How to Be Happy Forever

Silly fools, Summer 2015.

I am talking about relationships with a friend in a dark restaurant. Rand has left the table for a moment, ostensibly to use the bathroom, though most likely to try to steal the bill. I have seen the two of them do this dance before, a race to see who can put down his credit card first. My friend is unperturbed by Rand’s absence; I will later learn it is because he has already handed our server his card. The meal isn’t close to being over, but Rand is already too late.

And in that moment, when it is just he and I – which never happens, because it is always the three of us, or the four of us, or the six of us – that is when he asks me a question that leaves me stunned.

“So … what’s the secret to being happy forever?”

Initially, I am unable to reply. In the context of a romantic partnership, this question has blindsided me. And before an answer comes to me, I am hit with several realizations at the exact same time.

The first is that this friend is asking me for advice, which feels strange because I have seen him regard life like a magic trick he has already figured out. He doesn’t spoil the illusion for the rest of us, but sometimes, when he can’t help himself, he smiles at our naivete. And so in this moment, when he reveals a tiny gap in the armor of his knowledge, I am surprised.

The second realization is that, on the subject of love and relationships and bliss, he considers me an authority. I find this touching, and am tempted to reach across the table and hug him, but I’ve had roughly 1/3 of a cocktail, which is enough to make me question my ability to do so gracefully. So I stay firmly put, and in the back of my mind I remember that this is a recurring problem of mine: outside of Rand, I rarely tell people that they are important to me.

And then there is the matter of the question at hand: how can two people remain together, happily, forever? The response I fumble for is this: Rand thinks that we’ll never get divorced. I think we might.

Utter lunatics.

I should elaborate, because I’ve said this before in my husband’s presence and it (understandably) tends to unnerve him. For Rand, divorce is not an option – at least, not for the two of us (he thinks that it definitely is an option – and sometimes a very reasonable, responsible one – for other parties. Just not us. He’s made that clear – we’re never getting divorced). And since that choice is off the table, and we’re doomed to spend the rest of our days together, we need to make things work.

When he first said this, it terrified me. Because I didn’t know how to be happily married. I’d never really seen it done before. And I was fairly certain that there was some fatal flaw in me that would prevent it from working out. I was convinced that we were going to get divorced. That it could happen quickly, could settle in as easily as the flu. One minute you aren’t feeling 100%, and the next you’re puking into a bucket. One minute you’re fighting over which drawer in the kitchen to store the aluminum foil, and the next you’re trying to divide your assets.

Silly fools, February 2002.

People don’t usually get married thinking that the outcome will be divorce. I, daring to be different, was convinced that it was always just around the corner, lurking, waiting to strike. So I had to make sure that little fights didn’t grow into big ones. That anger never grew into resentment. Because the option of going our separate ways was always on the table, we needed to make things work. (Note: in the seven years since our wedding, I’ve become a little less paranoid about divorce attacking me while I sleep. But make no mistake: I remain haunted.)

In the end, Rand and I have the same goal: to be together forever. For him, it is inevitable. For me, it isn’t.

I try to explain this to my friend, but I’m full of curry and naan and maybe a little bit too much vodka. He is feeling intellectually generous, and tries to find more sense in my words than I’m able to convey in them. I will realize later, annoyed with myself, that my explanation has not answered his question. I’ve simply explained our motivation. I haven’t shed any light on how to do it.

Given the opportunity with a do-over, the answer I’d have given him is this: act like your spouse is a stranger.

(I promise, this is not a kinky sex thing. I mean, it can be, if you want. I have no problem with that. It’s just not the point I’m trying to make.)

Because have you ever noticed how sometimes we’re kinder to people we barely know than we are to the people we’re close to? That somehow friendship and love can cause you to take a person for granted, to treat them worse than you would strangers on the bus? That odds are, if you’ve screamed the words “I hate you” recently, it was not to someone you barely know from barre class (even though you do sort of hate them, because they have a six pack you could take to a frat party), but more likely to someone you’ve known and loved for years?

I think about this all the time. How there is often a sad trade-off to knowing someone cares about you. How easy it is to be a complete asshole to someone if you know they’ll suffer the awful things you are capable of.

Example: toddlers. Total dicks.

And yet if it’s someone you don’t know, you extend them all sorts of courtesies and niceties and display a level of patience rarely seen elsewhere. Can you imagine if a stranger did your dishes? If someone you barely knew grabbed you a glass of water? If the person in line ahead of you at the movies paid for your ticket and expected nothing in return? We’d be effusively, exceedingly grateful.

So why aren’t we like that to the people who care about us? Why does loving us entitle them to less?

