We’ve been together since I was 20, but don’t go giving 20-year-old-me too much credit. I was more focused on the dreamy brown eyes, great abs, and charm. I had no idea what I was looking for in a life partner then and couldn’t possibly have planned and anticipated the kind of person I would need by my side. All I knew was the boy I’d had a crush on since I was 13 was kinda into me, so I was going to carpe the heck out of all the diems until he changed his mind.
Except he didn’t change his mind. And 16 years and a decade of marriage later, I still don’t have words for what I need except to say, Jon. He’s what I need.
Jon makes me a better person for my benefit, not his. He could choose to make me feel guilty for how much time I need by myself. He could choose to focus on the mess I make when I cook dinner or my inability to close drawers or how I leave the clothes I try on piled on the closet floor. He could nag me and cajole me and try to manipulate me into being better at that stuff because it would be easier for him if I was. He could try to mold me into a better person by focusing on what a better Jennifer would look like for him.
Instead, this: he encourages me to take care of myself. He calls friends to come and help out when the kids are sick while he’s out of town. He makes sure that I have the time, money, and space to write and dream and grow. He thanks me for cooking dinner every single time, even if I burn it or it tastes terrible or all we’re having is mac and cheese. He asks my advice and listens to my fears. And he does all of this while closing my drawers, cleaning up the kitchen, and hanging my clothes back up (facing to the left, of course). He molds me into a better person by already seeing me as that person.
I didn’t know he’d do all of that at 20 when I said yes to being his girlfriend. I didn’t know he’d do it at 26 when I said yes to being his wife.
But now I know. And as someone who’s almost always faster with a no, the power of that yes isn’t lost on me.
I can’t tell you how to choose the right person to marry. I don’t have a checklist or a roadmap, and if I wasn’t a praying person I’d chalk up being with Jon to dumb, blind luck. And then of course, there’s also the caveat that even a marriage to the right person is the hardest work you’ll ever put in.
But I think choosing rightly has something to do with how they see you and our human tendency to meet expectation. The wrong person focuses your attention on your failures and shortcomings. Their dissatisfaction is what drives your improvement, and they have you forever chasing the ideal version of yourself, because that’s the one who’s worthy of love.
The right person pushes you toward betterment too, but not in a way that makes you feel like you’re not enough as you are. It’s more like becoming so convinced of your own value and worth that you expand into the person you were always meant to be. It’s feeling safe enough to settle in and drop a few defenses and lean into your own potential. When you do that, there’s a risk of failure, sure, but the certainty in the love that grounds you strengthens your resolve. When you feel safe, you stretch. You soften. You view life not from a place of scarcity, but one of abundance. There is enough. You are enough.
I knew none of that at 20. Or 26. Even now I think I only know enough to be grateful for it. To be grateful for Jon and the way he sees me and the way he never stops trying to get me to see myself.
Yes, marriage is hard work. But I’ve found that when we’re putting in the most effort, it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like rest.
It feels like home.