One year ago this past weekend, we hosted an awful welcome barbecue and then we went on to host a decent wedding. One year ago this past weekend, we got married.
How does one celebrate a wedding anniversary? What is one supposed to do? This was our first, you see, so there’s bound to be some confusion. Some hesitation. Some Googling of what’s considered appropriate behavior and norms. Some painting of faces and dashing around the house shrieking like loons.
Although in retrospect I’m not sure that last part actually had anything to do with planning our anniversary celebration per se.
In the United States the traditional gift for the first year of marriage is paper. I got really excited when I found that out, because we have all stacks of all kinds of printer paper buried in a cabinet somewhere. I figured I could hand the beau a sheaf of the nice resume paper — you know, to keep it classy — and call it a day. But it turns out the internet has other ideas. The internet thought that the paper should have something on it. The internet thought I should write him a love letter, or buy him some concert tickets, a book, or a puzzle. I thought that sounded hard. Especially because we were getting to the point where I’d have to choose rush shipping in order to have the gift arrive in time for our anniversary. Yes, even for the love letter option. Do you really think that I’d be able to come up with something as serious as a love letter on my own?
In the end, it was Living Social that saved my ass. Two days before our anniversary, Living Social offered an online deal for a tequila and chocolate tasting at a local restaurant. Somehow sausage was included as an add-on to-go option; separate from the tasting. I bought that too, because, well, WHY NOT. And once the purchase was completed I fired up Illustrator, made a hasty vector drawing, and printed it out.
On resume paper, natch.
It looked like this:
The beau’s present to me? Paper flowers, made from old maps and music sheets. Much prettier than my cell phone camera would have you believe:
But I’m getting ahead of myself, now.
Truthfully, we cheated a bit with the whole anniversary thing. We talked about it in advance: what did we want to do? Did we want to exchange any gifts, and if so, what was the dollar limit? All of which means that we are totally flunking Movie Romance 101, I know. If we truly wanted to cherish and nurture our love, we would have independently gone about springing the most complicated and grandiose surprises on one another, and by movie law they would have required candlelit dinners on private balconies overlooking the city, rose petals strewn hither and yon, the presentation of jewelry boxes, and oral sex.
What we decided on, instead, was to just have a weekend of fun. We would hang out and spend time with each other. We would go out to eat and we would go out to drink. We made reservations at a local sustainable restaurant we’d been dying to try, and we made plans to go wine-tasting on Saturday and Sunday.
We would exchange small “paper” gifts, sure, but the real anniversary gift to ourselves was to live, very briefly, like we were on vacation. It was perfect. It was us. And it was gonna be awesome.
The universe has a way, of course, of taking you down a peg or three when you least expect it. The first hit came on Saturday morning, when I woke up much earlier than should be legal to go to a massage appointment. When we went to switch cars, the beau’s engine wouldn’t turn over. His starter had died. Well, what can you do? We put his car in neutral and backed it out, had a brief moment of excitement when it got going a little too fast and ended up in a very large and very deep pothole, strained to push it out of the pothole, then finally got it parked in place. At least I still had a car that ran, right? And it looked like I’d be doing all the driving until we could manage to get his car fixed.
Just a few short hours later, I went to wash our lunch dishes and found the kitchen sink wouldn’t drain. We don’t have a garbage disposal, so at first I thought the pop-up basket strainers had gotten stuck down. Nope. Even when I lifted the strainers out of the drains, the water level didn’t budge. What? We’re always careful not to let any food escape down the drains. In fact, we’re so careful with the kitchen pipes that — unlike other, more notorious sections of plumbing in the house — we’ve not once had a problem with them. Until now, it would seem.
Great timing, eh?
Just like the car issue, we decided to leave the plumbing issue behind for the moment. Well, what can you do? It was getting late and we had strict plans to go have us some fun.
And have fun we did. We drove down to the sleepy, semi-rural town of Ojai and had a wine tasting, took a stroll, visited a pub, and nibbled on some cheese and salami in a park. It was warm and bright, and the golden sunlight through the oak trees felt like summer. I took off my sweater and stood on the sidewalk in my army green tank dress and flip-flops. My stupid sunglasses kept sliding down my nose and my hair was a mess from rolling the windows down in the car, but I didn’t care. I leaned into the beau, then punched him lightly in the arm.
It was truly a beautiful afternoon.
Saturday night, we had dinner reservations at Julienne. We utterly spoiled ourselves at this restaurant. We ended up getting five-course tastings with wine pairings, and our ridiculously delicious meal unfolded languorously over 2.5 hours. We rolled ourselves home in a blissful haze that immediately dissipated when we opened the front door and got smacked in the face by the stench of dirty water standing in the kitchen sink.
