A Natural Twenty

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Jan 25, 2017

Filed under: Personal 103 comments

Today Heather and I celebrate 20 years of being married. For those of you who aren’t math majors: That’s two decades. A fifth of a century! It doesn’t feel like that long, of course. Because of the goofy way our brains measure time on a sliding scale, it feels like I was in school for 60% of my life and I’ve been married for 25%.

In honor of this day, I’m going to write some advice to my younger self in regards to marriage. This is stuff I wish I’d understood about 25 years ago…

Shamus, Issac, and Heather in 2001.
Shamus, Issac, and Heather in 2001.

Dear Shamus,

Good news! All the bad stuff people have told you about marriage is pretty much wrong. I know you have this fear that since your dad was a bad husband, you’re somehow fated to follow the same trajectory. I know you’re afraid to try, because you’d rather avoid marriage than try and fail. You’ve seen how ugly divorce can be, and so you’re not seeing what could possibly justify taking such a huge risk.

What you’re not seeing is how good marriage can be. It’s not because people are hiding it from you. It’s just that stable happy marriages are more or less invisible. “Two people have a stable relationship and are generally happy” makes for very boring entertainment, which means you’ve spent your whole life soaking in stories about defective people in defective relationships.

I know you’re a little wary because some of your friends have repeated this “statistic” to you: “For the first year of marriage, every time you have sex, put a penny in a jar. After the first year, take a penny out when you have sex. You will never empty the jar.”

Let me just point out that all of the guys who said this to you were:

1) The same age as you.
2) Unmarried.

These guys had no idea that they were talking about. More importantly, unless you get married at 67 years old, this idea is ludicrous. It’s true that sometimes two married people will lose interest in each other, but this is not the norm. Find someone with whom you share a mutual attraction and stay faithful to each other. Human nature is on your side. The idea that adults lose interest in sex early in life is something teenagers made up because they don’t like to imagine their parents have sex.

The other idea that’s making you nervous about marriage is the ominous statistic: “Half of all marriages end in divorce. And of the other half, a lot are unhappy.” This makes marriage sound like a game of chance where the odds are stacked against you.

Christmas 2004 From the left: Rachel, Shamus, Issac, and Esther.
Christmas 2004 From the left: Rachel, Shamus, Issac, and Esther.

It’s true that “half of all marriages” end in divorce, but it should be noted that people who are bad at marriages tend to get re-married. The point I’m making is that this statistic isn’t really measuring what counts. This statistic is misleading because it’s like saying, “Half of all alcoholic drinks are consumed by alcoholics.” It makes it sound like half the people who drink are alcoholics.

Imagine this:

Alan gets married. Stays married.
Bob gets married. Stays married.
Carl gets married. Stays married.
Dave gets married. Stays married.
Ernie gets married four times, and divorced four times.

Yes it’s true that “half” of all of those marriages ended in divorce. But it’s not some random, luck-of-the-draw type thing. Some people are bad at marriage. Some people don’t like it, but they do it anyway because of societal pressure. The truth is that MOST people are going to be okay. It’s not quite as simple as my example above, mind you. There ARE people who find happiness on the second try, for example. I’m just trying to show you why the “half of all marriages fail” idea is misleading.

Marriage isn’t for everybody. But it also isn’t a mystery lottery. It doesn’t depend on luck. It depends on the people getting married. Saying “half of marriages fail” is doubly harmful. It makes Alan reluctant to try it because he thinks his odds of failure are 1 in 2. It also hurts Ernie, because he thinks if he just keeps flipping the coin he’ll end up a winner eventually. The problem is that either Ernie is a bad husband or he’s attracted to women who are bad wives. (And quite possibly both.) If he can’t solve that, then he really needs to stay away from marriage.

The happy couple in 2014.
The happy couple in 2014.

On one hand you’ve got people telling you – even pressuring you – to get married. They got married, it worked for them, and therefore you should do the same. On the other hand you’ve got doomsayers trying to convince you the whole thing is a rotten sham. While listening to the advice of your elders is usually a good thing, make sure you’re not letting their preferences steer your life. Don’t just get married just to satisfy the expectations of the people around you. Don’t avoid marriage because some people have a bad time of it. That’s just as silly as letting other people tell you to pursue or avoid certain careers because of how it worked out for them. You know what you want to do. You know what you’re good at.

One bit of practical advice:

We all have different ways of expressing love, and different ways of receiving love. Some people divide these into five categories:

  1. Words of affirmation. (I love you. You’re brilliant. You look fantastic today.)
  2. Quality time. (Spend time together.)
  3. Physical touch. (Yes, this can mean sex, but it can also just mean hugging kissing, holding hands, putting your arm around them, or whatever.)
  4. Acts of service. (This can be romantic gestures like breakfast in bed, but it can also be mundane things like taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn, cooking dinner, or anything else that helps the other person out.)
  5. Gifts. (I think you probably get how gifts work.)

