3: A Different Story

3: A Different Story

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!

A Different Story

There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship,
communion or company than a good marriage.

~Martin Luther

“I just want what you and John have,” my beautiful forty-something single friend tells me. Immediately humbled, I realize that I heard the same thing from a single, searching, female cousin just recently. My husband John and I have not even been together for that long.

I am overcome by humility, pleasure, and almost wistfulness because I “want what we have” as well. I wanted it long before I met John and my life has been a whirlwind ever since, and here I am living out my own dreams.

We met when we were thirty-four years old. In a short time we realized that we loved each other and desired the same things: marriage and a family. By my thirty-fifth birthday we were in the middle of planning a wedding and enjoying every date we spent together. When I turned thirty-six, we’d been married almost six months, had our own home and found ourselves settling into our lives together. We had occasional fights that make me laugh now. Mostly we worried about the other invading our space and freedom; we’d been single for so long we had to relearn the concept of sharing.

By my thirty-seventh birthday, I’d spent much of the previous year pregnant. We had painted a baby’s room together and prepared for his arrival as we learned to start thinking outside of ourselves. Our first child, Martin, came home on my thirty-seventh birthday. His father brought him into the house first and then walked back to the car to help me — escorting me in. I found my new son in his carrier on the kitchen counter, a balloon saying “Happy Birthday Mom” floating just above him.

“Loving and thoughtful.” I smiled.

“I wondered if you’d notice,” John replied.

Life changed drastically as two salaries became one and we never left the house together without Baby Martin or having made arrangements for a babysitter. The new guy brought great joy to our lives, of course, along with all the normal new baby stresses. I do remember that feeling of relief on certain nights, when John walked in the door and I could just hand him that baby! We realized a different degree of love for each other than we had ever known, as well as a whole new definition for our own space and freedom.

When I turned thirty-eight we had a one-year-old, a busy life with our combined family and friends, and a desire to add to the brood we’d begun. “I have news,” I told John one Saturday morning the next September, causing him to rush to the bathroom sink on a hunch, where he found a positive pregnancy test.

“Awesome, honey.” With that I got kissed.

As my thirty-ninth birthday approached, Joe, the most beautiful of completely bald colicky babies who ever existed, joined our home. Our sense of individual space and freedom were again redefined; sleep and quiet became rare commodities as well.

Joe grew… Martin grew. We were raising fun little people and had no real complaints about anything. “I wake up tired,” John sometimes grumbled, and still does, but mostly we were living the lives we’d chosen. Space and freedom almost forgotten, except when one or the other of us really needed some of it; communication and humor became our greatest tools in surviving the day-to-day of family life with two young children and the regular stresses of job and owning/running a home.

Somewhere close to forty, on a week-long family vacation we decided to “roll the dice” and see if God had any more plans to give us children. John made me promise “not to try for a girl.” I knew I’d never be disappointed anyway, and on my forty-first birthday, our third son, Tim, celebrated his first outing as our new family of five picnicked on submarine sandwiches at our favorite neighborhood park. My thirty-fifth birthday had been spent in a fancy restaurant in downtown Chicago and was followed by attending a musical with my new fiancé. Six years later, our identities rewritten several times, I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend the day.

“Do you love me as much now as when you married me?” I had asked John in post-partum haze.

“Way more….”

This year we’ll celebrate my forty-third birthday the same week my oldest turns six and my youngest hits two. Certainly, space and freedom continue to come only with compromise as we figure out how to balance family life and get to know the people we have become. Our first priority now is always parenthood; we’ve learned that our lives are no longer our own. We still love each other, probably “way more” than we once did, because it feels good, but also because we’re invested in the family we’ve been given. And as John likes to say, “It’s their world now, not ours!”

The vast majority of my days, I work to entertain and meet the needs of the three little boys who have become the greatest focus of our lives. I maintain that tremendous feeling of relief on many evenings when John walks in the house. No matter how stressful the day, his presence makes it doable. We are partners working through it together for the long haul!

Keeping all this in mind, I look at my friend and into her heart as much as I can. “You know,” I confess, “I haven’t had five minutes to myself today, not even to go to the bathroom.”

She laughs. Freedom, space and independence are the rewards of single life, but loneliness and uncertainty about the future offset those. Would I change what I have in order to go on even one more blind date or out to a bar for a girls’ night at whim, without arrangement? Never! Would I give up my chaotic household for the almost always straightened and never sticky townhouse I owned just nine years ago? No!

Life brings its compromises. Marriage and parenthood are a lot of work, but well worth it. I wish my friend and my cousin each receive the fairy tale ending they wish for themselves. As an insider, I know that the perks to marriage and a house full of kids, when combined with love and compromise, far outweigh any sacrifices.


~Gina Farella Howley

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