What a Difference 23 Years Makes


Today is our wedding anniversary, and the weather reminded me of our wedding day. It rained most of the morning, and it was gray the rest of the day.

Wedding Day

We had a relatively small low-key wedding: 80 guests, one attendant each, and a reception in the church basement. We married in my husband’s home town rather than mine because his dad was a farmer and it was planting season. My father-in-law couldn’t risk being too far away on a good planting day.

I walked down the aisle, not convinced that I was doing the right thing but not knowing how to stop it. We were the pastor’s first wedding, and according to my husband’s uncle with a stopwatch, the ceremony lasted 18 ½ minutes. The food that we had painstakingly chosen tasted like sawdust, and we didn’t get even a bite of the cake with the pink frosting that had mattered so much weeks before.

We left the church to find rainy skies, anxious to head to our hotel two hours away—and learned that my mother-in-law expected us to go to their house to open gifts. In my family, wedding gifts were handled differently, so not only did I not know this was supposed to happen, by the time I found out, my family and friends had already left because they hadn’t known about it either (because I didn’t know to tell them).

So we sat and opened gifts. Well, I sat and opened gifts. My husband was kind of pacing around the house and accepting good-natured teasing from his uncles while I sat in the living room with his female relatives.

I remember wondering why I had been married less than two hours and already felt like my husband’s family and habits were going to take me over. I wondered why no one asked me what I wanted to do. I wondered if marriage was going to require me to suppress all my wishes. When my husband’s relatives asked where my parents were, I felt defensive, worrying that my family was being judged by their absence at an event they didn’t even know about.

I sat, quietly terrified, feeling abandoned and thinking my whole life had just slipped out of control. I pretended excitement over the gifts, wondering what would happen if I started sobbing on my wedding day.

The gifts were loaded into the trunk of our car, and we finally left for our hotel and our wedding night.

The sky was still gray.

An hour away (halfway between my in-laws’ house and our wedding night destination), our car broke down from being overheated. We pulled into a gas station to let the engine cool down, car full of wedding gifts and us still in our wedding clothes. I wondered if the day foreshadowed the rest of our marriage.

Our wedding night was nice. We went out for a very expensive dinner at a restaurant full of high school kids out for pre-prom dinners. We felt old and realized we should’ve ordered room service. We went back to our room and, despite our prior sexual experience with each other, managed to have a special night of married sex for the first time. The next day, we went to the house we were renting and began living together. There was no honeymoon—just a nice night at a fancy hotel with our regular life starting the next day.

My wedding day is not one I look back on with a great deal of joy or fond memories. Mostly I remember a lot of anxiety, the loss of control, and the rain.

Anniversaries Past

A year later, we had a one-week-old son, and our anniversary celebration consisted of eating the piece of wedding cake that my mother-in-law had thought to freeze for us (turns out I did a good job picking out the cake) and falling asleep tired from the exhaustion common to first-time parents of newborns.

For most of our marriage, our wedding anniversary has reminded me each of year of all those feelings of anxiety and exhaustion. The day has never been anything special.

Every year, our anniversary was like our wedding in my mind—not especially joyful and nothing like I had expected it was supposed to be. Our anniversary reminded me every year that our marriage wasn’t especially good. It usually involved some pretty strong negative sexual tension. Whether or not we ended up having sex, my husband knew he wanted to and wondered if it would happen, while I knew I probably should do it but didn’t want to. Anniversary sex was something we did because we were supposed to, not because it celebrated our marriage or expressed our feelings for each other.

Anniversaries were little more than a reminder that another year had passed.

Anniversary Present

Last year was the first year we did something to celebrate our anniversary (I wrote about it here and here). It was a big deal to really be focusing on each other and on our marriage for the first time. It felt like the honeymoon we’d never had. Everything was an event, with every meal at a special restaurant, an expensive evening of entertainment at a comedy show, and even extra special sexual activities that were planned ahead (and even practiced for).

This year was lower key. We went to visit our daughter at her university for the weekend, and we got a nicer hotel than we usually do when we visit. The weekend was more about spending time with our daughter than with each other—but it was a nicer anniversary than last year and far better than any anniversary before that. Instead of trying to make everything an event, we simply enjoyed each other’s company. The sex was special not because anything in particular was planned but because we took time to enjoy what we were doing. (Okay, maybe it was a little extra special because the hotel room came with some unexpected furniture that allowed for some positions we hadn’t tried before.)

Instead of doing anything to mark the occasion of our anniversary together today, we took our daughter out for brunch and then spent six hours in the car, driving through rain from one end of our state to the other, listening to recordings of old-time radio shows and talking about our lives, our kids, and our hopes for the future. I knitted a potholder while my husband tried to get us home before the time the GPS said we would arrive.

It has been a day of nothing in particular, which has made it very special indeed.

Today, we are reminded of how good it is to be married to each other. We are each other’s best friend. We enjoy ourselves and laugh together. We do sex well.

