"It's funny that when a man hasn't anything in the world to worry about, he goes off and gets married."—Robert Frost
What the hell was I thinking? I was 31, single, making good money and living in Atlanta, a city that's been described as "happy hunting" for a single guy. I was living the life my grandfather told me to live when I was a small child: "Why get married and try to make one woman happy … when you can stay single and make them all happy?" Granddad would have been proud.
Lately, though, I've been trying to make one woman happy. One woman. Since 2010, I've woken up to, eaten my meals with, vacationed with, had sex with, done everything with the same one woman.
As my four-year anniversary approached, I started ruminating about my relationship and wondering how we'd made it this far. Of course, four years of marriage isn't a long time, yet some don't even make it to this point, including many of my close friends. And, I'll admit to my own moments of self-doubt about how I'd handle commitment right after the glorious height of my singledom. We hadn’t had any catastrophic issues come up in our marriage, but we had dealt with living in separate cities, career changes, the birth of our daughter, relocation, as well as some other marital challenges that are par for the course.
Thing is, not only is my marriage still intact, it's actually working pretty well, and that made me uncomfortable. You see, I didn't fully understand why my marriage was flourishing, and I feared that if I didn't understand what we were doing right, how would we know what to keep doing?
Well, I think I've figured it out, and my eureka moment came just this week as I was putting together a business email. I asked my wife to review it, and she thought the tone of the email was too aggressive, confrontational and negative. She was right. Her input stopped me from making the mistake of hitting send. That innocuous example is emblematic of our entire relationship. In all I do, I have a partner looking out for me, advising me, keeping me on track and stopping me from making a mistake, no matter how great or small.
Also, I'm still the same guy at my core, but look at what has changed in my life since I got married: My family and I are closer, my individual net worth has gone up every year since we met, I've learned a second language, I'm healthier, I use the n-word less, I listen to Sunday church service more, I'm a better friend, I'm more forgiving than I used to be, I'm more involved in charitable work.
In every way, I'm better off because I'm married. So, for me, a successful marriage has revolved around this principle: I like who I am with her.
My pastor always reminds me: You should get around people who make you say to yourself, "I gotta do better." I married the person who makes me say that to myself everyday. I want her to be proud of me. Her presence is constant motivation. I don't always succeed, but I'm always at least trying to do the right thing or improve, and in doing so, I've become a better son, friend, journalist, citizen and husband.
I, like many other men, thought that I wanted to reach a certain level of success before marriage. You know, make the right amount of money, get the right job, the right car, the right crib, etc., and perhaps "sow the royal oats." Now, I firmly believe the success we seek can come a lot quicker with a partner helping along the way. Believe me, my ego is as big as anyone's, but recognizing my own deficiencies, admitting to myself that I need help and accepting that help have all been critical to our success. We're only on year No. 4, but I shudder to think of the kind of man I might be if I wasn't married these past four years.
To put it another way, she upgraded me. It's not just a matter of "switching my neckties to purple labels," but Beyoncé may have been exactly right that "your dynasty ain't complete without a chief like" Marilee.