I was the friend in high school who vowed I’d never get married. I combined every terrible thing I experienced or saw firsthand in relationships, rolled them into a jaded ball and it lived in my heart and mind.
That is, until I met my now husband when we were both in college in California. It’s not some Disney story, but it’s ours, filled with impromptu taco truck dates, a cross-country move and the adoption of two corgis into our lives. Once, we were too broke to even buy frozen yogurt.
This month we are celebrating seven years of marriage. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t work. Add to the complications rules of thumb and cultural myths that exist about relationships — such as the “seven-year itch.” It’s supposed to be this make-it-or-break-it year in a marriage or relationship when a person contemplates if it’s worth it.
I think there are definitely peaks and valleys in a marriage, but I’m not fully buying the seven-year itch. Marriages are like tacos. They may all come with similar ingredients, but they aren’t all the same, and sometimes they do just fall apart. I don’t think there’s any way to put a broad marker of seven years on everyone.
“The Seven Year Itch” is the name of a 1955 movie starring Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in which a man is tempted by his beautiful neighbor while his wife is away for the summer. Somehow the phrase stuck around.
Raffi Bilek, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, said Hollywood has done a good job at making relationships look simple. Often, they show the boy-meets-girl part, but hardly the day-to-day of a five, 10, or 20-year relationship.
“When things start to change from being in a new relationship to taking out the trash, bills and diapers, it calls for a reckoning,” Bilek said.
Bilek added that these cultural myths may have a grain of truth to them, but it’s a superficial slice. As far as the seven-year itch in marriages and relationships, it’s more about the stage of the relationship as opposed to the number of years, he said.
Tramont “Trae” and LaKisha Evans, who have been married for 25 years, agree that certain stages of a relationship can be turbulent, but that it is not the same for everyone. Trae and LaKisha met at a furniture store in Woodlawn. Trae was in love instantly, and LaKisha, not so much. In fact, Trae took all the hardware out of LaKisha’s purchase, so she’d have to call or come back to the store and he could see her again.
“We’ve been together for more than both of us had lived [apart] and it did not come without its pain,” Trae said.
Trae thinks the work starts the day you say “I do.” LaKisha said if you can make it past two years, you’re in good shape. They don’t deny that a variation of “the itch” exists. Both said that they were often in parent mode for most of their relationship, and it’s been challenging for them to reinvent and rededicate themselves to their marriage without the kids distracting them. Reestablishing their identities is their “itch.”
Sadé Lemons, a Maryland native who has been married for less than two years, said the best piece of marriage advice she received was “there are two times in your life when you see how selfish you can be. It’s the first year of marriage and the first year with children.” Lemons said it made her understand the level of commitment necessary for marriage. And though she’s years away from society’s year of reckoning in a relationship, she doesn’t believe in the itch.
“I think that as people we give too much power to our feelings so just because around seven to 10 years you may feel like things need to be spruced up, that doesn’t mean your marriage is gonna fail,” Lemons said.
I’m no stranger to slightly internalizing the cultural myths surrounding relationships. As a kid, I’d sit on one of the massage chairs at the nail salon during my mom’s appointment and recite these paragraphs of “advice” and blind relationship foresights from magazines out loud.
Bilek said people gravitate to cultural myths because it’s nice to have some level of grounding and security. Life is difficult, he added, and people want to simplify it. Some might be clinging to a slice of reassurance that what they’re going through is common or expected.
The grain of truth I’m pulling from the seven-year itch is that people change, and if someone is only in love with the original bud and not the flower, there’s going to be conflict. Luckily, I consider my marriage a garden and not a ball and chain. While I’m sure we’ll both always love the 20-something year olds who married each other, we’re leaving room for the people we are still becoming.
I guess you can say that’s an “itch.” Scratch that. Whatever it is, it’s ours.