This week my husband and I celebrated our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary by taking a trip to Acadia National Park in Maine. Until we began planning our trip, we didn’t know that one of the unique features of Acadia was its fifty-seven miles of carriage roads. At first we thought we would walk or rent mountain bikes in order to see some of the roads, but once we arrived at the park, we decided that it would be more romantic to take a carriage ride. So on the day of our anniversary, we went to Wildwood Stables to see about a ride. We thought it would be like taking the carriage ride through Central Park—buggies would be waiting for us. We learned that one needs to call in advance. The rides were booked through Wednesday. Disappointed, we explained that we had to leave before then. One of the girls must have felt sorry for us. She asked the manager if she could book us on a ride that had just one seat left. Even though the ride was limited to ten passengers, the wagon could hold eleven if we were willing to squeeze onto the honeymoon seat, the small seat that hangs off the back of some carriages. “It is our honeymoon!” I exclaimed. “Really?” asked the manager. “Well, our thirty-fifth one.” I confessed.
We didn’t have to huddle together and bounce up and down in the honeymoon seat, but we did cuddle together on our ride. Sitting close together after thirty-five years is an accomplishment. We were only twenty-one when we got married. I would advise anyone as young as we were to wait. My husband and I thought we were adults at the time, but really we grew up together. Our marriage was a risk, a gamble, considering we were not financially stable and still going to college. We could have grown apart; (to be honest, some years we were in different worlds) and yet we remained together, rooted in our relationship and family. Like our carriage horses, Duke and Doc, we put our ears back and snap at each other, while at the same time, we pull together. Often our route is uphill, difficult for cart horses; other times it is flat and we can trot along. Sometimes one of us seems to do more work; other times the other one takes the lead and lets the weight of the harness rest mainly on his shoulders. But always we haul our marriage together. Unison is the key. Compromise is crucial.
Compromise is an important element in our marriage. Roadblocks can seem insurmountable. Early in our marriage, my husband wanted to go to graduate school at UCSF while I wanted to go to UCLA. My choice had programs for both of us. His choice didn’t. We moved to San Francisco. At the time, I simmered– a martyr to my own wants. I so wanted to continue my studies that even though I knew our reasoning was sound, the concession felt like a sacrifice. The decision we made when I was three months pregnant altered our vision for the future. My focus shifted from career to our daughters. This gave my husband the freedom to concentrate on his career. The agreement was difficult but the ensuing balance in our lives made our relationship stronger. I didn’t see it at the time, but in retrospect, a more traditional approach to family life was what we needed. What our children needed. This wouldn’t work for everyone, but it worked for us.
Marriage is work. Sometimes we think we have moved forward, only to step backwards into old resentments and suspicions. How do we climb over the rocks that obscure what seemed like a clear path? An injured child, an earthquake damaged house, a layoff—these are the obstacles that litter the path of any marriage. The frantic phone calls, the emergency room pacing, the guilt, the blame—these blockades snag the fabric of our relationship, ripping holes. Helping each other over the rushing streams, patching the holes, climbing up rock walls takes teamwork but working together isn’t easy. Listening is hard (especially when one of us is losing our hearing). Seeing the other’s perspective is difficult. Letting go of the past is almost impossible (for me). But these things have to be done if we want to stay together.
Then we come to the fork in the road. While Frost contemplated “two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” our roads were a choice between “the dark desert highway” and a road “in a yellow wood.” If someone had said to me this time last Fall that by January I would be writing a blog in Connecticut instead of teaching tenth graders English, I would have laughed. Here we are on a new road, the “one less traveled by.” Here we find new obstacles: mud puddles, yellow leaves, fallen trees, granite boulders.
I have been married for thirty-five years to my closest friend. I cannot say that every day is a honeymoon. I cannot claim to be an expert on marriage. But like two carriage horses, my husband and I are harnessed together and pull to the future.