The Love & Sex Issue 

Straight talk on marriage, dating, cheating, porn and Valentine’s Day

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The State of the Union

by Sarah Aswell

Each year in February, my husband and I take a romantic overnight trip to a snowy cabin and decide whether or not we want to stay married for another year. It happens exactly one week after Valentine’s Day, on our wedding anniversary, Feb. 21. It’s called the State of the Union.

Historically, the night is part two-person summit and part cheesy date. It requires two sets of typed notes (one set written by each of us, outlining the year in review, plus detailed goals for next year), plus one of those giant heart-shaped frosting-covered grocery store cookies that’s inevitably on clearance after Valentine’s Day. Plus wine.

You seriously do this, our friends ask. With notes? Yes, we seriously do this. With notes.

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Over the last seven years, a lot has been discussed and decided at the State of the Union. We’ve each made the final decision to quit a job and try something new, with the other’s support and blessing. We’ve set the goal of buying a house, hashed out budgets and retirement plans, and resolved to get a puppy. We’ve sat up late, giddy, planning big trips to Tokyo, Berlin and Rio de Janeiro. In more recent years, since we started our family (thanks, romantic trip to Berlin), we’ve had long and serious arguments about the fair division of household chores, career sacrifices and how to raise our daughter.

It’s an opportunity to officially reflect on the year we’ve had together. It’s a chance to organize our goals as a couple for the coming year. It’s a special occasion to make sure that we are still connected, unified and on the same page of our marriage. We also usually do a lot of cross-country skiing.

This year’s State of the Union will be a bit different than it’s ever been, though. I’m currently enormously pregnant with our second child and will be just a week shy of my due date on Feb. 21. The pregnancy nixes the overnight trip, the skiing and all but a few ounces of wine, while a gestational diabetes diagnosis nixes one of the few remaining joys of the night: the big grocery store clearance cookie.

On another level, the State of the Union will be different this year because we’ve been married long enough, and been parents long enough, to know that this coming year—our first year of raising two children—will be largely immune to planning. If our first daughter has taught us anything, it is that even two sets of notes couldn’t prepare us for all of the challenges of parenthood, our careers, our relationship and that puppy we decided to get, who is somehow now 7 years old.

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It’s very tough for an obsessive planner like me to take in: 2015 will be a year that will resist all of our resolutions, all of our number crunching, all of our attempts at organization, preparation and forecasting. We will have a brand new human living in our house. We will be trying to plow ahead in our professional lives. We will be raising a toddler who recently decided she only likes one shirt of all the shirts that exist on earth. Forget our life goals—what the hell’s for dinner?

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were driving home from a weekend trip to Glacier National Park. The trip had been a bit of a disaster, colored by bitterly cold temperatures (even for Glacier in January) and an unparalleled toddler-projectile-vomit incident in our car that involved a huge volume of pickles. The weekend had been a depressing illustration of what happens to the best laid plans of mice and men, and outlining our goals for the entire next year seemed extremely, utterly stupid.

“What are we going to do about State of the Union this year?” I asked Ben, trying to breathe through my mouth until we could get home and deep clean the car with Costco-sized amounts of baking soda and vinegar.

“I think we should plan to enjoy the next year,” he said. He reached across the seat and touched that place on the back of my neck. He said we should plan to be patient, to enjoy our family and to remember that it’s going to go by really fast.

It’s a plan that doesn’t need typed notes. It’s a plan that understands that sometimes planning needs to wait. It’s a plan that understands that sometimes simply agreeing to stay married for another year is enough.

America, the State of the Union is strong.

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