How’s Married Life?

Grace and I will be celebrating our first anniversary this coming Sunday, June 11th. While it’s difficult to grasp it’s been a whole year already, it’s also becoming harder and harder to remember our lives before it.

Happily ever after, right? No, life’s ups and downs continue to go on, and we thought we’d share some reflections on our one year of marriage so far.

A Shared Space

Three weeks after we got married, we moved in together to an apartment in one of MIT’s two married grad dorms, Eastgate. I’ve already written about some of the lessons that living in a smaller space has taught us, but it’s also space we share.

This has primarily been a good thing — no more need to make daily decisions about whose apartment to hang out in. It’s meant that we each have someone to come home to in the evenings, that either of us can get started on the cooking ahead of time and leave it for the other, and endless small conveniences like that.

But sharing a space has also come with a need to share responsibilities. When it comes to cooking and cleaning, we decided that an equitable split of the chores isn’t good enough: We want to do it together. Continuing a habit from our dating life, we both go to the laundry room together, even when we’re just moving clothes from the washers to the dryers.

In the case of cooking, working together allows us to take advantage of our relative skills. Grace is much faster at preparing meat, while my greater arm strength usually comes into play at the stovetop. We do switch off occasionally so we both keep up the skills, but especially when we’re in a rush, we play to each of our abilities.

The two chores that this doesn’t work for are grocery shopping and doing the dishes. Grace still enjoys grocery shopping together, but on a day-to-day basis, only one person really needs to go. For the dishes (we don’t have a dishwasher), only one person can be at the sink at once. So we paired these tasks up: If one of us shops for a meal, the other one washes the dishes, or at least the first drying rack full.

Finally, the space we share has also become a place to host friends and cook for them, an opportunity I have also already written a blog post about. It took our marriage and the shared space we have to host to give me the motivation to learn to cook tasty recipes to share with our friends.

The Security of Certainty

At the center of our wedding ceremony, like many others, was our wedding vows, the commitments that we were inviting all of our friends to witness. With this importance, we decided to think carefully about exactly what we would say to each other. Here’s what we said:

“I, ___, take you, ___, to be my [spouse], to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow, through faith and through doubt, to love and to cherish, till death do us part or till Christ comes again, by God’s holy plan: I pledge myself to you.”

You’ll notice that we added a few “under condition A and not A”-type phrases to the beautiful traditional vow language. Of course, they don’t change the ultimate content of the vow; it’s all encompassed by the final commitment. But we found it helpful to articulate a range of conditions, tangible and mental, internal and external, that will not be enough to break our vows to each other.

We haven’t experienced any of those ranges to the fullest by any means in just one year. But we have noticed how those vows serve as an anchor of sorts to keep us from even thinking of drifting apart. When we were dating, while we felt very committed very early, there was always a question mark in the back of our heads as to whether this was going to work out. And as I learned much later, there was one series of events that led Grace to actually consider the possibility of breaking up with me. Fortunately, you can also read a whole blog post about that saga.

Our year of marriage has come with its own set of trials, this time related to Grace’s scholarship agency in Singapore. We’ve been forced to consider and even accept the possibility of living apart for most of a year, should Grace have been yanked back after getting a Master’s. That concern has mostly passed, but it’s been an enormous blessing to be married and know that our relationship would last through whatever unfortunate circumstances we might find ourselves in.

The one thing that would break us up is death, and we’ve had a very slight taste of that, too. In short, within five weeks of being married, I had already taken two trips to the Emergency Room. The first time, I was coaching third base for our church softball team, and didn’t see a ball that was overthrown, focusing on my runner. As I looked up, the ball hit me in the sunglasses, making a loud crack that scared everyone there, except for me (it didn’t hurt all that bad!). Grace immediately jumped up and was by my side, helping me onto the ambulance a teammate called. As it turned out, I had about the most minor injuries possible, which meant I was the lowest priority and ended up spending seven hours at the hospital. Grace stayed with me the whole time as we battled boredom together.

The second time, I was away in Minnesota, alpine sliding with students of the Duluth REU, when I got a strange spontaneous allergic reaction. I was 20 minutes’ drive away from the nearest ER, but first I had to get to ride on the back of a four-wheeler to get down the mountain. Another visitor to the program fortunately had experienced something similar before, and recommended that I drink lots of water, which definitely helped keep my throat from closing up on the journey. The whole time, I was texting Grace, and she had dropped everything to hear from me. She was scared and started looking up options to fly there to see me, until I got to the ER and they explained that they were quite familiar with the condition, apparently called anaphylaxis. A simple injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) later, I was healing up and Grace was free to go to community group back in Cambridge.

While I wasn’t really that close to dying in either circumstance, going through that bit of trauma so early in our marriage turned out to strengthen it. Grace was most struck by the fact that she could call herself my wife to the hospital workers. I was struck by the fact that she stayed by my side for the full seven hours, even with nothing to do. Either way, those early scares served to cement our commitment to each other.

Seeing Each Other All the Time

In addition to sharing an apartment and the responsibilities involved, living together has meant that we see each other all the time, in various states of mind and dress. That has certainly taken some getting used to.

