On April 4th, Jennie and I celebrated our eight year anniversary. For some strange reason, we always cap off our celebration with a huge fight. Jennie claims it’s my fault. I’ll let you be the judge.
Before I get to this year’s train-wreck, let me give you a recap of our last two anniversaries:
April 4, 2015: Six Years Together
This was back when we were still living apart, caught up in a seventeen month long immigration nightmare. I was living in Toronto. Jennie was in Boston. Let’s just say we were thinking some un-American and politically incorrect thoughts at the time. We were also running out the rope on a six year long distance relationship. All because some incompetent nitwit sitting in a cubicle somewhere had lost our paperwork.
A month before our anniversary, I told Jennie I couldn’t bring myself to visit her that year. I informed her that I wasn’t going to set foot on American soil if it meant buying yet another round-trip ticket back to Toronto. The very thought made me physically ill. To make matters worse, I told her not to visit me because I knew that in my mental state, we were just going to end up fighting.
Needless to say, Jennie didn’t appreciate my candor and we ended up fighting on our anniversary anyway. Except instead of fighting in person, we did it over Skype.
So well played on my part.
April 4, 2016: Seven Years Together
I’m pleased to report that our seventh anniversary was not my fault. Jennie and I had just moved into our new Los Angeles apartment. We were in a new city and were both adjusting to our new environment. Jennie had a brand new job. I was writing more than I ever had in my life. We were feeling great.
A few problems though. We had no furniture in our apartment as our bed wouldn’t arrive for another week. We also had no power because the last tenant was late in paying his bills. Because our anniversary fell on a weekend, we had to wait until Monday to call the power company to maybe send a guy over at the most inconvenient time possible. BTW: if this were Taipei, I’d be able to walk down to my local 7-Eleven, pay my electric bill by machine and the lights would be back on by the time I got home.
We must have gone somewhere for dinner that year, though neither of us remember where we went. All we remember was coming home after charging our phones at a nearby Starbucks, getting into an argument about nothing in particular, then falling asleep on a pile of cardboard boxes. The weak, flickering flame of the candle we lit that night felt like a metaphor for our marriage.
What Happened This Year
The week leading up to our eight year anniversary was lovely. We had breakfast together every morning before work, trading memories about all the wonderful things we’ve experienced together since we started dating on a perfect spring morning in Kyoto, Japan. We both agreed to keep this year’s celebration low key: a sunset walk to a nearby sushi bar we’d been meaning to try - a small, unassuming place run by a Japanese husband and wife team. The restaurant even had a clock that ran counter-clockwise. Isn’t that poetic? Like going back in time.
When the day of our anniversary arrived, I was juggling a few deadlines and had also committed to a volunteer session that afternoon. Originally, I was under the assumption that Jennie would be at work, giving me time to take care of business before she came home.
What I didn’t account for was Jennie being a klutz and trying to off herself with a shard of glass to the wrist.
Now I don’t expect applause or anything, but for context: I’d been doing all the cooking, cleaning, and laundry for the week that Jennie was incapacitated, all while trying to keep up with a mounting pile of work. By our anniversary, I was feeling worn out and irritable. Meanwhile, Jennie felt increasingly neglected as I went about my tasks, barely acknowledging her existence.
That afternoon, after three hours of unsuccessfully trying to instill a love of reading into a group of eight year olds, I arrived home exhausted, but looking forward to some quality time. We took our sunset walk to the sushi bar, sat down and placed our orders.
The conversation that ensued went something like this:
Jennie: Tell me something.
Jennie: Tell me your favorite memory of us.
Ivan: Wait, I thought we already did this. You know, this past week over breakfast?
Jennie: Yeah, but today is my anniversary.
Ivan: Our anniversary. And I know. That’s why we’re sitting here having sushi.
Jennie (eyes narrow): Is it too much to ask for you to just come up with something?
Ivan: I've already told you my best memories. Now it just feels forced. Besides, I’m tired and all talked out today. Can’t we just do that thing where we look deeply into each other’s eyes and lapse into a comfortable silence?
You can imagine what happened next.
My Three Takeaways about relationships and arguments
1. Expectations are corrosive
I hate how certain days are “supposed” to be more romantic than others. Valentine’s Day, for example. Total bull-crap. It’s like we enjoy setting ourselves up to fail. I've had a great time with Jennie over the past eight years. Why should we have to get our hopes up for one day out of the year?
2. Focus on the journey over arbitrary milestones
We were never more appreciative of each other and happy in each other’s company than during the weeks leading up to our anniversary. It felt great. I may not be that bright, but it’s almost as if the process (i.e. spending our days together) is more important than some arbitrary milestone.
Btw: I feel the same way about birthdays. Why is being born such a great achievement? What did the baby do in the delivery room that’s so worth celebrating?
3. It’s (probably) my fault
I’m just a stubborn guy with a bad temper who prefers to be left alone 90% of the time. I should feel lucky that someone wanted to marry me in the first place. The most practical solution to avoid future blow-ups would be to refrain from standing on principle and just do the little that’s asked of me, right?