Cheesy TSwift lyric aside, I want to take a minute to reflect on Donnie’s and my marriage, as today marks two years since we said, “I do.” Two years in the marriage game is hardly anything, I’m very aware, but I also feel like we’ve learned so much and grown in ways I didn’t even expect since that hot, beautiful day in July when we celebrated our commitment and threw one excellent party.
I never really dreamt of my wedding or made elaborate plans ahead of time, so the planning process was uncharted territory for me. Donnie and I really had one goal for our wedding: have a ton of fun with people we love. And our wedding turned out exactly as we had hoped: great food, cold beer, fun band, lots of dancing, and so much laughter.
When thinking about our wedding day, I’m struck by how that celebration reflects our married life. We laugh a lot– because our life is fun, and also Donnie is hilarious. Family is a priority for both of us, though our families may think we show that in a strange way by moving to a different continent. We love spending time with our friends, and we try to keep life exciting and adventurous.
We also try not to take ourselves, or life, too seriously.
We had five kids in our wedding party, two of whom were under 2. They were too cute for words and none of them did exactly what they were supposed to. My nephew took a few steps and sat down in the middle of the aisle to play with a rock. My niece, who had strict orders to not pick him up, scooped him up immediately (see photo below.) One of Donnie’s sweet cousins came up to me after the ceremony, opened her hands to revel crushed flower petals, and whispered, “I didn’t drop any.” They were such a wonderful addition to the whole experience, and we were just happy their parents let them be the cutest part of our wedding party. The point wasn’t perfection.
This is the attitude Donnie and I try to have about life and our relationship. We are going to screw up pretty much all the time. Nothing in life is going to go exactly as we had planned, but our goal is to laugh about it when we can, and hold each other up when laughing isn’t really an option.
I know I have much to learn, but here are a handful of relationship lessons I’ve learned so far. Nothing is groundbreaking or revolutionary by any means, but this has been our journey for now.
1. Don’t be afraid to try new things.
I grew up liking football a lot, but hating the Tennessee Vols. There’s no real reason for my disdain, other than a Dad who cheered for Miami and my 4th grade bestie who loved the Memphis Tigers and taught me to despise Peyton Manning. When Donnie and I started dating, it was very clear that the Vols were important to him. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really sure how his football obsession would play out in regards to a relationship, and I went into our first fall together with low expectations and a bit of uncertainty. Turns out I had little to fear, as I fell head over heels for the boys in orange after experiencing my first weekend tailgating in Knoxville. (Even if we lost to Florida (yet again) and I learned first hand that Donnie doesn’t like to talk after a rough loss.) Now one my favorite autumn activities is going to Vols games with him, or watching on TV if we can’t be there in person.
As I learned to love the Vols, Donnie was busy trying new things as well. He ended up skydiving with me, even though he was not excited at all. I took him on his first-ever hike (how someone lives 23 years without going on a single hike I will never understand) and even got him to brave swimming. We also started traveling: Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Tulsa, Little Rock, and the Caribbean, just in the first six months we were dating. Donnie wasn’t much of a traveler when we first met, and when I once asked him where he would consider living (keep in mind I had a global perspective here) he said, “Nashville, Knoxville, parts of South or North Carolina, or northern Georgia.” Ummm… not exactly what I was looking for.
It’s good advice to never marry, or seriously date, someone you need or want to change. I am deathly allergic to cigarette smoke, so I would never even go on a date with someone who smoked. But there is a big difference in wanting to change someone and being willing to try new things with a person you love. I had to decide if I was willing to live with the reality that, if I married Donnie, I would probably never live outside of the southeastern United States. I decided that I was OK with that. (And then I took him to London, he fell in love with international travel, and less than a year later moved us to Australia.) So really, you never know what will happen. People do change. Sometimes for better, sometimes not so much. Marry someone you love right now, not the idea of someone or who you think they can or will be. Then be willing to try new things, get a little out of your comfort zone, and you can create a new life together– one that fits and fulfills you both.
2. Marry someone your family and friends love and who loves your family and friends.
You might say I learned this lesson the hard way. I dated someone for a while who I thought was funny and sweet, but who my entire family and most of my friends hated. I fought them tooth and nail on this, until one day the newness (and blindness) wore off and I realized he was rude, disrespectful, and boring. My family and friends who knew me best could easily see that we were a terrible match, but it took me a while to accept that.
My family is very close. I have talked to my Mama almost every single day since I left for college in 2006. No one is afraid to offer their opinion, and with my parents, my sister, my sister’s husband who is very much an older brother, and my little brother, there have always been plenty of opinions to go around. I was nervous to introduce Donnie to them, because I knew they would be brutally honest. I also knew I valued their opinions most. I shouldn’t have worried, as Donnie fit in seamlessly to my crazy fam. He talks football stats (sometimes from 1972) with my Daddy, does puzzles with my Mama, plays stupid video games and obsesses about hockey with my brothers, and plays adorable games with our niece and nephew. My Mama once told me that I should marry someone who “halves my sorrow and doubles my joy.” I found that person in Donnie, and my family and friends saw how well we worked together. My friend Mariel once told me that if I screwed it up with Donnie I was really out of luck, because two people have never been more perfect for each other. I think she’s right.
I had to learn to listen to the people closest to me and stop trying to convince myself that something fits when it doesn’t.
3. Find someone who has similar goals and priorities.
I took some time after college to be single and really get to know myself. I moved away to a town where I didn’t know a single soul and I started a new, independent life. For me, as a Christian, it was really important that I get to a place where I was OK with it just being me and God before I tried to start a relationship with someone else. I knew from experience that when I looked to a boyfriend to complete my life, make me happy, or fill a void, I was just setting myself up for disappointment. I made really good friends, worked ridiculously hard at the challenging but rewarding job of teaching, and I found my center. If I had tried dating Donnie at a different point in my life, it most likely would not have worked out, even though we are great together now, because I was not in a place where I loved myself or was confident enough to just be me.
Donnie and I have different spiritual relationships and were raised pretty differently in this regard, but at the end of the day we both have a strong faith and belief, and this is a guiding force for our relationship. Donnie understands sacrificial love because he sees it in the Gospel, and he loves me better because of it. Our shared goal is to live and love the way real Christians should. This looks differently for each of us in practice, but at the end of the day we share the same focus.
After two years of being married to this guy, I count myself incredibly fortunate. I am truly excited for the adventures this next year will bring, and I try to not ever take him for granted. I don’t believe in “soul mates” or fate (sorry, Kami!) but I do believe that you can build a lasting relationship that truly makes life better and more fun. It takes work, a lot of forgiveness, patience, sacrifice, and the ability to laugh at yourself, but we are working on it together, and just taking this life one day at a time.