I try to rectify the unfairness of that in my relationship with my husband. I thank him, every single day, for the infinite number of things he does for me. I tell him how wonderful he is and how grateful I am for him. I remember that while he’s told me time and again that he isn’t going anywhere, that doesn’t mean I can take him for granted. I think of how miraculous it would be if a stranger did all of these things for me and I remember that at one point not that long ago, he was one.

And that all of the things he does for me are still pretty miraculous.

Occasionally, I am a total dick. Sometimes, I march out of a room angrily and close doors more swiftly than I should, or I’ll shout “FINE” in a tone that suggests nothing of the sort. But I think even Rand would agree that those moments are pretty rare. That things between us are pretty damn good.

Last night, in the midst of writing this post, I asked him what he thought the secret to a happy marriage was.

“I never stop trying to be worthy of your love,” he said. That while my affection is pretty much unconditional, he was still endeavoring to deserve it. It’s not that dissimilar from my point of view. We both keep trying to deserve this ridiculous stroke of luck that fell into our pants.

But back to the table in that dark restaurant on the other side of the continent from where I now stand. Rand returns from trying to covertly snag the bill (having been thwarted), and I relay the parts of the conversation he’s missed.

“I was just saying how I think we work because I’m always convinced we’re going to get divorced-”

“What? NO. Baby, we’re never getting divorced. You’re stuck with me.”

I laugh. And I see us – the three of us, the four of us, the six of us – sitting around a table, years from now. I want to reach out and hold them all, and tell them I love them in a way that is wholly uncharacteristic of myself. I want us all to live happily ever after. I don’t think there’s any guarantee of it. I just figure you keep trying, you keep being grateful, and maybe we’ll all get there.

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  • Nikki

    I was actually a total jerk to my significant other (we’re not married, and boyfriend is too casual, but common law sounds too formal) just yesterday, so this hit me like a ton of bricks!! I don’t make “New Year’s Resolutions”, but this is going to be a goal from here on out. Apparently you are more of a relationship guru than you realize, because the idea of treating loved ones with the same level of courtesy and respect as strangers is really quite brilliant.

    • Everywhereist

      Ha, I don’t know about relationship guru, but I sincerely appreciate the vote of confidence. 😀

  • Steph

    This was so beautifully written – it literally made me shed a tear. I’m getting married this year (156 days!), and I think that I REALLY needed to read this today.

    You’re lovely and wonderful – and I hope nothing but great things and happy blessings come your way!

    • Everywhereist

      Aw, thanks, Steph. And congratulations. Marriage really is the best.

  • Kelsey Ann Yoki

    This is so brilliant! And not only should it go for my significant other, but also to my best friends, my coach, my family, etc. Even more than all of those people combined, my mom. She’s my best friend, but the one who can also get on my nerves the quickest. Thank you for this. <3

    • Everywhereist

      Absolutely – I feel like it totally applies to family members, especially parents. 😀

  • Wil Reynolds

    Jesus Christ G Diggity! You’ve been on fire lately. Like you when the divorce option was brought up during dating, I said it should always be an option, Nora wanted to kick me in the nuggets.

    My take is different but similar… Laziness.

    If I think you’ll be with me forever, I can get lazy in how I treat ya. When divorce is taken off the table, that may give the other person a “well they won’t leave me” belief, which I think breeds complacency.

    This post is on point. Love ya. See ya in 2 weeks, lets get some naan and vodka and continue this.

    • Everywhereist

      Sounds like a plan! (Also, I don’t think you or Nora have anything to worry about, because no one on the planet would ever call either of you lazy.)

      • Wil Reynolds

        We can all take loved ones for granted, even accidentally.

  • tania semenova

    I love your writing and I think it is a beautiful point of view, it rings really true. I would point out that once you have kids you are much more tired and generally have less patience and energy for the rest of the world and for your partner in primis. You have all these new responsibilities and the things you can disagree about grow exponentially.. It is important to remember to make that effort and be kinder. Thank you.

    • Everywhereist

      Honestly, I am constantly in awe of people who have children and maintain even a semi-functional relationship with their spouse. More people = more work. It’s wonderful, and I’m grateful to those that do it and keep the human race going. But wowzers – I don’t know how they manage it.

      • tania semenova

        8 years married and 6 years into the parenting gig and I still have no idea! But! I was all “be nicer, be nicer” today so it kind of really works)))

  • ClickShift Marketing

    Thanks for this beautiful article. It a remarkably well timed reminder to never be complacent even as the years pass. It has taken me 7 years to finally figure this out.

  • Jonathan Li

    This is fantastic Geraldine!! Choosing to be grateful / thankful is so KEY to being happy. Great insight about how we need to give grace to those closest to us and to not forget that at one time they were strangers!

