What ACTUALLY Worked for Us in Our First Year

Y’all, married people love to give marriage advice. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been married or how dysfunctional their own relationship is, no married person will ever miss the opportunity to pass on their wisdom, not unlike the relatively new parents of a poorly behaved toddler.

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It seems everyone had marriage advice, this time last year and all of it was generalized and just… kind of lame. The Ravenclaw in me even went in search of true marital wisdom, scouring blogs and books and Huffpost articles, desperate to reveal a unique perspective that just fit for Jake and I, but to no avail. Just last month, I kept my ears perked at my new sister-in-law’s Breakfast with the Bride, hoping to leave with some valuable insight, only to receive the somewhat confusing advice that “If you’re going to fight, fight naked.” The only thing I actually learned from any of my studies is that middle class white women really like platitudes.

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I (like every other bride of one year) think I have it figured out, though. The reason all this marriage advice sucks so much, is because you can’t advise the masses on something so personal. Different people have different needs and my true marital advice probably wouldn’t make a motivational poster for the family therapist’s office that could compete with the likes of “Never go to bed angry.”* So, as Jake and I celebrate our one year anniversary and three years since we met, here are the things that we did to make it all more enjoyable.

*Zetus lapetus, this is the worst advice ever. If we didn’t go to bed angry, sometimes, we wouldn’t go to bed. Occasionally, we have to agree to shut the fuck up, before we say something we’ll regret later.

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We worried both less and more about privacy. 

I’ve written before about Jake and I’s vows not to watch pornography. Summed up, while there are moral reasons, we agree that in 2018, it’s just too addictive and we don’t need to court that kind of complication in our relationship. Married at 29 and 32, however, neither of us claims to have never enjoyed porn, nor that we’re no longer tempted. We’re both human and humans have urges. As husband and wife, though, we’ve decided that it is our job to hold each other accountable for being good people, and it’s still 2018.

Ultimately, we’ve agreed to a mutual lack of technological privacy. We don’t keep our phones from each other, clear our search history/use incognito pages, or delete all of our text messages, because that’s where secrets form. Even our more conservative and traditional friends view this as a lack of trust, but for us, the opposite is true. I trust that Jake won’t look through my search history (spoiler alert: lots of cat photos). He trusts that I won’t monitor his texts. Knowing, however, that either of us are welcome to use each other’s phones, to find that text message with the date and time of the party, Google the bank’s routing number, settle a debate on the pronunciation of a word… even a year in, this has kept us in check, because we are flawed and in a lifetime, we will make mistakes. 

In addition to less privacy from each other, we’ve placed an emphasis on more privacy from the world. After I left social media, I realized how damaging it could have become to my marriage. Instead of simply enjoying a night out with my husband, I put energy into showing people that I was enjoying a night out with my husband. My social media persona was never false, but it did require energy… energy that could have been spent on my actual life, instead of my virtual one. I never acknowledged just how much effort I put into all of this, because as a millennial, I’ve had some form of online presence since I was 11. I have grown up in a crowded hallway, constantly available to everyone from the vegan food truck owner who moved to Canada and loves to debate healthcare with me, to that guy in my high school biology class who likes to trade horror movie recommendations. Those connections are so much more draining than we think. Denying tidbits of intimacy to these frivolous surface level friendships has made me so much closer to my husband. The privacy involved in going out to dinner truly alone, in arguing without input from my very own Teen Girl Squad, in taking photos that my distant relatives will never see… is unbelievably intimate. Honestly, I have no doubt that one day, I will look back and see that quelling my online presence has saved my marriage.

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We spent time together, separately, and together doing separate things. 

Jake is my best friend. Truly. He’s the only person I want in my space at the end of a bad day, the boy who knows all my flaws and secrets and loves me anyway. We have so much fun together, going to movies and festivals, hiking, bike riding, shooting guns, playing board games, battling each other in old school Nintendo games, arguing about social and moral issues, discussing articles we’ve read… but we had a lot of fun before all of that, too.

Y’all, during the summers when I worked at the library 20 hours a week and lived off of my substitute teacher savings, I used to wake up at ten o’clock, roll over and continue reading the romance novel I’d fallen asleep with for two more hours, lay out by my apartment’s pool, come inside to eat snack foods for dinner, while binge watching Vampire Diaries and sewing into the wee hours of the morning. I’d crawl into bed at 3:00, wake up and repeat. It. Was. Awesome. Jake has similarly self-proclaimed awesome tales (some of them quite appalling) and was equally ready to move on to the next stage of life, but in some sense (a toned-down one), those people are still here. Jake still wants to play video games or watch YouTube reviews and I still want to read trashy paranormal romance novels and crochet. One of the best things we do for each other, as a married couple, is to still enjoy those things… together, but separately.

