Last Friday my husband came home from work with a bouquet of flowers; coral colored roses which are my favorite. It wasn’t my birthday or our wedding or dating anniversary, he wasn’t bringing them home as an apology or a peace offering after a fight. He brought them home because that’s what he has done every week for the past 37 plus years.
My husband and I met my first day of college. I was not yet 18 and he was 20. We dated for almost six years before we married; this August we will celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. It’s hard to believe we have been together for more than two-thirds of my life.
When we were in college my husband started buying me flowers that were sold in the student union on Fridays. The flowers cost one dollar for three carnations of assorted colors and, even though my husband was on a tight budget and had no money for extras, he presented me with those flowers week after week. Even when we were mad at each other about something he bought me those three carnations, which I put in an empty wine bottle because I had no vase, and I always thanked him with a kiss.
The flowers are representative of the man my husband is and one of the reasons I thought we could be a good fit for one another. I had a very short list when it came to choosing a partner but I was not willing to compromise on any of the things on that list. I wanted someone who was kind, traditional and intelligent. The rest was up for grabs. I figured if I found someone who was those three things we would have a good shot at a happy life. I had seen plenty of marriages that had dissolved or were fraught with discord to know to look for qualities that would stand the test of time. I am now old enough to understand that there is also a component of luck involved in staying happily married. People change, people give up on each other. Sometimes people give up on themselves and are so unhappy that they simply cannot be there for anyone else. But even back then I knew that a person who is kind is likely to remain kind; the essence of a person doesn’t change.
My husband shows his kindness in countless small ways, rather than with grand gestures. When he returns from work he always asks me if I need anything before he eats his dinner and is happy to make me a cup of tea when I request one. He remembers to pick up my favorite magazine when he passes a newsstand, always replaces the toilet paper roll (he’s actually better about that than I am), checks in with me when he has a free moment at work, and is supportive and encouraging. Lately, while I have been going through a rough patch, he’s been patience plus.
The two of us have weathered a lot, which I realize most people do if they are married long enough. However, our marriage was tested early on by the loss of our infant son. Although we were both so young we learned how to lean on each other while still allowing space so that we could grieve individually. Over time the losses added up; my beloved brother, both our fathers. My husband spent long hours at the office building a career and with the addition of each child the little time we had for each other diminished further.
I was often left to parent our three high energy sons by myself, a job I frequently found lonely and exhausting. Occasionally I imagined a life back in Boston working at my old job and I suppose he had his own fantasies. There were nights we went to sleep angry at each other, which I had heard you weren’t supposed to do if you wanted a happy marriage. We probably broke other rules on the how-to-stay-happily-married list as well. But we always managed to find our way back to each other. He has exhibited the steadfastness I saw early in our relationship and I knew he was not one to give up on us.
The flowers my husband brings me now cost much more than a dollar and are much more exotic than those carnations, but the meaning behind them has stayed the same. Even if we are angry with each other, even when we haven’t brought our best selves to our marriage the flowers represent the commitment we made to each other and continue to make week after week.
I am not saying that weekly flowers are the key to a happy marriage. In fact, I don’t believe there is one set of rules for a happy marriage because no two marriages are the same. But if you remain resolute and recall why you chose one another back at the start, the good times will outweigh the bad. Each week, in fact each day, is a chance to look back and remember and then look ahead and recommit.
And to my husband; thank you for all the flowers and I love you.