by Ron Vitale
I'll let you in on a little secret: I'm a romantic. I decided a long, long time ago to embrace life and to live it to the fullest. But on seeing Richard Linklater's most recent film, Before Midnight, I have come face to face with the delusional yearnings of my youth and the hard, cold reality of the present. Bills, arguments, lack of sleep, screaming kids, work upon work, and a whole list of stresses, make me ask: Am I still a romantic and would I recommend others to be the same?
Once Upon a Time
Back in 1992 I graduated with both an English Literature and French degree and thought I'd be a novelist, making my living doing what I love. With a not so great economy, I went on to graduate school and earned my Masters in English Literature. In 1995, while still in graduate school, I met my wife and we've been together for 18 years, 5 months, 4 days and give or take a few hours (we just celebrated our 13 wedding anniversary).
Both of us are extremely creative and over the years we've done some cool things together. We went to France in 1999 and I proposed to her during the last total solar eclipse of the millennium in Reims. Over the years I have worked hard to remain romantic, to keep the spark of our love alive. One time that sticks out in my memory still makes me smile on seeing how her face had lit up. When she came home from a rough day of work, I had taped dozens of business cards to the ceiling with thread. Each card was taped to the back of another and they all had funny and cool sayings on them. As she walked through the room, Pat Benatar's "We Belong" blasted out from speakers.
In our early years together, I would do cool and exciting things for her and she would surprise me with fun moments and gifts. (One of my favorite gifts she gave me is a bubble frame that has pictures of my son when he was under 2 years of age. Each bubble contains a tiny memory from the picture: A piece of pasta in the bubble pic of the first time he ate pasta with sauce all over his face or a seashell from our trip to the beach). I look back at all of these memories and am so amazed and happy with how great times were.
Dark Days and the Storms of Life
And then, what happened? Months before our son was born my grandfather died, two months later my grandmother passed on and then another two months passed and my father-in-law was also gone. Three months later my son was born. Both of us knew little, if anything, of what parenting truly meant.
Over the next two years, my wife's grandmothers passed away and between work, stress and raising a kid, there didn't seem to be much time to be romantic any longer. In 2007 our daughter was born and over that time, my wife had lost her job, found another and we worked hard and harder to make ends meet. With lack of sleep from the kids being sick or up, I was irritable. Yelling and fighting took place more often than not and the joy in life just didn't seem to be there any longer. Granted, there would be pockets of fun, but my wife kept asking me: "Why does it have to be this hard?"
I didn't know the answer but started hearing stories of divorce within our own circle of friends or I'd hear my coworkers' similar stories. But I hung in there and then came my dreaded mid-level crisis. When I turned 39 years old, my brain seemed to go into overdrive: I kept wondering what had I done with my life? What ever happened to me writing books? What about going back to Europe? What about other hopes and dreams?
My wife's job made a turn for the worst and the stress in the household was at an all-time high. And here's the secret: Both my wife and I started thinking: "Would it be easier if we separated? What if we got out of all of this and moved on?" All of what we had and all of what we had wanted when we were in our 20s seemed so far away.
The Journey Is the Destination
Both my wife and I have had thoughts of quitting the marriage and of giving up. We've been honest about it to each other. The stresses of life can be overwhelming. (And I've been told my older couples that the problems we have now in our life will only get more complicated: "Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.)
In all the stress, my wife and I had started to tune each other out. It can become so easy to think negative thoughts and to roll your eyes up to the heavens and say: "Here we go. I've heard this all before." We fought, argued, and kept talking.
One day it hit me: I had made a choice a long, long time ago. I chose to love my wife. And each day I choose to do so through both the good and the bad times. I did not know what that meant 18 and a half years ago. I am human and make mistakes. I sometimes say stupid and hurtful things. I sometimes do dumb things. My wife has done and said hurtful things as well. But there's a key lesson that I want to share with you. When I was in Catholic high school, I met a priest who told me that love is "seeing good in someone and actively helping to see that good grow."
That is what I do when I choose to love my wife each day. I am a romantic, but life isn't all about romance. Life is about pain and joy. It's a mixture of both that is so sublime and amazingly wonderful. I believe each of us has a choice to make: To let go and allow the storms of life to wash over us, bending like a tree in the wind, or we break like the old tree that is uprooted from the hurricane. We fall over and give up and separate. I pray that I can always see and to remember the importance of accepting that life is hard. Marriage is hard. Raising children is ten thousand times harder than I ever could have imagined (yet amazingly rewarding at the same time). But in the end, wouldn't it be wonderful to know that we loved, for better or for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part with the person we once used to see the sunrise with when we were young? That's what I choose each day. And that's why I'm a romantic.
Ron Vitale is the author of the dark fantasy series Cinderella's Secret Diaries who believes in love and its power to transform the world.