As published in The Providence Journal, November 19, 2017.
It would be a bicoastal celebration – Massachusetts and California – with the first part just up the road in Boston. Deb and I arrived at the Renaissance Hotel to begin our anniversary getaway, and there was an immediate hiccup. The twentysomething desk clerk informed us that our room had twin beds.
“That’s what happens with Groupon,” she added apologetically, her eyes fixed on her screen.
“We’ve been married for 30 years,” I said. “Doesn’t that at least merit a double?” I made a joke about Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, but only Deb laughed.
After tapping her keyboard with rapid-fire efficiency, the clerk told us she’d be happy to switch our room. She was also giving us free Wi-Fi.
That’s what three decades of marriage get you – free Internet access.
Deb and I were 24 when she peeked into my cubicle at the ad agency where we both worked. I was smitten by her easy laugh and the freckle on her lower lip. We shared a love of Talking Heads songs and Shakespeare’s sonnets, one of which we chose for a reading at our wedding ceremony three years later:
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments …”
Our early days were carefree and fun, with Deb’s outgoing personality balancing my introversion. When we went on weekend jaunts to Cape Cod, I wrote out the driving directions beforehand, while Deb struck up conversations with strangers along the way. Soon we had new friends.
Three children came in quick succession. Ours was a boisterous and happy house, with preschool artwork on the refrigerator, toys on the floor, and a sweet dog at the foot of someone’s bed each night.
When people asked how we managed the almost-constant commotion, Deb and I paraphrased a David Byrne lyric: “We’re making it up as we go along.”
But as years passed, we weren’t always in tune – about finances, about career paths, and, more distressingly, about what we wanted from one another. With increasing frequency, we got tripped up by the “impediments” we had so glibly dismissed on our wedding day. Our relationship had less spark and more friction, and our 20th anniversary passed with little fanfare.
When Deb suggested we “see someone,” as in a marriage counselor, all I heard was “failure.” When she said we needed help to figure things out, I countered that we’d work harder. Or I said nothing at all. It would be a year before I agreed to go with her to our first appointment.
The twice-a-month sessions surprised me, as did an early observation by our counselor: “You made progress just by coming here,” she said. “You both still care.”
Deb and I began to see how, for all our compatibility, we came from very different places. My grandparents were Italian and Irish immigrants; Deb’s roots went back to the American Revolution. My mother and father divorced before I was 10; Deb’s family had vacationed together in Florida and out West. My actions were usually premeditated; my wife lived in the moment. The list went on. Our marriage would either reconcile the gaps or accentuate the distance.
Couples therapy didn’t erase our differences, but it did lead us to new conversations and a renewed faith in one another. Eventually, we had the confidence to go it alone again.
Three months after Deb and I wed, Bruce Springsteen released “Tunnel of Love,” a 12-song meditation on relationships and marriage. On the title track, the Boss sings “it’s easy for two people to lose each other in this tunnel of love.” It’s my favorite Springsteen album; Deb’s, too.
On the Californian segment of our anniversary trip, we were drawn not to a tunnel, but to a bridge – the Bixby Creek Bridge, which traverses 714 feet over a steep canyon in Big Sur, audacious as a nuptial vow. Later, martinis in hand, Deb and I marveled at the iconic concrete span – still connected and still beautiful despite (or perhaps because of) its nicks and wear.
We could have been toasting ourselves.