What (our) marriage is really like

Our sixteenth wedding anniversary falls on Friday this year: the last day of the school quarter, and the last weekend of Firefighter 1 training. The first thing Ryan says to me in the morning is Happy anniversary, and we share a good hug. Then we are bustling the kids out the door and clearing up breakfast dishes, and I am preparing to take Jenny to a friend’s house for the morning.

Ryan heads to his office to work, a short commute through the hallway, and powers up his monitors.

What were we doing sixteen years ago this time?

At noon, we meet briefly to share sandwiches in the dining room, a three-year-old between us.

An amber alert comes in for a missing child, abducted by her father. I line up my transportation to community choir on Monday. Bio grandma messages me a euphoric thank you for the school picture of a first grader. The afternoon passes quietly, me brainstorming about Christmas presents and doing some sneaky browsing online, Ryan staying hard at work to pay for it.

By 4:30 pm (about the time we were eating white-on-white layer cake at our reception), I have packed a sack lunch for him. He must leave before dinner for the written portion of his Firefighter 1 test. He has been operating as a volunteer firefighter for seven years, but this is a formal certification not all firemen attain. The written portion is intense, the kind of thing that others who sit in the room with him tonight will confess they are taking for the third time. And all you need is 70% to pass. Tomorrow, practical skills will be tested: forcible entry, vehicle fire, breathing apparatus, searching, rope knotting, and more – and that part, you have to nail perfectly or retake.

Without him, the kids and I eat eggs-in-a-nest, little sausages, fruit. Some anniversary dinner. But we will get our chance to celebrate in a few days.

He returns home earlier than I think he will Friday night, after the kids are in bed but before I am. We are quiet together on the couch, savoring a few minutes with the house to ourselves. He reads news articles. I waffle between two quietly intellectual books.

It is on Saturday, when he has left in the wee hours* of the morning without me seeing him, when I am parenting the kids alone and planning pizza for supper, that he drops the unwelcome anniversary gift.

*It might have been in the sixes, which is wee on the weekend.

Around noon, he sends me a line of texts.

So, I want to prepare you.

This is a state supervised class.

Which means they won’t allow me to test without shaving.

I love you.

It will regrow.

I put down my phone without responding and move on to the next task as if I have not read that the world is going to end for a few days. How dare he? This is not the first time he will shave his whiskers for the state, and it will probably not be the last, God forbid. Each September, a mandated training* requires him to shave clean for maximum facepiece adherence. But we already went through that this fall! Staggered through to the light at the end of the tunnel! And now, just when our marriage is at this happy, tender place!

*In previewing this post, he just told me it is not mandated. I am going to go string him up with a running bowline and a clove hitch.**

**He is reading over my shoulder as I type this. Giving me suggestions on what kind of knots I could use.

He tells me he is lucky to be allowed facial hair on the department at all. At which point I tell him if they ever pass a bylaw about that – well – it’s Them or Me. I think nothing of a man without regimentals, as Lydia said. In this case, facial hair.

I am devoted to his.

Simultaneously to growing it out, he developed a whole new level of manhood and authority, a power that made me blush. I cannot bear to have it gone.

His whiskers are not the fast-growing kind. It will be at least ten days till their full regrowth, and a good week before I can look at him again full-on, much less kiss him. I am not punishing him. I am being chaste, waiting for this stranger to move out and my husband to return.

Where is he? Who will take care of me? Who will I snuggle up to so I know it’s going to be okay?

I’m not saying I don’t have my share of fantasies, but I can honestly say that not one of them involves being wedded to a teenager.

I have never been the kind of woman sympathetic to male weakness. When my husband is sick, or moaning about a little thing like his shoulder being out of socket, you know, something like that: I always hate him a little. I try to be nice and encouraging, but underneath I am thinking You wimp. Letting a little thing like double pneumonia take you down. An ancient iron spike through your foot. Pfff. Get UP, man.

It’s a bummer. He tries not to be sick very often.

Or whiskerless, which is kind of the same thing.

Worse, we leave for our anniversary trip soon. I can’t tell you when exactly, because travel plans are the one disclosure he does not allow me online, but all I can say is this.

I hope that hair grows fast.

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Kendra Sensenig
3 years ago

I laughed hard at your fantasies (or lack thereof). Isn’t married life funny? The things we give and take and grow in and love and hate?
My husband recently shaved his beard, and I discovered that he’d been hiding the most adorable chin. I am smitten. I adore it.
And now he wants to grow his beard back!!
Shari, I CANNOT.
So I completely understand your dilemma, only in reverse. Grace to you, sister!

3 years ago

Hahahahaha! I love it! ooh, regimentals!

