It was early 2011 and I was six years into my relationship with Tracy and two years into our marriage. I was thirty, pregnant with my first child, and life was going well. A former student of mine was in town and invited me for coffee. She had recently come out of the closet and even more recently suffered her first heartbreak.
We talked about lesbians and the ways we connect with one another. We laughed about U-Hauling, and third date cat adopting, and weekend DIY back-splash projects. And we talked about the way we tend to break-up. Never easy or quick — always long and drawn out. Messy and intermingled. We date for six months and then break-up for six years. It's our way.
"What's marriage like?" She asked, eyes wide with curiosity. I thought about it for a few minutes and rubbed my not-quite-yet-showing belly.
"Waking up and choosing to stay married is the easiest decision I make every day." I said telling her the complete truth. I watched as her posture relaxed and she smiled. My answer reassured her. I was playing my part in an It Gets Better script and was happy to be in the position to offer hopefulness.
Two years later things feel so different. My love for my wife is still strong enough to rock me to my core when I allow it. When I sit and think about all that we have, and all that we've done, and all that we are, I can feel my heart burst with gratitude.
If you know me, you know that I adore my wife.
But you might not know that we've been struggling for the last few months. Parenthood came with all of its work and exhaustion and then postpartum depression hit and we haven't been managing those new challenges well. We went from being each other's warm, safe, place to fall into at the end of the day to adversaries who yell and scream and take out all of our frustrations on the other person. It's not like this every day, of course, but the grumpy, angry, days are creeping in more and more frequently. Like a spec of mold that, left untreated, feeds and spreads and takes over until everyone is sick.
We knew we needed to make some changes. We needed to go back to the simple advice my late mother-in-law once gave me: "Marriage is easy," she whispered hoarsely as getting oxygen into her lungs was a struggle, "you just find someone you like talking to and be kind to them."
Tracy and I used to love talking to one another. We did it all day long every day. We talked long into the evening, our conversations getting muddled and less sensical as one or both of us drifted off to sleep. But lately we exchange as few words as possible. She tells me about her day at work and I half listen while trying to keep our son Mac from climbing the TV and the second she's done her story I don't offer my thoughts or opinions I just move the conversation onto the agenda items I need to address before passing Mac to her so I can head out to one my commitments. There is very little talking. There is even less kindness.
One day just after Christmas I spent twenty minutes crying in my car before I came in the house. There was no hiding the red eyes from my wife. Instead I sat on the living room floor and let the rest of the tears come. She took her seat beside me and rubbed my back. She didn't ask why I was crying. She just held me and waited. And before long we were both in tears. We leaned onto each other and let the heavy weights on our chests find a shoulder to rest on.
"Do you still love me?" I asked. All blotchy-eyed and snotty-nosed. The look of shock on her face told me that she did. "Do you still love me?" She responded. Always one to turn the tables. Nobody answered. Nobody needed to. Mac was already in bed and we sat on the floor for hours. We talked and we fought. We aired our resentments. And we defended our shortcomings. We put it all out on the table. Parts of it ugly and gory. Other parts beautiful but vulnerable. And once it was there we started to take inventory. We made plans and started negotiations. I see your not leaving dishes in the living room and raise you not being on the phone during dinner.
And so it went. Back and forth. High stakes marital negotiations.
And we vowed to start the new year off on a new foot. We promised to speak with love and to simply speak more in general. I wanted to start off this new year with a surprise trip but we aren't big travellers and are even less likely to travel on snowy roads. So I booked a night away in downtown Ottawa and whisked my family (15 minutes) away for a relaxing vacation.
Within sixty seconds of check-in Mac had scanned the suite and found both remotes. He's basically a blood hound for gadgets. Tracy and I admired the soft looking king sized bed and took turns settling in for a warm bath before heading out on the town.
With Mac happily tucked into the Onya Baby Carrier we started to explore our city through tourist eyes. We had lunch in a new place and ordered a glass of wine in the middle of the afternoon. We shopped at the little shops we usually avoid because they don't have parking. And we held hands.
With Mac napping against my wife's chest we decided to duck into a coffee shop and relax with a cup of coffee. There was nobody there to take our pictures paparazzi-style but that didn't stop me from initiating our very own Re-Engaged Session without the photographic evidence. We talked and we talked and we talked. And we fell in love all over again.
With Mac thoroughly rested we headed back out into the cold to see the lights on parliament hill before returning to the suite for dinner and snuggles. Mac loved watching the cars out the window. And we loved the simple change in scenery. Before heading home in the morning we took our son out for breakfast at the restaurant that hosted his moms' wedding. It was the perfect ending to a perfect weekend. Being back in that space where I promised to love, honour, and cherish the woman sitting across from me helped me to remember all the reasons why we got there in the first place. It was a vow renewal of sorts — even if it was only in my head.
As we arrived back home Tracy put the car in park and reached her hand over to mine. "Thank-you for this," she said, her eyes holding my gaze, "this was the best vacation I've ever had. And the travel wasn't bad either."
If I was to have that 2011 conversation with the broken-hearted young lesbian again now my answer might be a bit longer. I would admit that sometimes marriage is hard work. But I would still tell her that waking up and choosing to stay married is the easiest decision I make every day.