Love is all about the toothpaste

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Mike and I have been married for 5 and half years, and together for 8 and a half.  We fell in love quickly. His sweet heart took me over in just a few weeks.

We met in 2010. We were 20 when we met – very young, idealistic, and both hopeless romantic types.  We met as college students, and despite our busy schedules, we managed to figure out a way to spend a lot of time together.  We were practically attached at the hip.

About six months after we started dating, we were both preparing to transfer from a local community college we attended to the university (the same university, which was a lovely coincidence).  We both moved out of our parents’ homes for the first time – to a new city, a new school, and all new people.

We didn’t live together, but I would often spend the night at Mike’s place.  This was the time we got to know each other most closely. We’d stay up late talking, watching shows, or doing homework (one of the perks of having the same major).

What seems to have had the longest lasting impact though, were the little bedtime rituals we developed.  One of those rituals was, whoever started getting ready for bed first would put toothpaste on the other’s toothbrush.

Fast forward to 2015.  

We had finished our undergraduate and masters degrees.  We had left California to pursue doctoral degrees in music at a university in a small, rural town in Virginia.  

We were excitedly moving through what we thought was the last chapter of our lives as students before moving on to our careers as music professors.  The life of a doctoral student is not a joke. We both had a full course load, teaching responsibilities, and performances to prepare for.  Both of us were putting in at least 70 hours worth of work each week.

This began to wear on us.  Not just because we didn’t have any time for each other.  We were beginning to learn how careers in academia – or in music – would be a death sentence for our marriage.  As we continued through our doctoral degrees, this was becoming an inevitability.

Becoming a professor is hard.  Becoming a music professor is especially hard because, on top of all of the academic accomplishments that are expected, music professors are also expected to build an impressive resume of international performing credits and accolades.

This meant that in all likelihood, we would be traveling and living apart for a significant portion of time.  I started thinking, “What is the damn point of even being together then?” I began to feel resentful that if I wanted to be with him – if we wanted to be together – I would have to choose between him and my career.

I had supported us financially while we were both working on our masters degrees.  Through no fault of his own, Mike was unable to find a job during those two years. It was not long after the recession, and the job market for recent graduates was abysmal.   

I had supported us financially while we were both working on our masters degrees.  Through no fault of his own, Mike was unable to find a job during those two years. It was not long after the recession, and the job market for recent graduates was abysmal.   

In trying to pursue music – our “passion” that was making us both miserable – I was afraid that I’d be forced give up what I wanted to do and bear the financial load for us again while Mike pursued his own performance career.  I was afraid of losing what I’d worked so hard for, and what I new I deserved.

This fear turned into resentment.  And resentment turned into alienation.

After a year of working on a doctoral degree, Mike decided to call it quits – not because he couldn’t do the work, but because the eventual salary would not be able to offset the debt of continued academic studies.  (Yes, student debt was involved in pursuing a doctoral degree. Ew.)

I continued for one more semester before deciding to quit my doctoral studies as well.  I was being crushed with anxiety under the workload, and not seeing promising career prospects once I finished.

After hanging our hats on our doctoral degrees – this was January 2017 – Mike and I had a lot more time on our hands, so we decided we would each individually try to build up our own performing careers.  

Auditions. Auditions. Auditions.  

This means a lot of travel.  And if you get a gig, that means finding a temporary place to live wherever you get the gig (and hoping your pay for the gig covers the cost of your sublet).  

This means spending months apart from one another.  As we continued our pursuits as freelance musicians, it became increasingly clear that, if we both wanted a life as performers, we may not be able to do it together.

I was in a show the summer of 2017 I did a show in Washington, D.C.  I lived there that summer, away from Mike. We had been talking a lot about how things would move forward.

The music “scene” is much different in every major city.  Washington, D.C. provides a lot of work for freelance singers.  Opera, musical theater, professional choirs, and the like abound.  This is not so much the case for trumpeters.

I wanted to move to D.C. to continue building my network, credits, and career.  Mike was adamant that this was not the right choice for him. He wanted to move to Boston, where trumpeters are in high demand – but not singers.

We were at an impasse.  

I felt like I was going to have to make a choice between our marriage and my career.  Moving to D.C. would have meant choosing my career, and moving to Boston meant choosing our marriage. That was not a choice I wanted to make. I was in a no-win situation, and so was he. We fought and fought and fought for months about it.  I did not want my pursuits to have to take a backseat again.

To be honest, I was right. I didn’t deserve to have to give up my singing so Mike could pursue his trumpet career.  I didn’t deserve to have to bear the burden of supporting us financially alone (in a very expensive city) while he built his reputation.  My feelings were valid and justified. It wasn’t that I thought Mike should give up his career for me either.  He didn’t deserve that any more than I did. It was the music industry that inserted itself between us, creating a divide that got wider and wider as long as music was our chosen profession.

I felt heartbroken. I wanted so much for him to be able to have his career.  He’d worked so hard for it and I didn’t want to take that away from him. It was clear that Boston was the better city for him.

But I wanted Mike to believe that I deserved to pursue my career too. I wanted him to understand the immense pressure I felt in making our lives go.  I didn’t want to be another woman who gave up her career so her husband could have his.

I felt undervalued and insignificant.  I was angry.  Not at him, but at the fact that our profession was driving us apart – emotionally and geographically. Our love had gotten lost in the midst of our struggles. I felt hopeless – that I would never be able to do enough to adequately support us, but even if I could, I would never be happy doing it.

I didn’t see our marriage working out with the situation as it was.  We talked about separation and divorce multiple times. Every time the word “divorce” came out of my mouth my heart broke a little more than the time before.

One night after a big argument (which by this point was practically a nightly activity), we were set to get ready for bed.  Bedtime rituals were something that we had historically done together, but with all the hostility we had during this time, we took separate turns.

Mike got ready for bed in the bathroom first and headed off to bed.  I went into the bathroom after him. What I found there was the tiniest, simplest thing that majorly contributed to the healing of our relationship.

My toothbrush sat by the sink, all ready for me to use with toothpaste on it.

I immediately started sobbing.  

Honestly, I was shocked.  With all the volatility that had invaded our love story by this point, I probably didn’t deserve this act of kindness.  I was a disaster – trying my best to communicate my fears and my needs in our relationship – but ultimately making a bigger mess of things.

But the toothpaste – that simple little thing calmed my heart and brought some light back to my spirit.  

It reminded me of how we started. It reminded me that Mike and I were a team, and that we still are! This simple gesture reminded me that he saw me, that he appreciated me – that he loved me.

I write this story with tears in my eyes.  It seems so insignificant, and yet is a moment I’ll never forget.

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