Today - well, yesterday, since it's after midnight - marks eight years since Jenny and I began dating. A remarkable thing, to be not yet 25 and to have spent eight years with someone. That's slightly less than a third of my life that this one woman has shared with me. It's a remarkable thing indeed. Better men live their entire lives in want of blessings I have before the end of my 25th year, and I am grateful beyond words.
But it sparks some reflection on the nature of love. We are led to believe, whether through romance novels or romantic movies that the initial feelings associated with being in love are permanent, and that the maintenance of a healthy marriage is essentially effortless. I've found in my travels that there are some things in life that you simply can't tell someone. Before we were married, I was told several times by married friends that "marriage is a lot of work." Frankly, I didn't believe them. I didn't see how that was possible. "We love each other. How can living together be work?"
Eventually I came to realize something very important: before I got married, there was no one I had lived with who I had not at least occasionally felt like strangling. Nor was there anyone who hadn't at least occasionally felt like strangling me. You see, we tend to think in our modern society that a good marriage is one in which the emotions associated with love remain strong without our aid, and in which neither partner ever feels like slapping the other.
But love is not just an emotion. In the initial stages it most certainly is, and even later, the emotions remain: just this evening Jenny and I were sitting on the couch and I was struck by how beautiful her eyes are, and I told her so. But love is more than emotion. Love is a choice. It's waking up every morning, looking at the person lying next to you, and saying to yourself "This day I give you myself. It may not be much, and I may regret it by day's end, but I'm yours, and I intend to act like it." It's an act of sheer will. Sometimes emotion makes it easier. Sometimes emotion makes it harder. I would be very surprised if Jenny has never contemplated smothering me with my own pillow as I slept. The people we let in wind up being the very ones with the greatest ability either to piss us off or to make our hearts soar.
So that's my reflection on marriage for the day, I guess. Marriage is wonderful. I love being married more than anything, save being a father. And I can honestly say I love my wife more today than yesterday, and more yesterday than the day before. But I can also say - or at least, begin to say - that I understand better now what it is to love than I did when Jenny and I first started dating, those many years ago. It's both an emotion and a choice. And the choice has to be made afresh with every new day. Bring on the morning.