3 years ago

You sound like me! I like my man to be totally manly 😉 I can’t talk him into a beard though, but I beg him to keep the five o’clock shadow between Wed. night and Sun. morning church services.

Kim Z
3 years ago

Thanks for the laugh! Who knew you could be so dramatic?! ????

Anonymous, obviously
3 years ago

My husband came into marriage equipped with a wonderful, nearly trimmed beard. Several years into marriage during a short getaway for just the two of us, he quietly shaved his face clean late one night without consulting me. I spare you the details of what took place when he climbed into bed and snuggled up against me in the dark that night…!!! The man may have a few faults, but repeating mistakes of this magnitude is not one of them. ????????

3 years ago

String me up if you must, but do not forget the overhand safety on the clove hitch. Otherwise you will fail for “compromising team safety.”

Sarah Sauder
3 years ago

This is so funny! I come from the River Brethren, who like to be firemen AND keep full beards. Here in our county and township, our men can keep their beards. If they couldn’t, they would leave the department. But I love getting this glimpse into your marriage, and your personal preferences. I know this was mostly in fun, so I am also saying this with a smile: they say it’s the little things that get to us in marriage. The toothpaste tube being squeezed the wrong way, how the toilet paper roll is put on…so don’t let the beard or lack of one get between you! Surely you still recognize how his hands feel on you, or his arm muscles under your hands, or….

Sarah S
3 years ago

PS I also like your description of your anniversary. I wouldn’t have liked to imagine such a dull, ordinary day when I was 16 or 18. But that IS what marriage is like, even on the so-called special days. And really, it’s good. It’s 15 years for us.

Regina S
3 years ago

My husband shaved his beard off only once during our marriage. Oh the drama it caused with our children! He grew it back and except little changes in his beard he has never shaved it off again. Congratulations on your upcoming anniversary. We’ve been married 26 years.

3 years ago

Sharing your sentiments on clean shaven faces and loving your humour! Happy anniversary! ❤️

Wanna B. Writer
3 years ago

Here’s hoping this over-the-top drama level was done intentionally. Otherwise I’d be tempted to have somewhat (or maybe alot!) to say unto thee. (Don’t take that too seriously.) Maybe my lack of sympathy stems from the deep gratefulness within that the few times my hubby has tried to grow out his whiskers he hated it as much as I did. But, yes, I still kissed his bristly face, though I “bristled” at the thought of it. Lol Smooth-shaven in no way compromises his manliness or my enjoyment of said manliness. Our effortless harmony of mind is noteworthy as it occurs so rarely. Happy Anniversary! I wish you many more years to have and to hold in smooth or in whiskery. ????

3 years ago


3 years ago

You made me LOL today… 🙂 So funny. Also, I am married to a fire fighter who insists on being clean shaven too. 🙁

3 years ago

“I’ve never been the kind of woman sympathetic to male weakness”… this paragraph made me laugh out loud. So with you there! And I love my husband’s beard too. Happy happy anniversary!

3 years ago

“I always hate him a little.”
And the regimentals.
You are so FUNNY!

3 years ago


3 years ago

Shari, this is great! Three years ago, (after 11 years of marriage) I finally convinced my husband to grow a beard and he’s noticed he gets more respect at work because finally he doesn’t look like a twenty-yr-old! Occasionally he contemplates getting rid of it, but please NO, I hope he keeps it at least till I am gone!

3 years ago

“I always hate him a little..” Hysterical! Because it makes me feel less heathen…

3 years ago

“I always hate him a little”. You speak my language. ???????? my poor husband!

3 years ago

???????????? this is how I feel in the summer when my husband gets his hair cut super short. I’m all like. Don’t you want me to think you’re handsome? ????Don’t you love me enough to keep it longer????? Love your honesty and the two of you are too cute!

3 years ago

Hilarious!! I too, adore my man wiskered. That extra level of manliness and authority makes me swoon, too. So so enjoyed this peek into your marriage!

Sarah Beiler
3 years ago

“A kiss without a moustache, they said then, is like an egg without salt; I will add to it: and it is like Good without Evil.”

― Jean-Paul Sartre

3 years ago

This is hilarious! I tried to talk my husband into growing a beard for years and he finally did and then it made him look SO much older (it was almost white by the time he did it!)…and I have never been sure I really like the scratchiness of it…but he says now it will take as long to talk him into cutting it off as it did to get him to try it. So I’ve made my peace with it and these days, am just glad I still have him around, as he’s had scary health issues. (and yes, the line about hating him a little….I had to chuckle as I know the feeling.) Not for his recent serious health stuff, but if they moan and groan about a cold or fever 🙂 You are just too funny to actually SAY it!

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