Nothing makes my heart leap like the sound of his key in the front door

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So … why do you suppose this marriage works when our first ones didn’t?

I casually posed this question to my husband the other night as we sat in the back yard, sipping wine and watching daytime slowly fade into night.

“Why do you ask?” he responded, hesitation in his voice.

As in … Why are you asking vague questions out of the blue? Are we about to have one of “those” conversations? Because if we are, I’m going inside.

When you’re married, you can interpret all of that from four little words.

I reassured him that I wasn’t holding out the bait. It was a genuine question — and I didn’t really have an answer. Turns out, he really didn’t either.

He paused for a moment, and then offered, “We were older this time.”

True, that. In your 20s, you think you know exactly who you are, and you don’t figure out for another 20 years or so that you really didn’t have a clue back then. Trouble is, 20-year-old you may have married someone that 40-year-old you cannot tolerate. I speak from experience. By the time I was approaching 40, it was painfully clear to me that the choices I made at 22 were no longer emotionally sustainable. I had to extract myself from an intolerable situation. There was no other option. I realized one day that I was inside a burning building. I could either get out or be turned to ashes. I got out.

Having been singed the first time around, I was in no hurry to jump back into the fire any time soon, and it was a full 10 years later before I gave it another try. The Cutest Man In The World, with some charred edges of his own, felt the same way about getting hitched. In fact, more so than I. Getting married again became an impossible conundrum. He said if two people love each other, a piece of paper shouldn’t matter. I said “exactly” — so if they have the piece of paper, it also shouldn’t matter. The topic became toxic, and any discussion of marriage was to be avoided at all costs: Don’t. Go. There.

Oddly enough, right about the time I stopped caring if I had the piece of paper, he asked me to marry him. I was so surprised, I kept telling him to ask me again for the rest of that day. And he did.

If this was Facebook, I would type <3.

So, despite our poor track records at marriage, we tried again. Five years ago on May 1, we tied the knot. Quite literally. Neither of us much interested in swimming in the mainstream, we had a private handfasting in the Harbin Hot Springs temple — just me and him and the couple who did the ceremony, and then a little casual backyard party at a friend’s home. Both days were very low-key and relaxing.

And then, there we were — married. Again.

So, what did it change? Aside from the fact that I got a huge upgrade on my last name (remember when you tried to pronounce LoGuercio?), very little. We were in love then, we’re in love now, and even more so. But in a different, deeper way. Back then, it was breathless, romantic, red-hot love. Now, it’s comfortable, familiar love. It’s peaceful. It’s not an effort. It’s “home.” And neither of us is even trying, particularly. It just works. That’s the real irony — in my first marriage, the harder I tried to fix it, the worse it got.

I feel like I should have insightful words of wisdom. One of those “Ten Things You Need to be Happily Married” lists that are so popular now. Something to offer young couples about how to have a happy life together. Aside from “wait until you’re 30,” all in all, I got nuthin’.

Why does this relationship work when the first one didn’t? Maybe because our respective neuroses are compatible? Maybe because we don’t have the strain of raising children? Maybe because the bloom was already off both of these old roses, and we already knew what we were getting when we said, “I do”?

Looking at other couples, I can’t really pinpoint “the key” in them either. I see couples who seem like they should be living an enchanted life… and they fall apart. I see other couples where I can’t imagine two people more poorly suited for each other, and they’re smiling and enjoying life, and having a 30th wedding anniversary. I wish I could reveal the magic marital charm, but I can’t.

If forced to come up with something, I’d have to say it’s holding off to get married until you’re mature enough to become a whole person all on your own. Then find a partner who is also a whole person, all on his or her own. None of that “my other half” business. A half times a half is a fourth, and one times one is one. It takes two whole people to have one solid relationship. If the other person is psychologically fractured, you end up spending all your energy filling in those cracks. It doesn’t work. Trust me on this, it doesn’t work.

Wholeness. Maybe that’s they key. When I’m with Joe, I feel exactly the same as I am when I’m alone. If you “get” that… seek that out. Find the person you don’t have to try to be with. The one you don’t “need.” The one who makes you feel like you’re “enough,” just the way you are. The one who makes you feel whole. Marry that one.

So, in the end, I don’t know why our marriage works, I only know that it works. And that nothing makes my heart leap with joy like the sound of his key in the door every evening.

 Email Debra DeAngelo at; read more of her work at and

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