Instead of intentionally celebrating a day 23 years ago that was gray and difficult, we celebrated the marriage we have grown into by being with each other.

Today has been very gray and quite rainy, and while the weather has reminded me of our wedding day, everything else is different. Our big meal today was at International House of Pancakes, with a fast food late lunch later on. My husband and I made decisions today by knowing each other well and listening. Instead of worrying that I have been suppressed by my role of wife, I’ve realized that being   Big Guy’s wife is simply part of who I’ve become. We’ve spent time today with our family, not his or mine.

And instead of opening gifts that came wrapped in pretty paper, we experienced the gift of today by enjoying being in the presence of each other in our long car ride.

It’s a happy anniversary, indeed.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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30 Comments on “What a Difference 23 Years Makes”

  1. Happy anniversary!

    It is very interesting to read about your wedding day 23 years ago. Wedding traditions really differ a lot from country to country!

    The only thing I recognize is the farmer who couldn’t/wouldn’t leave his farm in the planting season (I’m a farmer son myself so my wife and I had to choose a wedding day in a season where my parents could leave the farm for a copule of days).

    1. We had planned to marry at another time, but various factors played into our decision to plan a wedding in two months for a time that wasn’t good for farmers. I’m a farmer’s granddaughter, so I understood that our timing meant that we would need to marry near the farm.

  2. A very touching post. Made me realize and rejoice that the common things in marriage “We are each other’s best friend. We enjoy ourselves and laugh together. We do sex well.” are truly the best things. THANK YOU!

  3. “Anniversary sex was something we did because we were supposed to, not because it celebrated our marriage or expressed our feelings for each other.”

    Its sad for me to say that at least you had that. We’ve never done either of those (sex or celebrate) – and not by my choice. I’m the only one who “celebrates”.

    1. We didn’t always have sex for our anniversary, and when we did, it was empty and unfulfilling. I suppose, though, that even empty sex looks good when no sex is on the horizon. 🙁

  4. Happy anniversary! I love the hope your story provides. I resonate so much with your feelings on your wedding day and subsequent anniversaries. I felt the same… like I’d made a mistake and there was no turning back. (What an awful feeling!) I still feel like it was a mistake, and our anniversaries lack the luster just as you described. BUT perhaps God will move our mountains as he did for you! Fortunately we are committed to staying together. There is always hope with a living God. I love your story. It’s nice to know we’re not alone.

    1. One of the hard things was realizing that in order to have a changed marriage, I had to be willing to change me. I didn’t realize this until I was months into changing behavior, and by then I’d started to sense that it might be worth the effort.

      I really never thought I would feel about my marriage the way I do now. God used what I felt was a mistake to show me where I needed to grow. Are you able to see yet what God is showing you?

      Thank you for sharing that my story provides you hope. Change truly is possible.

      1. I totally appreciate what you’re saying and completely agree. I have been on a journey of humbling and changing myself for about a year or so. I am determined every day to live and respond in ways that are pleasing and obedient to the Lord. I’ve changed a lot (with more to go!). I know he sees it and appreciates it. We certainly don’t fight quite as much as we use to. But for one, most of the effort truly is on my part (I must respect him but its ok for him to be disrespectful to me, or he just doesn’t see the double standard) and two, we just don’t “click” emotionally, spiritually, physically. I don’t know if that’s normal or not but it all just feels awkward. On our last anniversary date we pretty much just sat and stared at each other. Each day is a battle to not be discouraged. :(. But I stay in the fight for the sake of Christ! 🙂

        1. It sounds like you are doing what you need to be doing. I’d been making changes for over a year before I noticed significant difference, and it was two years before it felt like our marriage was clicking right. It has been only recently (after the three-year mark) that my husband has made efforts of his own. Stay encouraged! I’ll pray for continuing growth in your marriage.

        2. I have a idea…that may help????
          Instead of staying focused on, or analyzing what isn’t “clicking” in your marriage (and then consequently viewing your husband as a mistake — our feelings follow our thoughts), decide that you are going to enjoy being married to him and start to have fun with your husband. DO something FUN together. There’s a really fun website, The Dating Divas (http://www.thedatingdivas.com), that has endless ideas for fun dates to share with your husband. I’m 100% positive that you can find at least one date that you and your husband can enjoy together. Pick a date (or better yet, more than one!) and commit to following it through to completion. And commit to actually enjoying the date — no negative talk, smile a lot, be happy, keep things friendly and fun.
          What does your husband like to do? What did he like to do in his younger days? Maybe invite him to go on a date to the batting cages, or the driving range, and then out for an ice cream cone? Or go fishing with him, or to a ball game. How about a concert or a festival? I think if you can learn or re-learn to enjoy each other’s company, things will start “clicking”.

  5. Happy belated anniversary! I’m glad you had a memorable time enjoying each other’s company. Have you now been married longer than you weren’t because THAT’S an anniversary that deserves special recognition? *smile*

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