The idea is that most of us REALLY feel loved when someone does one of these five things. We also have a way we sort of default to expressing love. And the two don’t always overlap.

Every troubled relationship I’ve encountered has shown some kind of breakdown in these. If you’ve got two people who began the relationship happy but gradually became unhappy, look for a breakdown in how they’re expressing love.

Rachel, Issac, Shamus, Heather, Esther.
Rachel, Issac, Shamus, Heather, Esther.

Maybe he’s busting his ass around the house fixing the place up for her (acts of service) and he’s constantly baffled that she never seems to appreciate it. Meanwhile she’s wondering why he never stops working on the house to talk to her (quality time) once in a while. He’s expressing love in a way that comes naturally to him, and it doesn’t mean anything to her. Maybe there’s dysfunction that cuts the other way as well, with her giving him gifts he never appreciates and him wondering if it would kill her to say something nice about his hard work (affirmation) once in a while.

This dynamic isn’t just part of romantic relationships. It works for friendships, parent / child relationships, sibling relationships, and so on.

But if you find yourself in a marriage where you both want to make it work but you can’t figure out why both parties are unhappy, look for some crossed wires in the way people are expressing affection.

And finally, I know you can’t picture yourself as a husband. A father. A grandfather. But those things can happen even if you can’t picture them in your head. You can’t imagine what it’s like to be old, but assuming you don’t get yourself stupidly killed it’s going to happen to you whether you’re able to imagine it or not. Back in 1909 young Gilbert Hegginbotham was a fresh-faced clueless newbie like you. He didn’t set out to become a grey-haired great-grandfather, but it happened anyway.

Marriage is awesome. You’ll be fine. Don’t buy Deus Ex: Invisible War.

Good luck,

Future Shamus


From The Archives:

103 thoughts on “A Natural Twenty

  1. James Young says:


    A significant mile stone.

    I’ve been visiting your site for 10 years now; in the early days I loved the nerd lore (and I still do), but lately I’ve also been really enjoying your more introspective autobiographical posts. Probably has something to do with getting older; a person enjoys reading about other people’s trials and triumphs; learning from their mistakes and celebrating with them when things work out!

    I look forward to your “30 years of marriage” post in 2027!

  2. MichaelG says:

    Typo: “We all havew different ways” – drop the ‘w’.

    1. Syal says:

      I’m assuming the penny jar thing is also some kind of typo. “You will never empty the jar” makes no sense as a threat.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        The threat is that you will have very little sex after year one.

        1. Syal says:

          Xapi explained it, I understand it now. But without that extra “every time you have sex”, it looks like you’re supposed to take out one penny for every year of marriage, which… you have sex once a day for two months, you’ll need a sixty year marriage to empty the jar.

        2. Deoxy says:

          The “first year” part is a bit overly specific, but somewhere between “first year” and “first child is born” makes that statement much closer to true, at least for a whole lot of people.

          There’s a reason people laughed when Seinfeld made the joke about having sex meaning the rent was due.

          That said, I’m very happy for you, Seamus, that you don’t have that problem.

  3. Soldierhawk says:

    Congratulations, Shamus <3

  4. Rack says:

    Sooo, this is probably missing the point of all this but they just did an unofficial patch for Invisible War. It’s pretty good.

  5. Fizban says:

    “For the first year of marriage, every time you have sex, put a penny in a jar. After the first year, take a penny out. You will never empty the jar.”

    I suspect part of this thingy is missing. Because if the sex jar never empties that’s a good thing, and if you only take one penny out then emptying it is highly unlikely. Not much doomsaying. Unless the point is that the jar never overfills and needs emptying because marraige kills sex oh no, in which case these doomsayers have chosen a poor way to say their doom because no one’s going to expect overfilling with the use of empty.

    1. Xapi says:

      “For the first year of marriage, every time you have sex, put a penny in a jar. After the first year, take a penny out. You will never empty the jar.”

      For clarity, it should be:

      “For the first year of marriage, every time you have sex, put a penny in a jar. After the first year, every time you have sex, take a penny out. You will never empty the jar.”

      1. Xapi says:

        The point is that COUNTIF(sex, year = 1) > COUNTIF(sex, year > 1)

        1. Xapi says:

          It is also wrong, Shamus and I make two data points against it :)

          1. Mephane says:

            The point is also that this allegory and equation is wrong.

          2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            Ran some numbers for a class on American Demographics. Pulled up the GSS data for “frequency of sex.” Correlated with “Marital Status.”

            Long story short, married people have sex 2-3 times a week or more at roughly twice the rate of single people. It’s almost like there’s a reason for that.

            (Oh, and the other category of major sex-having is widowed women. Make of that what you will.)