Often times, after tough days at work, or on a lazy Saturday, we’ll sit on the couch and indulge in our own silly hobbies… independently. To the outsider, it might look as though we’re completely ignoring each other as Jake shoots aliens and I read about their intergalactic seduction, but every half hour or so, he’ll hit pause before another match and touch my legs in his lap, and tell me he loves me. I’ll finish a chapter, nudge him on the arm with a toe, and he’ll look over to see me mouth that he’s my favorite. We’ll go back to our guilty pleasures, absolutely content in the knowledge that the other person is enjoying themselves.

I’d argue that it’s been just as important for us, though, to spend the occasional time apart. Fortunately, the house we just bought is close enough to each of our workplaces to come home for lunch and we tend to take them an hour apart. Counting the hour I have before work and the hour he has after work, on an almost daily basis, we each get about an hour and 45 minutes to do as we please… but that can only accommodate so much. While Jake and I usually visit his hometown together, every three or four months, Jake will take a weekend to cross state lines and explore his old stomping grounds. He helps his parents on the ranch, goes fishing and hunting, hangs out with his old friends… and I get to be 24-year-old Belle again; staying up all night (despite having to work the next day), dancing to bad 2013 pop music I just discovered, reading trashy novels, and marathoning Twilight, Fifty Shades, or every single Nicholas Sparks movie on Netflix. We have so much fun apart, for just long enough to miss each other and it’s just an absolutely wonderful, rejuvenating vacation to our twenty-something selves.

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We’ve touched base on our timelines.

Jake and I have a deal. When the apocalypse comes, it’s his job to get us to safety and it’s my job to organize the supplies when we get there, because I am The Girl With the Plan. My whole life, I’ve had a plan… ‘cept for those few blurry years after high school and we all know how that ended… which is precisely why I became even more determined to follow my path, not my Gramma’s or my dad’s or feminists’ everywhere, but Belle’s. I was well aware of the scoffing. I did what I wanted, regardless, and I must say, it’s turned out pretty damned well. That doesn’t mean there was never any rewriting, though and in the first year of our marriage, Jake and I did a little rewriting of our own… together.

If I recall, one year ago, our plan was to live in our rental house for a couple of years, while building our careers and funds for a down payment on a home of our own. Around the time we started looking for homes, this time next year, we’d start trying for a baby and ideally, we would be moved in and comfortable before growing our family. Well, that all got a little… muddled. I’m not sure when the shifts happened and maybe that’s my point, that they weren’t profound moments, but rather the results of frequent conversations and dreamings and musings, because for the first time in my life, I don’t have to make the plan alone. Together, we mused over the cost of renting, rising interest rates, down payment options, and at some point, we decided to bump up this huge portion of the plan by a full year… and we did so successfully.

Riding high on said success, we decided to bump up kids by nearly a year, too. I mean, if we were going to be in our own home, why not? I do remember when that suggestion was ultimately overruled, however, three weeks before our move, when I had something of a meltdown, weeping to Jake about how I just wasn’t ready for babies and didn’t think I would be in six months, either. It’s just too much: too much change, too much responsibility, too much of a financial burden, and I just can’t commit to it in 2018… and it was and is okay, because Jake’s not the only one who makes the plan anymore either. That’s my final claim to success in our first year of marriage: we checked in with each other on how we saw the second year, the third year, the fourth, because we’ve got a lot of years ahead of us and the plans are bound to change a hundred times… but it’s made it a lot less earth shattering to no longer be doing my rewrite alone, to be on the same page as my apocalypse buddy.

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No one ever told me that marriage is awesome.

One of my favorite holiday traditions is seeing a movie with my family on Christmas Eve. Amidst all the traditional, somewhat formal (occasionally forced) merriment, we all take a break to do something fun and normal. My stepmom buys out a row at the nicest theater in town and packs goodie bags of candy for everyone. Initially, Jake hated this idea, insisting that going to the movies wasn’t enough of a Christmas activity. While he still doesn’t quite get the appeal, he’s accepted that, at least until we have a baby, we’ll gather with my family, on the night before Christmas, to take a break from carols and baked goods and eat processed sweets and popcorn, while enjoying the latest Blockbuster.

