Monday, June 19, 2006

20th Anniversary

In a few short weeks I will be celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary (August 10). So, I’ve been reflecting a bit on things.

I can honestly say that the roughest time in our marriage was while I was going to graduate school. You see, our “honeymoon” was pretty much packing up a truck and driving to Kansas (away from our families in New Hampshire) so I could start my graduate education.

Once there (University of Kansas), I found that the relatively LAZY approach I’d since taken in school was NOT going to work. My mentor (Dr. George Kellas) was the best person to serve as my advisor as he was pretty no-nonsense when it came to educating his students. He expected us to be there no later than 10:00 am (earlier was better) and to pack it up for dinner only AFTER he left for the day (maybe around 6:00). Then of course we were to be back in the lab ASAP to work on research stuff, homework, etc. until maybe 11:00. Actually, we were usually there until closer to 1:00 or 2:00 (but not EVERY night).

Saturday was a work day. Sunday was probably a work day as well, but George rarely showed up to see who was/wasn’t working.

He has a distinctive “ka-clop ka-clop” footfall on the tiles in the halls leading to our (his graduate students’) offices. So we’d hear him coming about 4-7 seconds before he’d appear in the doorway… usually enough time to be certain that we were busy working on something by the time he could see us.

My parents would call each weekend and ask about when we were going to come home to visit. Meanwhile my wife busied herself at home (Jayhawk West Apartments). We didn’t know anyone in Kansas and her life was essentially work, home, bed. Neither of us really felt all that confident being so far from the support of our families. We were truly “on our own” which was very scary at times. We didn’t have the luxury of a parent to call when we got in a jam (broken down car, etc.).

The “rough times” came about because my old self was going through some death-throws. I felt trapped and claustrophobic by my life. It seemed that ALL my time was split between school (98%) and home (2%). I couldn’t sleep and all I ever thought about was school. I needed escape… but I didn’t know from what. I started taking to the campus at night… skulking around exploring places I probably shouldn’t have been exploring. Abandoned buildings, buildings that were supposed to be locked up…etc. I’d drive on the long flat roads with the tape-player blaring and see how fast I could get… how far away from campus I could go in the shortest time… I was snippy and irritable. Probably a real A-Hole.

I remember standing outside the apartments at night (watering the dogs) and looking at the stars and wondering, “What the hell am I doing out here in KANSAS?!”

I was naive in that I’d gotten into this Ph.D. thing figuring that once I was done, I’d go back home to New Hampshire and get a job there… Ahem… unfortunately, you are pretty much at the whim of wherever the jobs are.

My first decision, once I was a Ph.D. was whether to take a “real job” in Charleston or a relatively temporary position (a post-doc) at Washington University in fabulous St. Louis. I sometimes wonder what my life would be like now had I taken the job in South Carolina.

After the Post-Doc, I was offered a job in Mississippi, so off we went. Now, after almost 15 years, we are in Pittsburgh. Only eleven hours away (by speed-limit) from family. Or, what’s left of family. My mother passed away in 1999 and Cindy lost her father a few years before that. I really wish we’d gone home more than we did.

So, how does a marriage last 20 plus years?

Going into it, I knew SOME things would be different married versus single (e.g., I really didn’t like that if I bought some snack-thing and put it in the fridge… my “roommate” might help herself to it… BUT, even though I didn’t like it, I knew it was part of that marriage deal, so I coped). But, there really is more “settling” of options than most people expect. There’s going to be compromise… in other words, you are going to have to give up some things that were part of the single-you. BUT, you gain stuff you’d not have without the married-you. How much you emphasize the lost things over the gained things probably correlates with your marital happiness… and also how many anniversaries you get to celebrate.