Sometime in the early dark of evening on this winter solstice, my marriage to Kelly will officially turn 18 years old. It will be old enough to vote. Our relationship has really grown up. Heck, it’s old enough to get married itself! These, I should point out, are the khaki-wearing Dad-joke punchlines I’ve been wearing out the last several days. When you’ve been married for 18 years, it means you are officially old enough* to make cornball quips like this.

The term of years in this year’s anniversary hit me a bit harder than normal. Perhaps it’s because I remember turning 18 myself–because I was in college. When I turned 18, among other things, I bought a pack of cigarettes at the convenience store. I didn’t smoke, but I thought it would be interesting just to buy a pack, Joe Cool on campus and whatnot. Fortunately our marriage behaves much better than a college freshman.

Newlyweds often mark anniversaries with notes about how in love they are, or how lucky they are to spend the rest of their lives with their partners. Couples who are new parents change up the language a bit, admiring their other halves for the mothers or fathers they are.

But at this point, at 18 years of marriage, at a stage in which we are both working hard at our jobs, dissolving so much of our free time into our children’s lives, earnestly committing our talents and identities to avenues of interest and service around us, it’s helpful to reconsider the language of how we talk about our relationship.

The voting joke is actually a reasonable metaphor. Our marriage is much more a democracy these days–a thoughtfully checked and balanced partnership–one that is designed to buffet winter storms and endure the blips of partisanship. Unlike a democracy, though, there is no tie-breaking vote, only a split house or a supermajority.

However, Dear Reader, our world has had its share of democratic hyperventilation, so let’s change metaphors.

Our marriage is full of love that has seeped down into the worn places, where it soothes while waiting to be discovered. It is like the spring flowers that appear, almost overnight, in places expected and unexpected. It is as reliable and trustworthy as our old pooch, Taylor, whose honest eyes let you know right away when something isn’t in line.

It might surprise you to hear that in the nearly 20 years I’ve been writing online, I have never written a post about our anniversary. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I have never felt like I’ve been able to come up with anything better to say than the tired clichés that fill Hallmark racks. And a lot of that has to do with my insistence, for better or worse, that my marriage is to Kelly, not to you, Dear Reader. Every trip across this 21st of December is a testimony to the journey she and I have undertaken. I assure you that I’ve taken time to privately note and celebrate the many wonderful things that form the foundation of our relationship. I’ve just never felt compelled to bother you with them. I’ve never felt comfortable with (online) public displays of affection. Besides, we live enough of our lives all too publicly, don’t we?

So I’ll spare you the long list of things I love about my wife, or the many reasons I cherish our marriage. I’ll save that for tonight, after the kids have gone to bed, when Kel and I will quietly crack open a nice bottle of Scotch.

Instead, I’ll say this: if you know Kelly, or if you know me, or if you know us both, you already know she is such a remarkable person and so worth loving with all my heart. (And likewise, what a Christmas miracle it is that she still endures me!) As we trace our fading arcs around the sun, our marriage these days keeps me full and happy.

2020 has been a year of extraordinary change for us all, but in so many ways, it has given Kelly and me the opportunity to live into our marriage like never before. It’s really something to inhabit a relationship, particularly in times when you’re ordered to stay inside. I can think of no one I’d rather spend time with in this house.

*Author’s note: I would be remiss if I did not point out that Kelly and I were married when we were mere babies–in case you were wondering about the math of young people such as ourselves having somehow been married for 18 years. My other Dad joke is that we had to go to South Carolina, because at our age it was the only place we could legally wed.