I fell in love with a music man. And he fell in love with an unabashed romantic with tears that perpetually live just below the surface, ready for any occasion. It’s a love story, mine and Michael’s, that’s for sure.

But it is also a story of perseverance and commitment. Because life is complicated and so is marriage. Truthfully, I think Disney did us a disservice with all of that “happily ever after” business. It was presented so consistently and at such an impressionable age, it seemed that it was a given. But there are no guarantees of happily ever after. Two people meet and fall in love and at the height of what is probably the most romantic time of their relationship, they then decide to get married.

Each of you arrives at the alter of wedded bliss full of hope and baggage from earlier chapters that neither of you had anything to do with and more than likely know little about. Some of the stuff you carry into your marriage you yourself are unaware of.

None the less you cross your fingers and your heart and promise to love one another for the rest of your life.

The week that our daughter was born. I wrote about that here: People smile and tell me I’m the lucky one.

The truth about happily ever after.

The truth about happily ever after is that it is rare. It takes work. We are all imperfect but deserving of love. Love is more than an emotion, love is an action. Love is to be demonstrated. It is not something to be given and taken away whenever we wish to reward or punish. Once we get over our unmet expectations and the ridiculous belief that our soul mate should be capable of reading our minds and meeting our every need and, the absolute biggest fallacy — making us happy — then we can settle into the work of a marriage. And of course it is work. Everything worthwhile is. That’s what we are trying to model for our daughter, which I wrote about here:

The Truth About Happily Ever After

The place where the height of our romance was born is Chicago. So that is where we went to celebrate twenty years of being married.

Twenty years.

We just celebrated twenty years of marriage. In those twenty years we’ve experienced a cacophony of emotions and events that didn’t destroy us, but somehow honed us into better versions of ourselves. It taught me that the best thing we can practice is forgiveness. For each other and ourselves.

Perfection doesn’t exist. We are all broken in some way, and what has proven true for us is that we attract the one that will best help us heal the wounds of our past. This is one of the core foundations of Imago therapy. It was Imago that gave us the courage to get married in the first place. It taught us how to communicate, how to listen and how to honor the sea of emotion that is inevitable in any relationship.

The surprise proposal. Followed by the surprise wedding the very next day. And then the surprise honeymoon the day after.

Boy, put your records on.

Maybe it’s true that music is a universal language of love. Because if there is one common thread in the tapestry of our love story, it’s music. When we were twelve it was the only language we had. We would sit for hours playing records for each other. When our paths crossed again a decade later, it was because of music. And when he started writing songs about me — for me — well that just about melted me into a puddle. He had me and he knew it.

I fell in love with a music man who proposed to me in a song. Once the shock and awe subsided I managed to choke out “yes” through happy tears that never fell, just pooled up like deep reservoirs ready to water the amazon. I like surprises, and he likes to go to great lengths to surprise me. So if you are in the mood for a seriously romantic story, here you go. I titled it “Happily Ever After”, because back then I was young and wanted to believe it was possible. (Plus as I mentioned he had just surprised me not just with our engagement, but also our wedding and honeymoon, which took place back-to-back-to-back).

Happily Ever After.

After our honeymoon, I set about devising my own surprise for him: I would buy my music man a baby grand. And I would tell him I was pregnant through the lyrics of Loggins and Messina’s “Danny’s Song.” I know how to concoct some serious drama, if only in my mind; the kind that I can’t even get through because I’m bawling before the end of it.

There were two fatal flaws to this plan. The first was this: the life-size cutout of the piano the music store gave me wouldn’t fit anywhere in the small L-shaped living room of our first home. The second was I wasn’t pregnant yet. It would take years and thousands to figure out I couldn’t get pregnant. But when we met the woman who was carrying in her belly the little being that would become our daughter, it was Danny’s Song that was playing over the loudspeaker. The soundtrack I’d always imagined happened when we finally understood how the daughter we had so desperately desired would come to us. And that made me a believer in the miracles of the universe. It also left me temporarily blinded by tears that fell in public all over the place, much to the concern of the hostess.

Play your song, sweet music man.

I fell in love with a music man who wrote me songs. And played me songs. All the time.

Then life got busy. Work got in the way. And my man forgot he was a music man at heart.

With this pivotal anniversary approaching, I knew it was time. I started clearing the space months in advance but somehow didn’t trigger any questions by Michael even after I had given away most of the furniture in the room. The one time he caught me trying to cover up my tracks, I ran away from him because he knows I turn beet red and break out into a rash when I try to lie. It isn’t easy to surprise the man of a thousand question, but I did it. Here he is a quick clip of when he sat down to play his new baby grand for the first time:

Happy tears.

I had to share this with you because I’d like to think that 20 years deserves a little reflection, recognition, maybe even a dash of reverence. It’s certainly a milestone for us. I am so proud to be standing here in this moment with this man because we’ve walked through some of life’s toughest challenges and come out the other side stronger for it. Which makes me more than slightly ecstatic about what the future holds because from my perspective I see nothing but joy, pure joy, on the horizon. And it’s accompanied by a piano soundtrack. The sounds of which now filter through our home at any given hour.

Welcome back, my music man. I’ve missed you, she said through her tears. The best kind. The happy kind.