  • ruthburr

    You’ve touched on something here that I think is so important – treating people politely, with respect and just plain good manners, becomes MORE important as you get closer to them, not less. It’s definitely how JR and I try to conduct our marriage, with lots of “please” and “thank you” and “I love you.” It’s also why you may overhear us saying please and thank you to the dog. Once you start it’s hard to stop.

    • Everywhereist

      I said “excuse me” to a mannequin the other day. It didn’t even look like a real person. It was one of those headless ones.

  • http://cardiganshirecorgis.blogspot.com/ Taryn

    I’ve been following your blog for a long time now, and I have to say, I think you and Rand are the exception, not the norm, when it comes to relationships. Of course you present to us, your readers, what you want us to see, but the love is quite palpable. I rarely see that in the relationships around me in my daily life. I’m not talking how I treat people but just plain observing friends and their spouses, neighbors and their spouses, friends and their families, etc. I will freely admit I can be an ass, so this is a great post to remind me to be a better person.

  • http://escapingessex.com/ Danielle @ EscapingEssex

    Beautiful post, I wish you continued happiness for 2016, you sound like a fabulous couple <3

  • http://www.wanderlustin.co.uk Sammi Egan

    Huge huge lump in my throat reading this.

  • http://www.smallworldthisis.com Julia-Small World This Is

    Beautiful piece. Love the perspective of bestowing the kindness of strangers onto loved ones. One of the best reminders for the new year.

  • http://www.mandiesanders.com Mandie

    Awesome post! You and Rand seem like a fantastic couple, at least according to my cyber-stalking. 😉

    I understand the “we could get divorced” attitude 100% and I actually think it’s really healthy! My long-term Person and I have every intention of spending our lives together but legal marriage is just not for us (we’re giant weirdos, we know).

    In the unlikely event that we stop being good to or good for each other, I find it strangely comforting to know we can simply go our separate ways. It makes us try harder to keep being good to each other and never take the other for granted.

    • Everywhereist

      I don’t think you are giant weirdos at all for not doing the legal marriage thing! Partnerships are whatever you want them to be, and no more or less legitimate because you are or aren’t married.

  • http://www.sliverofice.com/ Erica McGillivray

    I’ve broken up with Jacob like 20 billion times*, but he doesn’t let me because he believes that we’re forever, even though I tell him routinely that I don’t believe in forever. (No, this isn’t a hostage situation as if I really truly wanted to leave, it would happen.) Counterpoint to Lisa, where I feel like we were always a thing meant to happen, and we talk about what we’re going to be doing/be like when we’re retired / run away when we get fed up with life.

    *Some of those 20 billion times may have been like over leaving the sugar bowl top off.

    • Everywhereist

      I see you, many decades from now, purple-haired, in a rocking chair, surrounded by lovers.

      It seems remarkably probable. Just saying.

  • Miss Polkadot

    Possibly the best post on relationships I’ve read in a long long while – if
    not ever. It’s a coincidence you’re writing about this today. I actually asked a
    married friend who went through a crisis in her marriage years ago about it
    just this past weekend. She essentially agreed with the importance of keeping
    up the effort and not taking the other for granted though you said it more
    beautifully. Being neither married nor in a relationship at the moment I think
    this also applies to any friend- or other relationship in life. Taking the
    presence and help of family for granted is way too easy because we never had to
    make an effort to establish but were blessed with them. Thank you for a
    wonderful reminder!

  • Cindy Krum

    <3

  • Bethany Hankes

    I love this! And I find it to be very true. I too am in a “oh-my-gosh-I-am-THE-LUCKIEST” type of relationship. I’ve known him for almost ten years, and we’ve been together for over three. And almost on a weekly basis, we still look at each other and go “can you believe this?” It’s like a fabulous dirty secret and a gift combined. We frequently talk about our luck, acknowledge and show our gratitude for each other, and do small nice things for one another. It really does seem to make all the difference.

  • http://www.blindfiveyearold.com AJ Kohn

    Sometimes you just have a view of your life, of your relationships, from a far, like that time you’re cresting a hill that you’ve crested a hundred times before but THIS time you really look and you realize how gorgeous it is. Appreciate the small things that reside right under your nose.

    But really I wanted to comment because I admire good writing and your dialog here captures you and Rand SO perfectly.

  • http://raventools.com Jon Henshaw

    While I liked the entire story, you really nailed it with the toddlers.

  • http://grace-filled.net jen

    THIS.

  • Joel Joseph

    Such a heartwarming post. I love your perspective of treating close ones as strangers and not taking them for granted (something which, I have to admit, I am guilty of doing at times). I am going to try and change that. Thank you. 🙂

    Also, I come here for a stroll occasionally, and I really like your writing! Much love to you and Rand.

