This is how to write an epic story: you begin with “once upon a time”, and you finish with “happily ever after.” Whether the middle bits are about a galaxy far, far away, or about a princess rescued and restored, we all learn from childhood that the truly great stories are ones which end with the bad guys banished and the heroes settling into a long and peaceful existence.
Reality is quite rude in its fierce non-compliance with that plot.
If you imagine the narrative arc of marriage as a long cross-country journey, my husband and I are now past the first years of settling in after the hilly but beautiful terrain on the West Coast. We are now in that long, flat middle-stretch: driving across the cultivated plains, heading east with our eyes on the horizon. Mostly, we are in cruise control. There are sights along the way, and occasional maintenance required, but at this point we know the route and we have been driving long enough to know that navigating a long-distance journey requires constant attention but not necessarily constant drama.
The problem comes in trying to reconcile these long stretches of necessary-boring with the dreams of living “happily ever after”. Are we missing something? Should we take detours? Will ‘staying the course’ really end happily for us, or is this a grown-up version of ‘settling’?
As it turns out, the wisdom of those who have driven this route longer (and better) than we have encourages us that the Path to Happily Ever After is, in fact, filled with miles and miles of Everyday Boring. When asked how they stayed married for sixty years, a couple I know shrugged and answered simply, “just one day at a time, I guess.”
Just one day at a time. It is hardly the stuff of block-buster movies.
However, one day at a time—practicing kindness and generosity along the way—IS how the best marriages go the distance. Relationship experts and scientists are increasingly confirming what older, married couples have been telling us along the way: that happily ever after is not a matter of being always happy, all the time. Rather, happily ever after is made up of a lot of ordinary days of togetherness: mostly happy, most of the time.
Some friends of ours took a road-trip recently: a journey of thousands of miles covering some of the great American sightseeing spots. It was the ultimate Instagramming adventure: wild skies, majestic mountains, explosive earth-formations and sculpted water-features. From where I sat, scrolling through the pictures, it seemed like a seamless continuation of smiling selfies, gorgeous vistas and mouth-watering meals.
It would be a mistake, however, to view their trip (or their marriage) as a collection of snapshots. What the story-in-pictures did not document were the hours and hours of open road between those photo opportunities, the miles and miles spent in silence and conversation as the ribbon of asphalt fled beneath their car.
Their memories of their journey will be more colored by the quality of the conversation as they drove, rather than by the awesomeness of their photo album. Were they happy? Did they talk? Did they have a massive fight right after snapping the perfect photo at the Grand Tetons which left a cloud over the rest of the day? Did they bicker as they pitched their tent in the dark, or was it a together-adventure? That time they got caught in sub-zero temperatures, did they snuggle and figure out a new plan, or did they blame one another for finding themselves in that predicament?
Once upon a time I met and married my husband, and as a new family we set out on our cross-country journey. In the first year, we crossed some unexpectedly bumpy territory, but a new view opened up as we got through the mountains and headed into the plains. I had imagined the journey many times: a collage of mental expectations picturing us standing in front of our first home, holding our first child, taking a dream vacation together. As it turned out, there were long stretches of every day boring between those snapshot moments, and the company on the road is what makes or breaks a road trip.
The everyday boring of living life together takes up the most time and the most energy on this journey. One day at a time. Showing kindness and generosity. Being patient through the obstacles. Knowing that mostly happy most of the time is not a disappointment, but a reality of health and progress. But patiently and relentlessly, heading towards the coast and waiting to take that final photo standing under a road sign marked “Happily Ever After.”
Photo Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo