1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Ten: Spouse
This one is easy: I’ve had the same spouse the last 20 years, and if I’m lucky I’ll have the same one twenty years from now, and if I’m really lucky I’ll the same one 20 years after that, too. If I have the same one 20 years after that, there’s probably been some amazing breakthrough in the aging process, since then I would be 109. But if I am, and there is, I hope that I would have the same one, too.
That said, 1998 was a very significant year in our spousedom, because this was the year that Krissy was pregnant with Athena, and the year we stopped being only spouses and became parents as well. No matter what your relationship is as a married couple, adding a kid to the mix changes things, and it was a reasonable question about how a child would change how we related to each other.
It turns out we did pretty well with it (I mean, so far; Athena turns 20 this December). Part of that was because we did what we already always did with each other, which was to talk about it — what our fears and concerns and expectations and hopes were for this whole “we’ll be parents” thing. After all, we had several months to prepare and be ready to support each other.
As a result, I think parenthood made us better spouses. We better understood each other because of our expectations about child rearing, we trusted each other to take the lead when one of us needed a break, and we relied on each other to otherwise share the load of helping another person make their way into the world. Whether we were great parents is something you’ll need to ask Athena about, but in the matter of being husband and wife, it worked out pretty great, and gave us a deeper appreciation for the other. I’m not saying it works that way for every set of spouses (or that every set of spouses should have kids). But in 1998, a new child was a thing was going to change our relationship to each other. In 2018 I can say it absolutely did, and for the better.
Parenthood is of course not the only event that made its mark on us as spouses over the last twenty years. Moving to Ohio in 2001 was another — when we moved, Krissy didn’t have a job lined up and I was not entirely sure that I would be able to sustain my freelance relationships when I didn’t live in DC or have relatively easy access to NYC, which were the two hubs of my freelance work. Krissy had her family in the area but I didn’t have any of my own set of friends. It could have been a stressful switch in our life. But again we did what we always do: talk and plan and rely on each other and find ways to have each other’s backs. We got some breaks in there, to be sure (like my freelance clients not caring where I lived, and Krissy getting a job that promoted her seven hours into her first day because they immediately realized her worth to them). But knowing we are there for each other matters, then and now.
I can give you more specific examples, but at this point I think you probably get it. The John and Kristine show runs on communication and trust and love, always has and hopefully always will. I realize that there are very few couples who wouldn’t say that they trust their spouse and tell them everything and hold nothing back, quite obviously; it’s what you’re supposed to do. And hopefully people do! Because it has worked for us. And also, yes: in fact, I trust Krissy and tell her everything and hold nothing back from her.
Because why would I? It turns out (and anyone who has met Krissy will confirm this for you) that Krissy is smarter, wiser and better grounded than I ever was and have ever been, and having someone like that in your life is huge if you’re someone like me. Aside from being someone I can rely on for advice and grounding, she’s also been someone I have learned from, and to model some of my own behavior on. Many of the things people have said they admire about me, I got from watching her do them first, and then taking the time to incorporate them into my own personality and outlook. I give Krissy a lot of credit for helping me to become a functional grown-up, basically.
Krissy, is, bluntly, the person I admire the most in the world. She is the person who I think of when I wonder what action to take, not only in the sense of “what would Krissy do” but in the sense of “is this something I would be proud to tell her that I did.” I may or may not ever do something based on the first of these (she is not me and I am not her), but I can always rely on the second as a guide. Moreover, she the basis and foundation of any success I have had since I met her. There is not a day I do not acknowledge and appreciate all the ways, small and large, that her presence in my life and her partnership with me has made my life materially and existentially better.
And what does she get out of me? Well, she’s the best person to answer that question, of course. But with that said, and with full acknowledgement that usually this is the place where someone like me writing something like this says “I don’t know what she sees in me,” I think there are a few things I do bring to the table. Krissy is good with what’s directly in front of her; I am good at thinking several steps out. I think fast and I am good in a crisis. I am deeply loyal. Weirdly for someone both creative and lacking in a real job, I have always made good money and have never been stupid about having it or keeping it. Finally, I have a moral center. This is not to suggest that she doesn’t (oh, she does), but to suggest that she doesn’t have to spend a lot of time worrying about whether I do.
Also, I see her: she has never had cause to doubt that I value her, and that I know her value, not just for me, or for our relationship, but in and for herself. Krissy is easy to look at — she is, without exaggeration, one of the most physically beautiful people I’ve seen in my life — but there is a difference between being looked at and being seen. I’ve seen her since our first date in 1993, when we had our first real talk and I realized there was a whole lot more to this person sitting across from me than the fact that she was visually stunning. I still see her, and continue to find more to see in her, every day.
Plus! I make her laugh and am also her lifetime designated driver, which are not small things, either.
Ultimately I think a major aspect of our success as spouses is simply that we are complementary on many process things and in agreement on many moral and philosophical things. There are things I can’t do she can do (or that I can do, it’s just she does them better), and vice versa, and on a day to day basis, that makes things work. Deep down she and I have similar a similar outlook on what defines A Good Life, and on existential basis, that also makes things work. I think this a useful combination for spouses to have in a general sense. I think most people are better off with someone who sees the world similarly and have skills that make them a good team.
I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone, either who reads me online or who knows me in real life, that I’m besotted with my wife; if upon meeting you for the first time in real life I haven’t shown you a picture of her within five minutes, I’m off my game. I get moony and giddy when I’m out with her in public, too, as again anyone who’s seen me with her in public will tell you. What you don’t know is that I kind of do that when we’re by ourselves too. I tell her on a better than daily basis that I love her and that my life is better with her in it.
Part of the reason I do that is, because, well, it’s true: I do love her and my life is better with her in it. I’m not exactly a taciturn man; I’m not one of those people who thinks that just saying that sort of thing once, or every once in a while, is sufficient. I think people like to be reminded of something like that on a regular basis. I’m happy to say it. And of course, not just say it: I try to do both the little and big things that make it clear that the words are not just words.
And then there’s the other part. One day it’s very likely that one of us is going to have to leave the other, and that actuarially speaking, that person is likely to be me. What I believe about the nature of life and the universe leads me to conclude that the time I have with Krissy now is all the time I will ever have with her. If I’m wrong, I plan to tell her and show her how much I love her for the rest of eternity. But if I’m right, this time together is what we have. There is no point, then, in not loving her flat out, full volume, as much as I possibly can, right now. There is never a time while we live together that I want her to feel or believe that I love her any less than entirely, fully and completely. I don’t want her ever to doubt it, or to lack it, or to miss it while we’re both alive. I want to love her so much that if I do have to leave her, the echoes of that love will sustain through the rest of her life. That she knows she was loved, and seen, and that she made my life, and the life we had together, worth the living.
That’s what I do, and have done these last twenty years, and before then too, and intend to keep on doing, for the next twenty years, and the twenty after that, and for as long as it lasts. Our lives have changed, and will change again. But this one thing, I’m happy to keep the same.