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She’s not the same as she was when I married her, but that’s OK because I didn’t marry “the person she was.” I married her — Alissa, the woman, the being, the body and soul. I married the totality of her, which means I married her changes, not just that one, single, momentary version of her that walked down the aisle in that church in Ocean City three years ago.

Do I have a romantic idea of marriage? Sure, but marriage is a romantic idea, isn’t it? It’s not a fairy tale, but it is something supernatural and exciting. Talk to the people who’ve been in it for a long time — 30, 40, 50 years with one person — and they’ll say everything I’m saying, only with much more authority and even deeper conviction.

Life is change. People are change. I’m seeing this play out all around me. As I get older I drift further apart from some of the people I used to consider my closest confidants. But I let myself drift, and so do they, because circumstances also change, and what I’m realizing is that so many of my relationships were only ever circumstantial.

My relationship with my wife, however, transcends the circumstance. If we feel ourselves drift, we reach out our hands and grasp tightly, because I choose to remain at her side, and she at mine. And if I ever look over to find that we’ve somehow lost sight of each other — both now walking alone and lost in that cold night — I will grab a torch and search for her until I find her again. She is my mission, my life’s work, and I’d sooner give up my life than give up on her.

This is all easy to write and easy to say, but, I realize, harder to do. That’s why those of us out here in the thick of it could always use guidance and inspiration, not defeatism and wimpy cynicism. For my part, I will ignore the people like the guy at the grocery store and the ingrates who throw divorce parties, and instead focus on my parents, who’ve been married through thirty years, six kids, and eleven grandchildren. And Alissa’s grandfather, who very recently lost his wife after over 60 years of marriage.

He can’t speak hardly at all these days — mostly the result of multiple strokes — but I was there in his living room when he turned to the person next to him and tearfully said, “partner.”

“She was my partner.”

And she was. A great partner, from everything I’ve heard. Feisty and tough, loyal and loving.

That’s what I want.

One day, hopefully when we’re very old, one of us will die first — the smart money is on me (family history combined with my unhealthy affinity for bacon and red meat). Whoever is living, while stricken with grief and sadness, will be able to look back on a life of sacrifice, and compromise, and joy, and worry, and happiness, and tears, and passion, and love, and simply say, “partner.”

“We were partners.”

I choose that end.

I don’t know when it will happen, or what awaits us in the meantime, but that will be our ending.

I choose it over looking back five years from now and saying, “she was my partner — but then she changed, so never mind.”

So we wake up every morning, sort of the same, but sort of new. We look at each other, we introduce ourselves again, and we choose to love who we see.

We choose to love. And that’s the only thing that will never change.