I love that commercial in which an attractive middle-aged couple walks romantically through a plaza in Italy and the man suddenly bends down on one knee, pulls a diamond-encrusted "eternity" ring from his pocket and appears to propose to his stunned yet responsive partner.
As he picks up his wife and twirls her high in the air (because of course she's a size 2 and he's fit and athletic), she spots her parents (distinguished, gray-haired, well-dressed) seated on the plaza steps. They were hiding behind newspapers. Seeing them, she realizes she is the victim of a happy-anniversary conspiracy.
At this, the unseen announcer nearly whispers, "Give her the ring that says you'd marry her all over again."
I've never taken a poll on this, but I'm pretty sure every middle-aged woman from Chattanooga to China wants to be the wife in that diamond ad.
First, just admit it; we all want to be a size 2.
We all would love a romantic stroll in an Italian plaza alongside an attentive husband — a husband who actually could lift us off the ground.
And then spin.
A husband carrying a sparkling new diamond anniversary ring in the pocket of his perfectly tailored Italian sports jacket.
Heck, I'd enact the whole scene in the Kroger Plaza if a diamond anniversary ring was involved, size 2 or no size 2.
At about our 12th wedding anniversary, I decided a diamond-encrusted anniversary ring would be an appropriate way for my husband to acknowledge me on our 20th. At the time, our children ranged in age from 2 to 10, and I believed the perpetual state of physical exhaustion I was enduring would result in a serious piece of jewelry down the road.
I started hinting with subtle comments like, "So, are you saving up for that diamond anniversary ring for our 20th?"
It's not that he doesn't want to buy me a new ring. He loves to surprise me occasionally with a piece of jewelry, even though I'm not one to wear much of it. Besides, I think Jim even would agree that I've earned a sparkly new bauble after all these years.
There's just one problem, and I swear it didn't hit me until a few months ago.
Having had our first child two years into our marriage means that this same child is nearing 18. Just four months after our 20th anniversary this Wednesday — almost to the day — she leaves for college.
This may be a milestone anniversary, but my diamond "eternity" ring looks uncannily like a sparkling new dorm room and the unlimited meal plan required for new freshmen.
Timing is everything.
Nonetheless, 20 years of marriage is a big deal. Already we've surpassed the marriage records of Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt, Britney Spears and K Fed, and Tori Spelling and Charlie Shanian — combined. I think you even could add in the various remarriages involving some of those folks, and we still would win the matrimonial sweepstakes.
We never made much of our anniversary until we hit double digits. Before that, we just used it as an excuse to put the children to bed early and order takeout.
Then, at some point, my husband and I realized that in our culture, every year of marriage is a victory. A couple celebrating a dozen years together, or 15 years or 18 years — never mind 30 or 25 or 50 — is living a commitment that endures countless tests.
Surrounded by the prevailing belief that marriage equals romance, fulfillment and delight, most of us are stunned to discover instead that marriage entails far more sacrifice than seduction, much more negotiation than nurturing. On its best day, a healthy marriage is hard work. On its worst day, it's simply a decision to stay and work some more.
Our 20-year marriage is no exception. From seemingly insurmountable struggles to insignificant battles that cause the dust to fly from day to day, we have put our bond of marriage through the proverbial fire.
We have fought over everything from putrid paint colors (okay, he was right about the salmon walls) to politics to parenting.
He thinks I waste money; I think he wastes time.
We can invest so much emotional energy in a discussion about the relative merits of buying orange juice from concentrate, you would think we were hammering out a piece of funding legislation for the war. (For the record, if I buy frozen concentrate, no one will drink it. Where are the savings there?)
That marriages fail so often is a sad fact of life. That ours has endured is largely because of our shared belief that we have no alternative but to succeed. No doubt if either of us thought there was a way out of this life, we would have considered it at least a few times along the way.
Instead, we have relied on the one and only thing that upholds our covenant regardless of the circumstances: boundless and inexplicable grace from God.
The diamond-marketing folks know how to make a new ring look like a very appealing purchase, and I'm not going to lie, I would love one someday. In the meantime, I'm going to remember to take more peeks at the inscription inside the ring my husband gave me 20 years ago — "MB, My love eternally, JH."
It's the "eternity" ring that says I'd do all over again.