Yesterday my parents celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary. December 8, 1979. My mom was 29 and my dad was 30. They lived in Memphis, TN and although they attended the same college (University of Tennessee at Martin) they didn’t meet until almost 10 years later at Bellevue Baptist Church. My mom was a school teacher (kindergarten and first grade) and my dad was in the Navy and had just gotten accepted into medical school.
Both of my parents come from humble beginnings. My dad grew up on a dairy farm in a little city called Dresden, TN and my mom grew up in Memphis, TN where my grandfather worked for the railroad.
Everyone loves my parents. Whether they’ve met them once or grew up near us, people continually stop me and tell me how much they love my parents. The older I get, the more I see what an absolutely amazing feat 33 years of marriage must be. I’ve really never known another couple like them.
I was born during my dad’s first year of medical school. And they went on to have both my brothers in med school/ residency and then my sister was born the first year my dad actually started working as a Dr. He was 40 years old.
My parents will be the first to tell you that it’s been a rough road. It hasn’t been 33 years of pure bliss or anything like they imagined it would be. It’s been hard. It’s been a struggle and I’m sure they’ve thought about throwing in the towel several times over the past 33 years.
The difference between my parents and most everyone else (including myself) is that when they made a commitment to each other 33 years ago, they really made a commitment. My dad will tell you that the reason they are still together today is because divorce was not an option for them. No matter what.
My dad has told me countless times the story of their courtship/romance/marriage. Those early morning jogs with my dad taught me a lot. He told me that he was a Navy party boy who drank and smoked too much and when he moved to Memphis to attempt to get into medical school, he realized that he had to change because what he was doing wasn’t working. (sound familiar?—yep, I’m much more like my dad than most people realize). He always tells me how scared of commitment he was and that he frequently asked himself if he was dating the “right” girl and even if marriage was for him or not.
Eventually he took the plunge and asked my mom to marry him. He said he prayed about it and realized that my mom had two qualities that were high up on his list—those qualities were that 1) she loved God and 2) she loved life.
The secret to my parent’s long-term marriage is this: They made a vow before God to honor and love each other through the good times and through the bad. Their marriage hasn’t been based on their feelings for one another. I can assure you that there have been multiple mornings when they didn’t “feel” that spark that was once there. I’m sure their love life wasn’t always “steamy and hot”. I feel confident that throughout their marriage both of them were attracted to members of the opposite sex at times and I’m sure that there were many mornings when they questioned whether or not they made the right decision.
But the difference is that they didn’t base their relationship on feelings, sex, promises, money, appearances, security—they based their relationship upon spiritual principles that allowed them from making those “feelings” or thoughts about sabotaging their marriage from becoming a reality.
They’ve worked hard at their marriage. They’ve worked hard at learning to fall in love over and over again. They’ve learned from each other, grown with each other, and figured out life together. My parents are best friends. They are not only married to each other but they would rather hang out together than with anyone else (except their kids, of course).
In this day and age, that type of commitment and dedication is rare. Over half of marriages fail because one of the parties decides they aren’t happy and that they don’t “feel” the same way they did when they first got married. My reaction to this is “well, tough shit.” If I based my actions on whether or not I was happy or unhappy, I’d never follow through with anything. Feeling happy is a great thing, don’t get me wrong. But when you come right down to it, what does “being happy” even mean?
I won’t go off into my usual Jennifer tangent about the meaning of happiness but seriously—when people tell me they are unhappy in their marriage or their relationship and they can’t pinpoint exactly why they are unhappy—then Houston, we have a problem. And chances are, more than likely, that problem is themselves.
I know, I know--you’re right. I’ve never been married. Not even close to being married. But I’ve been in a lot of relationships and I continue to watch and observe everyone around me who is in one.
Watching my parent’s relationship has taught me this—we can’t seek happiness from our spouse or partner—we just can’t. If our happiness and reason for living is based on anything other than ourselves, we will always fail. We’ll be unhappy in every relationship we enter.
Happiness will always come and go. Passion will always come and go. Our sex lives will wax and wane. We’ll have feelings for people who aren’t our spouse; We’ll question whether we married the right person or are in the right relationship; We’ll say things we don’t mean and we’ll also say things we really mean but shouldn’t have said; We’ll face all kinds of trials and all kinds of joy; We’ll both admire and respect our partners and also find them disgusting and boring at the same time.
This is life--in all its many forms. I don’t know why people think marriage would be any different. I don’t care who you are, at some point in your life, you will experience everything in the paragraph above. You may think you’re different or your relationship is different but trust me, it’s not.
My personal theory is that whomever you’re with is the right person. I do not believe there is one “special” or “unique” individual out there for all of us. I think that whomever you’re with is that “special” or “unique” person. And if you don’t think they are, then you’re going to waste the rest of your life trying to find something and someone that doesn’t exist.
Marriage is no walk in the park. My parents have shown me that. They’ve also shown me what happens if you continue to stick it out and work hard in your relationship; they’ve taught me that when life gets tough, that doesn’t mean you get to run away; when things get ugly, you don’t have to hide. You have to show up whether you feel like it or not.
So next time, before you decide to get married, divorced, end a relationship, or start a relationship—remember my parents. Remember that if you really want to make your relationship work, you can. Remember what I always say about feelings: what we know about feelings is that they change—constantly. So do yourself and your partner (and future partners) a favor and remember this.
My parents have left us a most amazing legacy.
I only hope that one day, I will be able to have this type of relationship--a relationship that isn’t based on self but on selflessness—a relationship that is based in reality and not in fantasy—a relationship that is rooted in deep love and understanding.
Congrats, mom and Dad! Here’s to 33 more years!