The close proximity has also encouraged us to develop nicknames for each other, mostly variants on “husband” and “wife.” For both of us, it’s been a bit of a spontaneous reaction to the realization that hey, we’re married! I have a wife! How did I get so lucky?

On the other hand, this close proximity has come with many of the downsides that I’ve already experienced before in my family. In particular, we’ve become familiar with the things we do that annoy each other. Naturally, that can be good, if we choose not to do those things, which we’ve mostly done. But it also increases our ability to hurt each other, should we choose to.

Those upgraded arsenals have underscored the importance to us to keep short accounts. For those who aren’t familiar with the phrase, it means that we seek to resolve any hard feelings or animosity between us as soon as possible, keeping it from festering.  We’ve been seeking to do so ever since we started dating, and in the beginning, it mostly forced us to have multiple long conversations late into the night to resolve our difficulties.

But now we’re seeing the payoff. With so many opportunities to get back at each other, any long-lasting anger could continue to cause more damage, escalating the bickering.

In practice, this means that if I see Grace pouting somewhat, we talk about it and settle it quickly. I’m a bit tougher of a read, and Grace has sometimes thought I was angry with her when other things were getting me down. But we’ve found that’s the right way to err, to keep our interactions positive for as much of the time as possible.

In addition to forcing us to resolve disagreements, being married has also given us the hope and strength to do so. It might seem strange to say that taking options away has helped us, but it also simplifies decision-making. Always having to consider the possibility that we might not stay together, reasoning conditionally (“If we’re still together in December…”) is tiring and often overstates that possibility.

In fact, in light of Grace’s sponsorship troubles, we’re really happy that we got married last year. If we were only dating, the possibility of Grace just giving up, graduating with a Master’s in three years, and moving back to Singapore would have been much more tempting. Now that we’ve mostly gotten past that, we’re thankful to still be together and able to spend the next couple of years in Boston before moving there together.

Amplifying Our Habits in Each Other

I’ve heard before that marriage is like a mirror because your spouse is able to tell you what you’re really like in ways you might not realize. But we’ve realized another way the metaphor holds: We pick up on each others’ habits, and then get to see those habits reflected in the other person.

Either way, though, marriage means that you see your own flaws more clearly. After discovering that the new online implementation of Dominion had fixed many of the problems of the previous one, I introduced it to Grace; we played together a few times, and now she plays Dominion against bots while watching TV. (She’s playing a game right now as I’m writing this post.)

But we’ve also introduced good things to each other as well. We now both enjoy diet soda and seltzer water, often sharing a can over dinner. Grace has started playing softball with me on our church’s team. For my part, I’ve started learning Chinese, though wode Zhongwen hai chade hen yuan ne. We cook a good deal of Southeast Asian food that Grace has introduced me to. And of course, the biggest of all, Grace introduced me to Singapore, a place I fell in love with almost as much as I did with her. It’s exciting for both of us to see a passion of ours spread to another person.

Where Did the Music Go?

Finally, Grace and I have been struck by the lack of a cultural script for what comes after marriage. The next milestone on the trajectory seems to be parenthood, a step which further serves to isolate the couple, now family, from the rest of society. The way our culture treats marriage, “happily ever after” is just a euphemistic way to talk about someone’s social life ending.

We’ve noticed this lack of a script in the music we listen to. When we first started dating, we put together a Spotify playlist of songs that we felt spoke to our relationship. It wasn’t hard — most of popular music seems to relate to either falling in or out of love.

But now that we’re married, we don’t really listen to that soundtrack anymore, or really much music at all (my obsession with YouTube view counts aside). Part of that is just randomness or songs inevitably becoming associated with a previous period of our lives, but we’re also struck by how little music there is that relates to long-term married love. John Legend’s “All of You” comes to mind, but it’s also quite generic. If we take the music industry seriously, everyone is either falling in love with someone new or breaking up — no one is staying together for decades. And browsing pop stars’ Wikipedia pages, that might actually be mostly true for them.

So we’ve started to fight back against that narrative, and live out a married life that is actually exciting and full of social opportunity. Part of this is intentionally reaching out and hosting friends at our apartment more than weekly. Another example is how we’re celebrating our one-year anniversary. Tradition would have us spend such occasions on date nights alone at fancy restaurants and/or exotic locales. It’s almost as if after the wedding itself, couples are supposed to disappear together.

Instead of renting a car to drive somewhere, though, we decided to throw a small party with friends at our apartment building, reprising many of our wedding reception elements like boba, cake and board games. It won’t be nearly as awesome, of course, but it still exemplifies the sort of outward-facing marriage we’re striving for.

3 responses to “How’s Married Life?

  1. Mari Lee Chartier June 10, 2017 at 11:42 pm

    Sam, I came home from an evening class in grad school (sometime in the first two years of our marriage) and the paramedics had left a note saying that your Uncle Craig had been taken to the ER, but that he was OK. We didn’t have cell phones back then, and I had to figure out where the hospital was. He had been bitten by fire ants and was being treated for–guess what–anaphylaxis. I agree, it forges a bond in your relationship. Any idea what you were allergic to?


  2. Alice Kao June 13, 2017 at 2:00 am

    Hi Sam,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It was encouraging to get a glimpse. Hope the celebration went well!!


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