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This year’s movie choice was Jumanji, much to my delight, as I’d turned down the opportunity to see an advance showing in the hopes that this would be a our Christmas choice. In addition to Lena’s goodie bag, I snuck in a Caffeine Free Diet Coke and a family sized bag of Christmas M&M’s and settled in, like the extra from Roseanne that I am. The movie was hilarious, with just the right amount of mockery aimed at its teenaged cast, something to which I’m particularly sensitive in my job title as teen librarian. Then, the inevitable happened: the woman in front of me and to the left pulled out her phone.

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Now, in my defense, this woman was not calling 911. She wasn’t even checking a notification that might have been urgent. I could clearly see that she was looking at Facebook. That’s all I can really say, though, because I don’t know what happened, y’all. It’s like I was taken over by 16-year-old Belle, as I chucked an M&M at this stranger. Of course, 30-year-old Belle immediately reclaimed my body, just in time to realize what she’d just done.

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Luckily, my survival instincts kicked in and I dove into Jake’s side and snuggled up to him, as if we’d been that way the whole time. From the corner of my eye, I watched in horror as this woman sat up, spoke to the man next to her, turned around and craned her neck to seek out the M&M thrower… and I realized she was much larger than I am… and so was her date.

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No, no, no, no, no, I cannot back this up. Undo it!

It was at this point, that I realized this could go bad fast, so I caught Jake up to speed in whispers.

Me: “Hey, I don’t know how this is gonna go, but that woman was playing with her phone, so I threw an M&M at her and she looks really mad. I love you.”

Jake shushed me and pulled me closer as the woman continued to search for the culprit. Finally, she sat back down and we all turned our attention to The Rock and Jack Black, in their teenage roles. After some time, Jake leaned over to me to me ask where I’d put the M&M’s and I told him they were in my purse. That was probably for the best, because it wasn’t 10 minutes later that the same woman pulled her phone back out and continued scrolling through Facebook. 

Me: “Can I throw another M&M at her?”
Jake: “No. Be quiet and watch the movie.”

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When the credits rolled, Jake grabbed my hand and we were the first two out of the theater, while my family lagged behind. He explained that he’d been going over different scenarios in his head for how things could go south, with his number one  concern being that the movie would end and the couple would turn around to see me with a bag of M&M’s in my lap, so he’d wanted to get us both out as soon as possible. That’s right, folks. My husband saved me from my own juvenile impulsivity, when he could have just bolted, himself.

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As the new year took hold, I decided to get a jump start on one of our goals, so on January 2nd, I called a mortgage lender. While we aren’t planning to buy a house until our lease is up in June, I wanted to secure financing and things somehow… snowballed. The second was on a Tuesday and by Friday, we were sitting down with the lender, discussing our pre-approval. So, on the way home, we went over the normal hypotheticals that come with the news that you can buy a house in two months… and within 72 hours, I was hyperventilating over math.

If we wait to service the cars and get the dogs current on their shots, then we can put approximately $2,000 aside in January and another $2,000 aside in February. That gives us $9,000, plus whatever Jake gets for his silver and our combined tax returns, which is optimistically $3,000, and we’re still $3,000 shy of the $15,000 the realtor says we need for a 3.5% down payment and closing costs. What if we don’t get our tax returns in time, though? My coworker didn’t get her return until December last year, which would put us $5,000 below our target and then what would we do?!?!?

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Having made the appointments with the lender and the real estate agent and gathered all of the documentation, myself, I was frustrated with the lack of assistance… overwhelmed by the financial stress and irritated with Jake’s laissez-faire attitude… perturbed by his negative comments about every house I liked… and of course, the inevitable happened and I revealed my crazy.

Me: “You’re not helping! You’re just being the super chill, cool guy, while I do everything and you’re just gonna show up to the party and take all the credit, just like you did with the wedding! This is supposed to be so exciting, but I wish it was all over. I know it’s never going to be, though, because it took approximately 37 years to plan that stupid wedding you had to have and you never helped! Noooo, you just argued with everything and gave your boy input about how the clothes were supposed to be comfortable. It was our wedding day! Do you really think I was comfortable in that dress?!? Now you’re gonna do the exact same thing and only chime in to complain that we can’t by that house, because it’s Red Brick Number Three and you can’t abide by any brick color that’s not between Red Brick Four and Red Brick Nine!”

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Jake: “Are you done?”
Me: “We’re never going to agree on a house. You want space outside and I want space inside and you’re going to get your way, because you’re pushy and you won’t like any of the houses I like, because nothing’s good enough for the Duchess of Cambridge, but I’m still going to have to do all the work.”
Jake: “You’re not going to have to do all of the work and I will love any house as long as you’re in it.”

