This Is What ‘I Do’ Really Means

When I said “I do,” I had no idea what I was getting into.

I wore my grandmother’s wedding dress and my great-grandmother-in-law’s necklace. I carried calla lilies. I screwed up some part where I was supposed to kneel in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary for an entire hymn. I got a six-carat sapphire engagement ring; our wedding rings were specially made and engraved in Ireland. I don’t remember the part where I actually said “I do,” but there were the usual parts, about sickness and health, rich and poor, as long as you both shall live. I do. I thought the greatest tragedy, the biggest annoyance, could come when my best friend spilled Sprite on the flower girl during the limo ride.

This year, my husband had tonsillitis on Mother’s Day. He had to run to the doc-in-a-box first thing Sunday morning; this left me to drag three small children to Sunday mass alone. I called him crying from the parking lot because someone had mistaken me for pregnant. “The day’s ruined,” I cried. “I guess you won’t eat those donuts,” he said sadly.

I was on a strict diet, and we’d been talking about Krispy Kreme for weeks. He’d stopped on his way to the pharmacy, two antibiotic shots aching in his ass, to get me my own order of Mother’s Day donuts. He told me I was beautiful. He told me I didn’t look pregnant and that the lady who said so was stupid and rude. He said I was amazing and wonderful and lovely and perfect.

This is what “I do” really means. It means saving each other. It means building each other up. It’s a series of small gestures that keep the other one going.

It can also be the big gestures that save each other. When I said “I do,” we knew I had some mental health issues. We didn’t know I would eventually develop a severe anxiety disorder and treatment-resistant depression that’s possibly bipolar disorder, along with the untreated ADHD we’d never guessed at.

My husband ended up with a wife radically different from the one he thought he was getting: a woman who would cry for hours, who would suffer through serious desires to kill herself, who would actually outline plans to do it. A woman who would end up in an outpatient mental health treatment center, necessitating him taking family leave and missing the last two weeks of school (as a high school teacher) to take care of our kids.

He never wavered. He never stopped trying to help me. He never said he wished I would just change, or that he’d be better off without me. He still said he loved me even when I said I wanted a divorce because he deserved better. Every couple goes through some kind of big scare like this: repeated miscarriages, or bankruptcy, or death in the family. But something big happens, and someone has to man or woman up and be there for the other person. That’s “I do.”

“I do” also means accepting the unexpected. It means standing in the hallway while your husband stands in the living room, and announcing — when you haven’t been trying and he doesn’t have a real job and you already have a 1- and a 3-year-old — that you’re pregnant. And he answers, “Fuck!” and you cry, but you do it together. And one day he’s not mad, and you’re not scared anymore, and that baby is 3 years old and whining “I want to watch something else” over and over and over and over, and it’s a whole other kind of “I do.”

“I do” means a hundred other moments, a hundred other sacrifices and fears and tears and hugs. It means that he puts up with your Pinterest fails and you put up with his football. It means that you let him into bed when he’s eaten nothing but a bowl of baked beans for dinner, and that’s just disrespectful. It means that he accepts you’ve played Hamilton for the kids so many times that they can sing the dirty parts, and you accept that when you wake up on Saturday morning, he’ll be out fishing. “I do” means loving each other despite the baby weight, despite the acne, and despite the gray hairs.

When I said “I do,” I thought I knew what I was getting into. Ten years, three kids, and three dogs later, I realize I have no idea. I don’t know what those vows will ask of me tomorrow. I don’t know the ways I’ll be called to love him next week. I can only know I made a promise to him. I made a promise to myself. I said “I do” because I loved him. And I stick with it every day because I make the choice to keep loving him. It probably doesn’t sound sappy enough, but it’s the sappiest thing in the world.

Bear, I choose to love you. I choose you today. I choose you tomorrow. And I will keep choosing you every day, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, so long as we both shall live.

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