Over and over again, people said, “Your marriage will be so much stronger because you’ll only have each other to rely on.” If there are, as Zora Neal Hurston has said, years that answer and years that question, 2015 was a year of questions about my marriage. It was quite a year, to say the least. My husband Evan completed a Ph.D., we moved 1200 miles from our home for his new job, I quit my full-time job, our oldest son entered the terrible twos, and our second son was born.
Months later, in the depths of our first winter in our new home, I cried and wondered what the heck all those people were talking about because uprooting our lives seemed to have uprooted our marriage as well. Evan threw himself into his new job, working long hours almost seven days a week. I floundered as a stay-at-home mom, feeling lonely and aimless while sinking into postpartum depression. The communication styles that served us well when life was easy did not cut it anymore. I grew resentful of all those people who had said our marriage would be stronger.
If there’s a route I know like the back of my hand, it’s the 111 miles along I-75 and the Florida Turnpike, between Gainesville and Orlando. I couldn’t count the number of times I drove that route in the year-and-a-half that Evan and I dated long-distance. Scholarship money not spent on textbooks, tuition, and housing paid for tolls and gas. But even more than the tollbooths and the highways, I remember the music. Whenever it came time for one of us to head back to our respective campuses, I’d hand Evan a mix CD through the open driver-side window.
It feels so antiquated now! Laptops don’t have CD drives anymore, and I hardly use iTunes. When I want to listen to music these days, I plug my phone into my minivan’s auxiliary jack. I donated most of my CD’s years ago, and I kept only the most sentimental mixes. I sometimes tweet about an album I love or text someone with a recommendation, but it’s not the same as handing off a disc and handwritten list of songs and saying, “I made this for you.”
A while back, I was sitting in Starbucks for my weekly writing session. In my earbuds, Spotify shuffled through a random playlist when a Ryan Adams song caught my attention. It was a beautiful love song–sweet but melancholy, full of longing, poetic, somehow reminding me of the Civil Wars. I thought, “Oh, I want to send this to Evan.”
In college, I would have downloaded the song from Limewire and added it to an iTunes playlist and eventually clicked “Burn CD.” This time, I hovered over the three little dots beside the song’s title and clicked “New Playlist.” I named it “For Evan” and spent the next several weeks collecting songs: the Coldplay and Death Cab for Cutie songs I loved in college, the Jack Johnson song we danced to at our wedding, and a whole slew of newer songs that remind me of all our marriage has been and all I hope it will be. And one day, I clicked “Share playlist.”
Of course, the circumstances of our move to Michigan could not make our marriage stronger. Only we could do that. We learned to say, “This isn’t quite working for me,” and “This is what I need from you today.” Then we learned to have that same conversation again as often as necessary, each of us making adjustments along the way.
Frankly, I have probably listened to that playlist more than Evan has, but that’s not entirely the point. It’s about the act of keeping my ears open for a melody I know he’ll enjoy or a lyric that reminds me of all the reasons I fell in love with him. It’s about the accumulation of guitar strums and drum beats that add up to more than the sum of their parts. It’s about the literal soundtrack of a marriage both remembered and transformed. When he plugs in his phone on the drive home from work, he’ll hear these songs and know I chose them for him. He’ll know I choose him, again and again.
When we stood on the red-carpeted steps of a church altar in 2010, neither of us anticipated how much we would change over the years. I didn’t know that marriage requires reinvention. With each career change and personal discovery, each child born and cross-country move, what we need from one another changes. Life’s circumstances don’t just change around us, but they lead to transformation within us as well. It stands to reason that our marriage must transform as well.
Along the way, we stop to remember and practice the small things that bound us together in the first place, like the magic of a playlist shared across the miles or across the wi-fi.
Lindsey is a writer, reader, and mom who is slowly learning to trade perfectionism for freedom. A Florida-to-Michigan transplant, her faith and sense of purpose are shifting as she experiences seasons in the world and in her own life. Lindsey is also the co-founder of The Drafting Desk, a newsletter for anyone trying to pursue grace instead of perfection. You can find her on Instagram @lindseycornett.