The Little Things that Make a Marriage
My wife makes amazing coffee.
She takes it seriously. She swears she can taste a difference between the beans from the place in the city versus the ones I get in our hometown, even though they are merely different locations of the same small business. This is ridiculous–and yet I believe her declaration because my wife makes amazing coffee.
People will take a sip and say, “mmm, this is good.” To them, it’s a nice treat. After all, you never know if someone is going to make good coffee or not. Most people are pretty terrible at it, actually – me, for example. I can make brown water infused with caffeine come out of a machine with the best of them, but no one ever called it good. There’s an art to the chemistry that I can never quite get right.
To my wife, it’s a question of survival. She tells new parents that the best advice she can give them is always to have coffee ready to go in the morning. Always.
This is good advice.
I wake up early enough to exercise, meditate and to write before the maelstrom of my daily life sucks me in. Just as I sit down to type the first words of the day, there is fresh coffee ready for me. On the weekends, when I sleep in (until 6:30 sometimes!), as I stumble into the kitchen facing a barrage of questions from a five-year-old who is just WAY too freaking excited for it to be 6:30 in the morning, the coffee is ready for me. It’s there, like my wife is there. Always.
Marriage isn’t for everyone. Everyone thinks it’s for everyone. Everyone thinks it’s for him or her. Yet so few people consider what that level of commitment actually means ahead of time. And I don’t mean marriage. I mean Marriage. I don’t mean the piece of paper you sign or even the words you say because as GRRM taught us, “words are wind.” What I mean is the stronger devotion and promise you hold in your soul for someone. You don’t need the world to give you permission for that connection, but you do need to know you’re in it for the long haul, even when times get tough.
Because life, being life, ensures that times are going to get tough.
There’s the big tough, of course. There are hospital and cemetery detours along the journey of life and you want someone who will stand beside you to help make the unbearable just this side of bearable. You want someone who makes you want to be a better person even when it’s hard to be so. Especially when it’s hard to be so. You want someone who makes you want to be a better spouse, a better friend, a better parent. You want someone who challenges you in your career and your view of the world and treatment of strangers. You want someone to look at you like you’re already that better version of yourself, which makes getting there seem not quite as impossible.
My wife makes amazing coffee but she’s always been even better at seeing me as the man I want to be.
More importantly, though, Marriage is not just someone showing up for those big things. It’s showing up every single day. Yes, you want someone willing to profess his or her love for you in front of all your family and friends. Yes, you want someone who will hold your hand at funerals. But that doesn’t get you through the next 50 years. What gets you through the next 50 years is coffee always being there for you.
Because there’s the everyday hard too and in many ways that’s even more challenging.
There’s hard like, for instance, when you let two gremlins live in your house who try to destroy you psychologically on a daily basis. They may look like cute children, but parents know better. There’s when you come home from a soul-crushing day and have nothing else to offer the universe and yet you have to do it again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.
There’s hard like when you have the ridiculous notion that maybe you’re a writer. You need someone who won’t scoff at how ridiculous it is to spend so much time and energy pursuing your dreams in the little amount of free time you have which inevitably eats into the even smaller amount of time you have together.
You need someone who will have coffee ready for you every day against all of that. You need someone who will rub your neck when you’re driving and feeling flabbergasted at how many people think stop signs in residential neighborhoods are optional. You need someone who is adept at having just the right snack or word ready for your children… and a million other things that happen every day.
I have no strategy for identifying these traits in someone ahead of time.
When we first met, my wife met my strict criteria of having pretty eyes and seeming to be mildly interested in me. I had no way of knowing how important things like coffee would become such a big part of my life. If I had known, perhaps I would have had a better screening system, but luckily, I got lucky.
I knew my wife would be my wife early on in our courtship because she reminded me what wonder felt like. I wondered at this girl who would run out of buildings just because she was so excited to see me. I still wonder at this woman who, no matter what kind of hurry we’re in, will stop to buy lemonade from children. She reminds me that some things are more important than getting somewhere two minutes earlier and one of those things is letting a little kid keep the change on their 50c lemonade. We wonder at our children and our lives. We smile at each other over the rims of our coffees at the wonder and absurdity of it all.
It is just coffee but that coffee aroma when I’m exhausted and doubting myself at 5 o’clock in the morning is like a shield against the world. Then there are secret smiles and words of encouragement and of course the eye rolls when I’m getting too far ahead of myself. Like the coffee, these things all seem like small things on the surface but they are the signposts that point you back to yourself. Every day.