OH, RIGHT. THAT.
We tried plunging it, and we tried snaking it. We even, God help us, tried Drano. Nothing worked.
It was a bummer of a way to end the day, but well, what can you do, indeed.
The next morning — the morning of our anniversary — we got up early, again, and tackled the stupid kitchen sink. The beau dismantled the pipes and proceeded to snake each one. He put them back together and the sink still wouldn’t drain, so he tried and tried again. The real low point came when the cranked snake accidentally spun out of control, spattering fetid black gunk all over the inside of the cabinet, the beau’s face, and his clothes.
My god, did it stink.
It took three hours to clear the plumbing and clean everything up, but we did it. We got a late start to our day, but we did it. We hadn’t been able to crack open the special bottle of champagne my parents had gotten us for our first anniversary like we wanted, and we hadn’t been able to hang out and relax with each other like we wanted, but the damn sink was fixed.
Things were looking up.
Things were going quite wonderfully, actually, as we drove over the mountains and into the hot Santa Ynez valley. Once again we had the windows all the way down to try to compensate for my broken air conditioning, but the beating sun made us sweat through our clothes anyway. The wind screamed through the car, whipping our hair around as we shouted along to music and to each other. We roamed the back roads until we chose a winery at random and happily, luckily, found ourselves sitting on a long shaded porch, watching deer eating leaves off the grape vines stretching out in rows below us. We were back in the universe’s favor once again.
Until very suddenly, we were not.
We started talking about what to have for dinner, and somehow, this turned into a fight. It sounds ludicrous, right? How can two people who love each other possibly fight over what to eat on their one-year wedding anniversary? I’m not sure, but we managed to figure it out. We were that couple in the corner, keeping our voices to a whisper, but whose tension and stiff body language was attracting the stares of all the other winery-goers. And then, even more preposterously, I was that person who started crying, and then I was that person who suddenly got a wad of tissues stuffed into her hand from the winery hostess, because even though I was trying to keep my crying a secret, apparently I’m not very good at keeping secrets.
And then? I don’t know. I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but everything completely and utterly fell apart. After a weekend of relatively minor frustrations and setbacks, we somehow weren’t able to overcome a simple disagreement about what to eat for dinner. I was so mortified about having cried in public that I couldn’t stop crying. I cried while driving; I cried while we tried to walk around the tiny town of Los Olivos and talk about things. And then we couldn’t seem to figure out how to talk about the fact that we couldn’t talk about things, so I cried about that.
I eventually stopped crying, and we were eventually able to sort ourselves out, but our moods didn’t improve. The sun had already set when we got back home, defeated. Our anniversary was practically over, and we had to get ready for the upcoming work week. And that’s really what killed me. I was so angry, and so incredibly disappointed, that a special day was ruined by stupid, useless shit. Without even meaning to, I’d inadvertently pinned hopes on this day. Nothing elaborate or particularly meaningful, mind you, but still. I’d envisioned us relaxing on the sun in a blanket, sipping our anniversary champagne and enjoying each other. You only get one first wedding anniversary, after all, and we’d clearly managed to ruin ours. What did all this bad juju mean for the future of our marriage?
And to top it off, we hadn’t even had sex, and what kind of couple doesn’t HAVE SEX on their FIRST WEDDING ANNIVERSARY!? 1
A bad couple in a bad marriage, that’s who.
That’s patently untrue. I know this. I know this because marriage isn’t a collection of anniversaries. Marriage is every day. And just like any other day of the year, special days can pleasantly surprise you, or rudely cut you back down to size. This past weekend we were on the receiving end of both extremes, which is much better than a barrage of purely bad stuff. I am so glad we had those few precious hours of fun on Saturday. Even though they didn’t technically happen on the day of our anniversary, they still happened.
Perversely, maybe it’s better that it ended up working out this way. What’s a more fitting tribute to a lifetime of marriage, with all its intrinsic ups and downs, than a weekend of ups and downs? A tableau of our marriage in miniature. Sweet and salty at the same time. Maddening and sublime.
Maybe the lesson here is that I should just grab the good whenever I can get it, and don’t look back.
… Of course, that means I’d have to go and learn a lesson, and what’s the fun in that?
1 Incidentally, this is why wedding-night and other “special occasion” sex makes me squirm. I have so much accumulated sex guilt that I don’t need the additional pressure of expectations wearing on my psyche. But, you know, THAT’S JUST ME. We are all different and preshus and speshul and I applaud anyone with sex confidence because, damn, it’s hard to come by. 2
2 HAW HAW I SAID “COME.”