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He doesn’t say the right thing often, but when he does…

With our newfound dedication to saving money, I was excited last week, to tell Jake that the library system had given us tickets to the NBA game. Considering the moratorium we’ve put on all but free fun, this was a great opportunity to have a zero dollar night out, especially since Jake’s never been to a game and I’ve only been to one, four years ago. So, we ate dinner at home and headed out with just enough time to make the lengthy walk to the arena, since we went for the free parking. After much hyperbole from me, about rugby teams eating each other’s remains in such cold, we finally made it the more than half mile to the front doors… where Jake was told he couldn’t take his pocketknife, a Christmas gift from his parents, inside. He could either surrender it to be thrown away or he could take it back to the car and come back… approximately an additional mile and a half of walking in the cold. So, as Jake began another trek, I mingled with some coworkers and found our seats, keeping my eye out for his return, planning to go get him a beer for his troubles.

Our team started… well, not strong, but not too weak, either. By the time Jake returned, however, the first quarter was over, we were behind, and it only went downhill from there. Jake was still in good spirits, despite his trip to Mount Doom and while he complained about our team’s performance, it wasn’t with genuine malice… and he was the only fan in the audience whom I can say that about.

Y’all, I don’t think I am ever going to another NBA game, because while our team might have sucked that night, they weren’t half as awful as their fans. A few rows in front of us, sat one man (who I’m pretty sure bought all the beer, judging by his behavior), screaming and booing every chance he got. When we fouled the other team and they took their free throws, he screamed “YOU SUCK!” as loud as he could.

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Me: “I wish I’d brought some M&M’s.”
Jake: “They’re just trying to distract him. They aren’t actually booing him.”
Crowd: ::booing::
Jake: “Okay, maybe they were that time.”
Me: “That’s horrible. If you ever acted that way at a game, I’d never go to any sporting event with you again.”
Jake: “Oh, they’re not that bad.”
Me: “You know what? The next time they boo the other team, because we fouled them, I’m going to shout affirmations and words of encouragement to balance it out.”
Jake: ::sighs:: “Please don’t.”
Crowd: ::booing::
Guy in Front of Us: “YOU SUCK!”
Me: “YOU’RE DOING A GREAT JOB! KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! YOU HAVE VALUE AS A PERSON, TOO!”
Jake: “Thank you for that.”
Me: “When we have kids, you can teach them to win and I can teach them to do it nicely.”

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As our playing steadily worsened, so did the audience, booing and taunting the other team, not over bad calls or dirty plays, but because they were just tacky. Each time, I called out praises and emotional support, along the lines of…

“YOU’RE PLAYING VERY WELL!”
“YOU ARE GREAT AT SPORTS!”
“YOU HAVE WORTH AS A HUMAN BEING!”

… and the whole time, my small town, former Varsity football player husband, who was voted class clown and one of most popular guys in school, continued to sit contentedly, with his arm around me: his Potterhead, Trekkie, Kindle-toting, nerdy librarian of a wife, screaming affirmations at the opposing team during an NBA game. He’d roll his eyes or give a resigned sigh, but never once did he tell me to be quiet or suggest that I was embarrassing him, because that’s what marriage is, folks. That’s what they never told me, between cautionary tales and divorce statistics. When it’s right, at the end of the day, marriage is having someone on your side, no matter what…

… to grab your hand and drag you out of a movie theater, before you get your immature, reckless, M&M throwing butt kicked…

… to raise his brows and ask if you’re done with your latest met down, promise to help more, and swear that everything will be okay…

… to sit by your side, with humor and zero embarrassment, as you are 100% your most awkward and ridiculous self in a crowd of sports fans…

… and that was just in the past month. We don’t give marriage enough credit, y’all and as a former 23-year-old divorcee, I’m the first to admit it. At one time, undoubtedly within this blog, I joked that I wanted to get married on a snow covered mountain top… in Hell. When I was dating, I only had two settings: “I’m going to die alone!” and “… hopefully.” I had it wrong, though. Marriage isn’t always a Lifetime movie or a horrifying news story. It’s not just a lifetime of fights over who gives or takes more. When it’s right, it’s loving each other for our every impulsive, intense, and absurd aspect. It’s being each other’s best friends and favorite people. It’s a soft place to land. It’s seriously undersold, because no one ever told me that, when it’s right, marriage is awesome.

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