Sometimes romance takes you to wonderful, special, memorable places. But sometimes, where you already are and what you already have is everything you really need.
When it comes to anniversary gifts, etiquette once required the following of “The List” of traditional gifts to mark the occasion; many a married woman (and her mother-in-law) subscribed to this list with precision to ensure the carrying out of proper social graces.
Following tradition can be fun, and it can even lend additional meaning to relationship milestones. And if you are blessed to be together 30, 40, 50 years or more, who would turn down a beautiful piece of jewelry in celebration of a significant anniversary?
How do you celebrate the in-between years, though? Years like 17, 23, 31, or 42? Achieving that many years of marriage means something, too, but there simply isn’t a place on the chart for those odd-duck years. Still, every year of marriage under one’s belt deserves a moment of recognition, and for my husband and I, this year, Year 19, called for something a little different.
David was 16 and I was just 14 when we met on my first day of high school choir, and from the moment I laid eyes on his long hair and bespectacled face, I was smitten. He was an avid fan of the Beatles and looked like a modern amalgamation of all four of those dapper lads. Dark hair, warm brown eyes, and a stunning tenor voice capable of capturing the poignant spirit of “Yesterday” or classical compositions in Italian or German or French.
He was a gangly youth – mildly geeky, amiable, and interesting. After a few years of being the best of friends, he was mine. We married two weeks to the day after my high school graduation, attended college together, and waited 10 years to have children.
Like most marriages, we’ve weathered challenges, disagreed, and even drifted apart at times. Yet, always, we’ve come back together. Chosen each other. Persevered. Because the vows we made at 18 and 20 still matter to us now.
So, in the midst of busy work lives; ferrying children hither, thither, and yon; making it to family dentist and doctor appointments; and all the other to-do’s that fill up life … how do you properly celebrate 19 years of marriage?
It’s easy to let an anniversary pass us by at this stage of the game, and let it be just another day. After more than half our lives together, “stuff” doesn’t hold the same meaning it once did, and while we’d love to take a romantic trip (sans kids) to celebrate our continued commitment, that simply wasn’t in the budget this year.
So, lunch. But not just any lunch! My husband, holder of a bachelor’s degree in music education, is now a medical technician at the regional hospital where we live. What better way to celebrate our love than a 30-minute lunch date at – wait for it – the hospital cafeteria.
I enjoyed a chicken burrito and he had enchiladas. He carried the tray and pulled out the chair for me, and we found a quiet corner in a bit of sun to catch up on our week, ponder the travel we hope to enjoy in the next year or two, and laugh about the latest antics of our school-aged children. The (former) groom wore scrubs, the (former) bride wore a T-shirt and jeans, and both of us were just happy to see each other during daylight in the middle of a week when he was working 70+ hours.
No matter what we’re celebrating, it is time together, making eye contact, catching up, planning, and dreaming that really matter.
I can recall a fancy, high-priced dinner once, with flowers waiting when we arrived: the longest-stemmed roses I’d ever seen, and they took over the entire table. One year, we flew to an island I’d never heard of to snorkel amid sea turtles, exotic fish, and the most incredible coral reefs we could have imagined. Another year we visited art galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Baby No. 2 was on the way, and our daughter, a little over a year old then, stayed with my sister’s family while we enjoyed a brief babymoon before her brother arrived.
I don’t know whether we’ll be blessed to ever “celebrate” the pearls, rubies, emeralds, or diamonds that fill the traditional list of milestone anniversary gifts, but I do know this: The shared celebration of our years together doesn’t have to involve a lot of swag, an exciting destination, or jewelry of any kind. It is enough on some of those “odd-duck” years – and even on the years with traditional gifts attached – to simply be in each other’s company, look into each other’s eyes over a tray of cafeteria food, and say, “It’s good to see you. I’m so glad we’re together, after all the exciting, mundane, challenging, happy, sad, and every other kind of day we’ve shared. I love you.”