I married James, my high school sweetheart, in 2003, when I was 20 years old. This statement always elicits reactions. Some are positive, some are negative, and few are indifferent. In our teenage years and especially right after we were engaged at age 20, we heard a lot of comments like: “You can’t know what you want at that age and stage.” “You don’t have your ducks in a row.” “You aren’t even your own person yet.” “You don’t know what else is out there.” Every single one of those things is true. And not a single one of them has mattered. You can want something different at 60 than 30, or 25 than 20. You can evolve as your “own person” until you’re 100. There will always be something else “out there.” And those ducks? They don’t stay in rows anyway. Those who said we “weren’t even our own people yet” weren’t wrong, but it has never been a liability. Because we were so young, and had been together so long, we were like two saplings that sprouted so close to each other they eventually grew into what seemed like one tree. We knew in high school, as much as anyone can know at any age, that we wanted to keep growing together.
As I look ahead to the celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary next year, I have been thinking a lot about what that growth has looked like in our marriage—where we started (and how we looked like babies back then) and where we are now. Because we were not yet “full grown,” flexibility and openness to change were built into our marriage. We were able to bend and give and make crucial adjustments as our individual growth made adaptation necessary. When James and I dated as teenagers and then married just two years out of high school, we hadn’t lived long enough to become attached to anything but each other. All the other demands of adult life came along after our first priority—our partnership—was well established. And so, from the beginning, elements of simplicity and clarity came from “not even being our own people yet.”
I married a person who came of age alongside me and knows all the places, people and lore of our hometown of Stewartville, Minnesota. Because of this, he shares a significant portion of the who, what, when and where of my life story and our roots are intertwined in the same place. However, James and I are not the same people who graduated from high school together in 2001. As the seasons of life brought changes such as college, careers and children to our lives, our values, beliefs and priorities shifted in response. We are still developing into our own people. Our ducks get out of line. What we want and need from each other has changed over time. Still, we are growing together, just like we always have, and our shared roots have only reached deeper and wider with time.