  • Jason Duke

    Geraldine. Your posts are amazing. You and Rand have a special relationship and make an amazing couple. May it last forever…. as friends, as strangers, whether divorce is around the corner or never appearing; but more than anything else may it last with love x

  • http://notesonpaper.blogspot.co.uk/ Julie Kirk

    As someone in one, and who tries hard to keep it that way, I loved reading about another happy/functional relationship! And when it’s written as naturally [but sharply/honestly] as this … then all the better. Loved it.

  • Polyana

    i really hope this is the secret! my boyfriend and i just moved in together last year, and (so far), he will make the bed and coffee every morning (i know, i know, jealous), and i thank him every morning for both things, and every morning his face lights up with a sort of “aw, she recognizes i did something” face – and he’ll do the same. thank me if i take out the garbage or fold his clothes… i feel like recognizing the little things we do for each other make us even more appreciative of the bigger gestures! and i almost cried with your last paragraph <3

  • ronellsmith

    I keep saying, “This is her best (i.e., my favorite) post.” This one IS, by far, my favorite. Me and Rachel are very similar to you and Rand in our beliefs about marriage and divorce: I’ve always felt that marriage is something I’ll only do once; she’s always felt that divorce, while not an easy option, must be on the table.

    In college (bio-psych major) I remember studying marriage and learning some of the counter-intuitive nuances of the union. For example, while frequent compliments are essential for a healthy marriage, the compliments of strangers carry more impact, which helps explains why we go wild when a total stranger compliments our outfit but remain mum when our spouse does the same.

    What you describe – and what you’re ultimately getting at – is real and embodied in what I think is a major key to a healthy, happy and successful marriage: Never stop dating on another. This ensures we never take the other person for granted. It also ensures we don’t stray from the course on what it is that led to the relationship forming in the first place.

    I was fortunate to learn about and steal ideas from John Gottman (the preeminent marriage researcher) early on in our marriage (https://www.gottman.com/). His research, thinking and advice are ground-breaking and accurate. Based on my experience, we should all steal from him and his wife, Julie, who is also a formidable marriage scientist.

    Sounds like you have it all figured out, though. G 🙂

    RS

  • http://docsheldon.com/ Doc Sheldon

    I’m tempted to go check my Disqus account, ’cause I’m pretty sure I’ve said this about previous posts of yours, Geraldine…
    but regardless, this is one of your best ever!
    It’s far too easy to take someone for granted when breakup isn’t considered a possibility. I’ve see friends endure abusive relationships because the abusive one never considered the possibility that the result could be divorce. Sometimes the victim didn’t either, until late in the game. If either (preferably both) had realized that what can be won can also be lost, maybe they’d still be together… and happy.
    As usual, a stellar piece!

  • http://www.eatreadglam.com Rosie | eatreadglam

    I love this post so much, Geraldine. Though my partner and I are not married yet, I’m with you on the “we could get divorced” thing, and I don’t think it’s a bad attitude to have if it means that you’re constantly trying.

  • http://karolinapatryk.com/ karolinapatryk

    Very interesting read. We totally agree with you but we understand your husband more. For us, the divorce is also NOT an option. We know we will be together always ;).

  • Aaron

    I said this a little on Twitter, but I’ll expand here. The piece I found so striking was that despite your different views about the possibility of divorce, you each end up using your views as motivation to work against that possibility. Rand does not see divorce as an option, therefore he must work to keep his relationship with you going. You do see divorce as a possibility, but because it’s not what you want, you work to keep your relationship going.

    The admirable part is that you each make these conscious choices to commit to each other, rather than allowing things to reach your individually perceived ends. If your view were to change from divorce as possibility to divorce as inevitability, you could stop working to avoid that end. Rand can still see divorce as “not an option,” but use that view as an excuse for not putting in the effort to keep the marriage alive. “You’re stuck with me” could be his stance, but because of his work to keep the relationship going, “stuck” is more for humor than anything else.

    Thank you for writing this and for reminding me to work to be more present with my own wife.

  • http://www.countrymouseclaire.com Claire @ Country Mouse Claire

    I love this, and think both your advice and Rand’s advice are proper pearls of wisdom. I think a little kindness and a lack of complacency can go a long way.

  • Jenna Swalin

    Baby Rand! You are too cute 🙂

  • Jen Pack

    This is a really sweet and honest look at how to have a good relationship. I think it’s really sweet that your husband is always striving to be worthy of your love. If everyone did that in relationships, then there would be a lot less divorces. I’ll try to keep this in mind in my own relationships!

  • Serendipity Tess

    What a beautiful beautiful post….it actually made me shed a tear.