.

I remember how the man at the table next to ours proposed to his girlfriend in front of all their family and friends. I watched you laugh nervously as your neck shifted back and away from the grand romantic gesture, a much more subtle version of Ice Cube and Chris Tucker in the iconic “Damnnnn” scene from Friday. Commitment was the farthest thing from your mind.

We were friends before anything else ever developed. That is why we have come as far as we have. It’s important to remember that.


Our parents warned us this would happen. They cautioned us that once the initial, exciting love wore off there would be a different kind of love. They told us repeatedly, like history when it goes unstudied, that this would be hard. I just don’t think either of us expected it to happen so soon.

I wrote this poem in my journal seven weeks after the wedding. It is not a breath-taking Pablo Neruda sonnet or a pretty Nikki Giovanni love poem. This is what marriage looks like:

August 27th 2014

How quickly it all turns after we say I do
From flowers, cards and chocolate
To laundry bags and dirty dishes
To his hair in the sink and hers in the shower
From spontaneous dinner dates with drinks and dessert
To cleaning the stove after dinner each night
From poetry readings and sketches
To watching tv all night … every night
Sometimes it feels like our creativity has run dry
Like there is no water left in the well
And I’m thirsty
Parched for imagination
Sunlight and fresh air
Rolling waves, salt water, white sands…
Black sands
Parched for you to take me by the hand
And lead the way
Somewhere else,
Somewhere different
Anywhere but here.

This poem was written from a dangerous space. It was cultivated from the crevices of unspoken fears and unmet needs.This space – this anxiety-inducing, doubt drenched breach is where marriages die if left untended.

We’ve both failed each other. We’ve both been focused elsewhere instead of investing in this relationship with the consistency that it needs. I can acknowledge and apologize for my shortcomings because he is willing to do the same. It took both of us to get to this point.

Growing up, Papi always used to tell me that love is a commitment, not a feeling. It felt counter-intuitive given my diet of cheesy romantic pre-teen novels and Lifetime movies. It’s only now that I have come to realize how right he was. Feelings are temperamental, they change like the current of the ocean or the weather forecast. I’m learning to be OK with the complicated nature of feelings.

And as much as we hate it, the pain and discomfort we’ve been working through and will continue to work through have been useful. They have been an indicator that something is wrong and have caused us to take action to right those wrongs before it’s too late.


“We are all more blind to what we have than to what we have not.” – Audre Lorde

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” – Maya Angelou

Last week was our anniversary and it was the toughest one we’ve had yet. I wish I could say that I know with all certainty that we will never have another anniversary like the one we just had, but that’s unrealistic. I don’t know what the future has in store for us.

When we shared with his parents about this rough patch in our marriage, they nodded in empathy and let us know it would only get more difficult.

My in-laws have always prioritized the truth over cliches of a coddling nature. They are the real deal. And they must be doing something right almost thirty years in the game and still holding hands as they walk down the street calling each other “Cherie.”

In the midst of all this, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the basic psychological needs that have to be satisfied in order to achieve happiness. That’s a whole other brewing essay with scattered notes everywhere.

One thing I will refer to from my research is the importance of gratitude and appreciation.

It’s easy to lose sight of what we have because we are so focused on what we do not have. I almost forgot about our friendship…

So as a belated anniversary present I am publishing a list of all the things I appreciate about my partner.

  1. His charisma and ability to connect with people.
  2. His dedication to his fitness regime and taking care of his body.
  3. His smile.
  4. The way he makes me laugh.
  5. His passion for living life and pushing others to be the best version of themselves that is possible.
  6. His honesty and ability to speak his mind.
  7. His attention to detail.
  8. His loyalty.
  9. His love for music.
  10. The way he does the laundry and cleans the house without my ever asking him to.
  11. The way that he looks at me like I’m the most beautiful woman in the world when I have no makeup on, mayonnaise and egg dripping down my face from a DIY hair mask and haven’t showered all day and smell slightly of grajo.
  12. His GQ sense of style
  13. His compromise to the budget by finding brand alternatives and coupons 🙂
  14. His willingness to learn and have difficult conversations

I am grateful for a partner that is willing to push through with me, for a friend who is concerned about my well-being and for a lover who can take ownership of his mistakes.

With the exception of the cookie cutter love I grew comfortable seeing in TV and movies, no one really told us this journey would be easy. Our parents warned us. The books we read dealt caution signs.

Marriage is not rainbows, cupcakes, and puppies. Marriage is gritty, sweat-dripping, tear-jerking and painful work. But in the past three years, I’ve learned to embrace one thing –  my resilience and my willingness to put in the work to reach my goals.

And real talk, my #relationshipgoals objective is to be walking down the street with him thirty plus years in the game calling each other cute nicknames when we’re not getting on each other’s nerves. I’m willing to put in the work for that.




**This is essay 22 in the #52essays2017 challenge created by Vanessa Mártir.

4 thoughts on “What Marriage Really Looks Like

  1. This was very brave to write!
    Marriage is like all things in life you need to put in the work! It’s true what you said we are told that it’s gonna be happily ever after, but not the case. I really appreciated this essay and want to write a similar list for my husband.

  2. How appropriate that I get to read on this on the day we are getting married. You’re message is honest, authentic and special in so many ways. Having been in long-term relationships (and nearly married once b4) I know how challenging it can be to consistently work hard at something that can feel like its depleting you at the same time. As I embark on this journey, I do so without ignorance that I will need to evolve as our love inevitably will. My one thought to you, my dear friend, is remember you are both an individual and a wife. Never compromise one for the other. It is possible, if we actively make the space, for them to coexist.

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