My wife and I each insist that the other did the proposing the first time around. "You're the one who bellyached that you couldn't live without me," Maria needles.
"But it was you who asked for my manly hand," I counter. "I was scared of marriage, remember."
"No way, buddy...."
It's been like this for decades. Playful sassing.
What we do both agree on is who proposed the second go-round. It was me – 20 years later after a slow dance.
Truth be told, I have been falling in love with my wife, Maria, again and again for the majority of days I've known her. I say "majority" because on some days, she's annoying – as annoying as I can be to her. My impatience can particularly grate.
But even at our worst, I feel fortunate to come home to this big-hearted, live-wire woman. And I'm flattered that despite all of my faults, she still seems genuinely to like me.
Me – a moody Chicago Jew – and she – a fast-talking Puerto Rican Presbyterian. We have stayed married even though there is much in our backgrounds that is dissimilar and that occasionally causes some disunity.
That we are of different religions, for instance, has been uncomfortable at times, and even lonely. But I revere Maria's strong spiritual core, for it has enriched our household. Even though I sometimes wish that our children had had a Jewish upbringing, I appreciate the communal role that the church has played in their lives.
I don't fully understand why the marriages of so many whom we know got away from them – I'm certain that they loved their exes once. But I do know firsthand that the bonds of matrimony can strain terribly.
Sometimes when I've gotten mad and thought of divorcing, I've tried to imagine what sort of mate I'd want next. But I always conjure up Maria.
Through example, my wife has taught me that so much of how we live our lives depends on "attitude," and that we can't simply wait for happiness to come. Rather, it is something of our own making, which can require real effort to achieve.
Certainly, for each of us, there has been darkness and failure. But thanks to Maria, I've learned that any worries that I have about anything – and any self-doubts, disappointments, and losses – are manageable, particularly since I am keeping company with the love of my life.
No matter that my better half doesn't always guffaw at my side-splitting humor. No matter that she is a neat freak, and I subsist in clutter.
Because we are proud that our complicated, crazy-quilt marriage somehow works and produces so much joy, we wanted to celebrate this success – especially with our three children. While they know of their parents' ongoing romance and have always taken visible pleasure in it, we decided to tell them formally: Forevermore commitment is possible and has the potential to be wonderful.
So 20 Junes and a few added pounds after we first exchanged our vows, we renewed them.
My bride and I invited beloved family and friends – many of whom were with us the first time around – to the same lakeside chapel as before. It is located at the New York YMCA summer camp where we met.
Once again, the Reverend Peter Moore, a close boyhood friend, presided. "You know," he sermonized, "one of the things that I am convinced of is that weddings are wasted on young newlyweds – just as we hear that youth is wasted on the young. They have no sense of what will be asked of them. They don't know about the ebbs and flow of love.... Certainly, some of the most beautiful words that newlyweds can say to each other are 'I do.' But perhaps the most beautiful thing is when, 20 years later, two people look at each other and say, 'I would do it again.' "
There was not a dry eye, and I have never seen Maria, and our children, look more radiant.
I know that we will cherish our renewal for a long time to come and take heart from it, even as we go on wrangling over the darnedest things – I like taking my shoes off at the movies!
But I can't help hoping that many years from now, my wife will give me her hand yet again. (We'll decide then who gets to propose!)
That would mean that our maturing commitment to each other is still a love story in the making, and that I'm on the ride of a lifetime with the girl of my dreams.