I am not an expert on marriage.
My husband and I celebrated our first anniversary in January, and we know that we have much to learn about ourselves, each other, and about the mysteries of building a good and solid marriage.
But I do have one piece of advice to pass along to future newlyweds: Get married twice - to the same person.
Our first wedding started out as a logistical nightmare: I am from Budapest, he is from the United States. My family is in Hungary, his is in the US. Airline ticket prices were soaring. There was a mind-boggling amount of paperwork waiting for us, courtesy of the INS.
Finally, when the cloud of excitement about our engagement cleared, things began to come together, thanks to my very organized and diligent mom. We decided on Jan. 5, 2002, as the big day, in Budapest. We convinced Drew's mom, brother, and sister-in-law to make the trip across the Atlantic, and we reserved all the necessary venues and hotel rooms. My wedding gown and Drew's tuxedo traveled from the US in a first-class closet on the plane, while we were packed into tight seats in economy.
We made decisions about our wedding cake and rings in the haze of jet lag, and signed and filled out too many forms to count.
But finally there we were, standing in the mirrored hallway leading to a large hall filled with our (mostly my) family and friends, waiting to hear us say "I do," or "yes," as is the case in Hungary.
We giggled through the entire ceremony. We had to have a translator so that Drew knew exactly what he was saying "yes" to, so there was a delay to all questions and answers. The guests applauded when he said "yes" in Hungarian, and he still talks about how he had to kiss my many mustachioed Hungarian male relatives on the cheek in the receiving line.
At the reception we danced and feasted on veal and goose liver. The windows of the ballroom faced the Danube, and the bridges and the castle were lit up, reflecting in the river. It was our dream wedding - fun, relaxed yet elegant, small and intimate, exploding with happiness and hopes for a great future. After the reception we went to our honeymoon suite - also overlooking the Danube - and opened wedding gifts because we were still too excited, exhausted, and giddy to go to sleep.
The next morning we woke up to a beautiful, brisk, and sunny day, feeling happy and free.
And then life began.
Within a month, we had moved to the US, to a new town, new home, and new jobs. On my first day of work, my car was rear-ended. I was homesick and started crying at times without any reason. He was stressed out and working constantly as the editor of a newspaper. Money was tight, because my job was only part-time. Our only time together was when we ate dinner every night and then collapsed in bed - almost asleep by the time we said "good night" to each other.
We also had to learn how to live together for the first time. He had to get used to the fact that I sometimes forget my wet towel on the bed. I learned that he likes the apartment to hover around 60 degrees F. My feet are always cold. He steals the blankets at night. I snore. He drinks milk with pizza. The usual newlywed stuff.
Then one weekend in March, he went on a "practice burn" with his volunteer fire company. I was still in bed when he first called. "Honey, I will be home in an hour and you will have to take me to the emergency room. I am just a little burned." The next call came an hour later. "I am in the emergency room. Can you come here and bring me clothes? The paramedics had to cut my shirt off." I barely knew my way around town so I wasn't even sure where the emergency room was.
I was relieved when I got to the hospital and saw him - he was all in one piece. The burns extended from his shoulder to his elbow on his left arm, but otherwise he was OK. Soon I got really good at changing bandages at 5 a.m. before he left for work. I spent the first few nights after the accident awake, making sure he was breathing. I am not quite sure why I thought he would stop breathing, but I was worried nevertheless.
Through all this, the date of our second wedding loomed. We had to have a second wedding because his quite large family and most of my American friends missed our union the first time.
It all just seemed like a big bother at the time - more money and time wasted just to have a "pretend" wedding. We even had an acronym for the event: TSW - The Stupid Wedding. But our plans went ahead. We tried to think about all the wedding gifts we would receive again. Our friends teased us about having to celebrate two wedding anniversaries.
Once our second "big day" arrived, we didn't think much of walking down the aisle again. It was only when we said our vows that we realized how glad we were to be doing this again.
When we said "in sickness and in health" we knew how lucky we were that Drew wasn't hurt more seriously and that his wound healed quickly. When we repeated "for richer, for poorer" we knew that how much we love each other does not depend on how much money we have in our bank account or how many times we go out to eat in a month. When he said "for better, for worse," I knew that Drew will always support me when I am sad, moody, or just plain cranky.
We recited these words with a clear understanding of what they meant. We weren't just repeating some silly text so that we could get a piece of paper and get on with the party.
We looked into each other's eyes and we knew that whether we were at our best or worst, the other will always be there - an assurance I don't think we had or understood when we first got married.