As a 22-year-old who owns and operates several social media accounts, it is difficult for me to go a full day without being confronted with the topic of marriage. First thing in the morning, a scroll through my Facebook feed provides a few freshly-penned blog posts about life as a newlywed, or mommy-to-be. By lunchtime, I can expect to see at least two or three Instagrams of a shiny stone, a perfect manicure, and an “I said yes!” caption—all tastefully filtered in Amaro, of course. Evening falls and honeymooners take time to tweet about #lifewiththeirbestfriend. Despite incessant displays that attempt to involve me in the lives of young, married couples, I can’t really say that I’ve received an accurate depiction of what it’s like to be married.
Aside from the glimpses we get online from our friends, most of us base our assertions, values, and desires surrounding marriage off of our parents’ relationship—for better or for worse. Last month, my parents celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary. For some reason, this year’s milestone seemed particularly significant. Maybe it’s because I’m watching several of my own friends get married. Or maybe it’s because I’m finally becoming old enough to realize just how staggering the thought of 27 years with the same person is. Either way, it suddenly seems like a pretty huge feat. I realized that my parents could provide insight on this topic that I’m unable to glean from the blog posts, Facebook statuses, and tweets of my peers. So, I decided to interview them about their marriage.
Over the course of 27 years, they have become parents to my brother and I and three golden retrievers. They’ve facilitated cross-country moves, weathered career shifts, and mourned losses. They’ve conquered illness, carried financial burdens, and petitioned for equality in our conservative community. In a lot of ways, they are incredibly average Americans. And in a lot of ways, they are spectacular. They met over the phone—which, in the ‘80s, was a lot less common than in the age of dating apps–while working for the same company. Dad made mom laugh. Mom gave dad her home phone number. And the rest, as they say, is history. I asked my parents, separately, about what it’s like to be married for 27 years. Here’s what they said.
1. Can you remember a specific moment in time when you knew you would end up marrying dad/mom?
Mom: I distinctly remember one of the first times dad called me at home (prior to us meeting in person) and we talked for almost five hours on the phone. When I hung up I thought, “I could marry that man!” From our first phone conversations, we were never at a loss for words and we talked about deep things right from the start. He could hold his own in a conversation and that meant a lot to me.
Dad: I don’t remember the time and place, but I remember telling my cousin Robert that I was falling for mom right after meeting her.
2. When you said “I do,” could you imagine that you’d still be married 27 years later? Do you think you fully comprehended what it meant?
M: I hoped that we would, but honestly I had no idea! We had a lot of naysayers surrounding us when we got married—so many people only gave us two or three years tops. I think we both went into marriage with the idea of forever (as both of our parents had long-time marriages) but we were also realistic and knew that without commitment, it wouldn’t last.
D: I don’t think anybody can fully comprehend (in advance) what 27 years of marriage really means.
3. What aspect of marriage were you most pleasantly surprised by?
M: The comfort and security of a long-time partner. It is always good to know that you have someone in your corner who you can count on to be there for you through thick and thin—and to know that your spouse will comfort you when you need comforting and celebrate with you when something good happens. Knowing that your partner cares what happens to you is everything.
D: I don’t ever recall feeling surprised by marital life—but if you’re asking what part of marriage is the most pleasant, it’s the comfort of knowing you always have a friend to come home to who loves you.
4. What do you think is the most challenging part of being married?
M: Managing the pressures of life and your own personal “stuff” as well as your partner’s day-to-day cares and worries. Your life can be going okay and your partner is struggling with something and you can’t escape that (and vice versa). It can be hard at times. Also, recognizing that we each have different needs and learning how to compromise and balance it all out.
D: I guess just the challenges of everyday life—financial pressures, raising you kids. Health issues can be challenging, too, especially as we’re getting older.
5. What has been the greatest obstacle you and dad/mom have faced over 27 years?
M: We have faced many over the years, some more intense than others. Financial pressures have been a part of our lives since the beginning, some years more than others. We have learned over the years to trust that God will provide what we need and when we need it, but it still is hard at times. The loss of loved ones has been very challenging, too.
D: I went through a stretch of unemployment and underemployment when we were forced to leave California, and that was very difficult at times. We had our obstacles raising you kids, too. And of course, your aunt Jane’s passing was (and in many ways, still is) one of the most difficult times we’ve endured.
6. Other than the days Matt and I were born, what has been the most joyous day or occasion you’ve experienced as a married couple?
M: My surprise 50th birthday party was a highlight for me as I know it was for the whole family. Such wonderful memories were made that night! We enjoyed both yours and Matt’s college graduations, too. We were (and are) so proud of you kids!
D: Probably mom’s 50th surprise birthday party because of all the friends and family that were there. I was moved when mom cried after her friends from high school came out of the kitchen and surprised her—that was the most special part for me.
7. What’s one thing that dad/mom does that makes you feel glad you married him/her 27 years ago?
M: He loves me unconditionally. He would do anything I asked him to do (within reason!) and will never hesitate to do something that he knows will please me or help me out. It can be as simple as stopping at the store on the way home from work—even if it’s pouring outside and he’s tired and hungry—to planning an elaborate scheme to surprise me on my birthday. When I see myself through his eyes, I see just how much he loves me, and it makes me love him even more. Also, his love for you and Matt and what a terrific dad he is. He is my biggest cheerleader and always encourages me to go after my dreams.
D: Mom’s loyalty, commitment, and unconditional love. She is the smartest person I know, and I always value her opinion. It’s comforting to know that she will always be there when I need her.
8. If you could have been given a key piece of advice before marrying dad/mom, what would it have been?
M: I don’t know if there is a key piece of advice, but one thing I know for sure is that it is important to marry someone with whom you share the same values. Dad and I would never have lasted as long as we have if we didn’t value each other and our family above other things.
D: Life requires a lot of patience and trusting that everything will be okay. Learn to forgive and to not keep score. Everyone can be difficult to live with at times—learning to move on is very important. Let go of angry feelings as fast as possible. Forgive yourself when you feel that you have not lived up to your standards.
Kate Stevens is a writer, editor, and bread enthusiast putting down roots in Washington, D.C. She lives for pre-owned treasures and there isn’t a golden retriever that can’t make her smile.