Fourteen years ago.

As with most things I’ve done in life, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought I did. I thought I understood the magnitude of what I was about to do, but really?

Twenty-one years old. I’d lived a sheltered life, working in the family business from the age of thirteen, and full-time from fifteen. I’d continue to work there for another five years.

Eight months before. The second of July, 1995. I was volunteering at a Christian campsite during the winter season. There were four of us arrived that day. The odd blonde girl wearing a Cookie Monster T-shirt and singing Sesame Street songs at the Lodge for her first winter season. A guy and a girl from the 1994 winter staff team. I’d had a crush on her since the previous winter season.

We all went out for dinner that evening. My crush made it very clear that evening that she wasn’t interested.

I ended up working shifts in the kitchen with the odd blonde girl. A week later we started dating.

Three weeks after we met, I asked her to marry me. It wasn’t a terribly romantic proposal (or relationship). Heading back to Cooma after spending the weekend visiting her parents; I asked her as we drove past Pheasant’s Nest on the F5. She later told me she thought I was joking, so she said yes.

I wasn’t joking. Suddenly we were caught up in the whirlwind.

Eight months to the day from when we met, on the second of March 1996, I stood next to my brothers in a sweltering church. It was the day John Howard was elected; he’d go on to govern the country for twelve years. I voted for him. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

We stood in a sweltering church Anglican church in Castle Hill, and exchanged vows in front of a church full of people, most of whom I barely knew. Hell, I barely knew the nineteen year old I was exchanging wedding vows with. I barely knew myself. And we didn’t know each other. How quaint, in this day and age. Virgins on our wedding day.

I made promises in front of God and a group of people I barely knew, that I was convinced I would keep. I was twenty-one years old. There were a lot of things I was convinced I knew; I was wrong about most of them. No-one knew what the future would bring, but we believed we’d make it; we promised we would.

There were whispers at the wedding reception. “They’re too young”. “It won’t last”. Not to said to us, but to those closest to us.

Perhaps we were too young. We were both broken people. We each had a load of hurt we were carrying around, and it didn’t take long before we unleashed it on each other. How could we have really understood what we were saying when we promised “for better or for worse; for richer or poorer; in sickness and in health…”

My poor financial skills were already visible, if you knew where to look. Who could predict my mental health issues? Her physical health issues? Neither of us realised that we had no clue about conflict resolution, and conflicts would go unresolved. For better or worse indeed. There were some good times, but a lot of “worse”. No point in pointing fingers; we both shared the blame.

And yet…

Perhaps it was sheer stubbornness, that neither of us were willing to be the first one to throw in the towel. Love can grow in the rockiest of soils. That shared experiences, even shared pain, can become part of something greater; this is something that seems difficult to grasp these days.

Some couples start out great, attuned to each other, sharing everything. But they grow apart. Maybe they chose to put themselves first, their happiness first. Maybe something happened that changed everything. One day they’re two strangers sharing a house, maybe a bed.

Some couples start out badly. Everything falls apart, and it seems the more you try and stick it back together, the worse it breaks. But you both keep going; trying again and again, in spite of your mistakes. Over time, you find that things are starting to stick. Sure, it might not look great from the outside, and maybe even worse from the inside, but you keep patching the broken things up, and you just keep moving forward.

One day, you look back and realise that years have passed. That each of those days – good, bad and fair-to-middling – have added up to something greater than the sum of its parts. Through the brokenness, you’ve built something… beautiful.

It was never very Hollywood. Television and movies tell stories about love. If you just feel that spark, you just look into each others eyes, you’ll just know. That warm feeling will carry you through the hardest of times.

Hollywood lies. Love can start with romance, but romance isn’t love. Neither is sex. Sex can be the glue that can hold a marriage together or without love it can tear a marriage apart. The warm romantic fuzzies go away; romance is a paper boat in a perfect storm. Romance isn’t built for sickness or mental illness; car accidents or broken dreams; miscarriages and difficult pregnancies; temptation or financial strife.

Love is when you keep going in spite of everything inside you screaming “GIVE UP NOW! IT’S NOT WORTH IT ANY MORE”. Persevering for the sake of the other, and maybe in that moment, you find yourself. Love grows in and through those experiences, if you let it.

Real love gets knocked down by life and gets right back up and screams “IS THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT?!?”

Fourteen years ago I stood in front of a group of people, most of whom I didn’t know, and a nineteen year-old woman I barely knew and was asked by an old family friend “Do you take this woman, to be your wife, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, for as long as you both shall live?”

I still do.

I love you, Tan. Happy anniversary.

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