Two weeks ago I chugged a caramel mocha, heavy on the whipped cream. When I raised my eyes from my cup, I saw my husband grinning at me. “Are you happy?” He asked.
He has asked me this question 100x before. I don’t know why this is the first time I actually heard it. It was as if for the first time it clicked with me how often my husband checks in, to make sure I am enjoying whatever activity we are doing. “Are you happy?” is like his tagline. It doesn’t matter where we are or what stage of life we are in. On our first date we sat at the beach and dangled our feet off the pier while watching the sunset.
“Are you happy?” he whispered in my ear. He has been asking me this question for nearly a decade, and yet in a little coffee shop two weeks ago, was the first time I really heard it.
My husband wants to make my life better. He tries to find ways to actively make sure he is measurably doing that. When I’m not happy, we fix it. We switch restaurant’s, we spend more time together, we put all the kids in the car and go for a drive. His philosophy is, if we aren’t happy, let’s do something different and see if it helps. But you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. Sometimes I don’t even realize I am happy until he asks me. I’m face deep in whip cream and caramel. This is exhilarating. Thanks for making me pause long enough to notice.
I’m not easy to make happy either. I mean chips and salsa aside, I am a complex social creature. I’m one of those “all in” personalities. I am either living THE BEST LIFE EVER (caps necessary) or I’m sobbing in the dark, wailing to the wind that God has forgotten me. I believe the clinical term for this is manic. For the sake of my tender ego, we will go with flaky because I am pretty sure that’s not on the spectrum. Nonetheless, it’s important to take stalk of where you are at, and let yourself put words to it. Are you happy? In your job, in your home, in your marriage, in your body? Are you truly happy? Or are you just busy? There is a difference.
We tend to think that life is something that happens to us, rather than something we are supposed to make happen for ourselves. It’s okay if you aren’t happy. This is the first generation to be able to binge Greys Anatomy seasons 1-97 in a four-day blackout. We aren’t used to hard work and things that don’t come quickly. We want microwaves and Hulu. Our idea of patience is Super Bowl commercials. Of course everyone thinks they don’t have the magical romantic marriage that their Instagram friends do. Of course we all question our own career choices, relationship choices, and parenting decisions. These things take time and work to filter through and we aren’t used to that.
I teach communications, and one thing that has always fascinated me is how prone relationships are to conflict. The tighter the relationship the greater the number of conflicts. What that means is, marriage is filled with conflict, and that’s normal. It doesn’t mean you have an unhappy marriage, it means you are highly dependent on another person, and that often creates points of contention. Of course, you and your best pals aren’t experiencing conflict. You aren’t lying next to them at 3am contemplating your own death due to their labored breathing. This marriage junk is far more complex than the word “happy” can even begin to unravel. Some nights you are getting the warm fuzzies watching them sleep, others you are huddled under the covers googling one way flights to Taiwan. That’s life homey. Peaks and valleys.
I don’t have a happy marriage. No one does. Happy doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the highs and lows that come with devotion and commitment. What we do have, are complex relationships with people who hopefully try and make our lives better, even when they don’t know how.
And honestly…doesn’t that make you happy?
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