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              Not to defend the notion that married people have less sex, but your methodology is flawed. You’re comparing the married population to the unmarried one, but a significant portion of the unmarried population isn’t in a relationship, so of course they’re going to be having less sex. A more useful comparison would be married vs unmarried-but-in-a-relationship. Better still, just test the assertion directly and compare the “married for one year” population to the “married for N!=1 year” population.

              1. Tizzy says:

                Or, in the words of George Bernard Shaw: “Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity.”

              2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

                That’s not a criticism. That’s my point. Shockingly, opportunity and a willing partner are key ingredients in a healthy sex life, and the single guy who always has a girl waiting for him somewhere is extraordinarily rare, if not a fantasy. Single people go through long droughts.

    2. BeardedDork says:

      For the first year add one to a total every time you have sex. After that first year subtract one from the total every time you have sex. According to this theory you will never reach zero. In other words the amount you have sex in the first year is greater than the amount you will have for the rest of your lives.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Because of the goofy way our brains measure time on a sliding scale

    If you want to confuse your brain even further,start telling how you guys got married in the last millennium.In fact,you should start saying that you have lived longer in the last millennium than in this one.

    1. Cubic says:

      Also don’t forget to mention that the release of Star Wars Ep IV is nearer to WWII than it is to today. (The midpoint is currently 1981.)

  7. Xapi says:

    It’s funny, my reaction to my parents’ failed marriage (at my age of 4) and their inability to have a sensible relationship as parents of the same child, was the opposite, instead of scaring me about trying to start a family, it was one of the big drivers of my life, to prove that I could do the thing right and provide to my children a happy, stable family.

    1. Kylroy says:

      Whereas my parents’ stable relationship and loving parenting led me to a marriage quickly followed by divorce and a complete lack of desire to have children.

      1. Xapi says:

        I hope that’s some sort of joke I’m not getting.

  8. Ninety-Three says:

    It's true that “half of all marriages” end in divorce, but it should be noted that people who are bad at marriages tend to get re-married.

    It’s true that repeat divorcers can swell the statistic, but they are a much less significant contribution than you’re making them out to be. Varying by the survey and the year, the US first marriage divorce rate is commonly put at forty-something percent.

    You’ve dismissed the statistic as misleading, but instead of then getting accurate information, you replaced it with an even more misleading hypothetical where the first marriage divorce rate is only 20%. Things are indeed not as bad as the misleading statistic makes them look, but they’re pretty close to it. The warning at the heart of the message is “This is quite likely to fail and no one thinks it will happen to them”. That warning is still very important.

    Sorry for undermining the mood. Uh, congratulations on being one of the lucky ones!

    1. krellen says:

      Your statistics are wrong. Shamus’s are far closer to the truth.

      Right now, 20ish% of all adults have ever been divorced. And 10ish% are currently divorced. The divorce rate among adults is about 1.9% – 19 out of 1000 marriages end each year.

      The 40% figure is an estimate, not based on actual statistics; the actual highest divorce rate was in that 40% range, at its peak, and has dropped since, and that peak of divorces was right after Reagan introduced “no fault” divorce (when Governor of California, though it quickly spread to other states) allowing millions of unhappy marriages to actually end instead of just being stuck unhappy. And we’ve been quoting that number ever since because – well, I actually don’t know why.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        Right now, 20ish% of all adults have ever been divorced.

        Your 20% figure is because you’re counting people who never marriged. That’s like saying that the US has 30% unemployment (because of all the toddlers and octogenarians who aren’t working). It’s such a useless non-sequitur of a statistic that I assume the person using it is being deliberately misleading.

        When I said forty-something percent, I wasn’t quoting a decades-old statistic, I mean that projected from beginning to end, 4X% of specifically first marriages end in divorce and the rest end in the death of one member. Here is an article citing 2012 CDC data, stating the lifetime failure rate of first marriages as 41%.

        If you wish to continue disagreeing, please avoid statistics that are irrelevant to my argument and deal directly with my assertion about the lifetime failure rate of first marriages.

        1. Xeorm says:

          Do note that the article only sources one fact: the number of divorces per second.

        2. Syal says:

          Is that strictly for first marriages for both parties, or does that include someone who gets married for the first time to someone who’s been married before? I’m kind of assuming since it’s a family law blog that the numbers are being inflated where they can.

      2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        This is formally my bailiwick, and my take is that all marriage statistics are designed based on the argument being made. The denominator isn’t agreed upon -all marriages, all first marriages, whole population, female population. The numerator isn’t agreed upon -divorces, separations, do we count cohabitations as marriages for purposes of calculation (particularly important in contemporary family patterns research because marriage in the US is basically a behavior of the rich or religious, and the rate of formal marriage has dropped quite a bit since 1960).

        For those not engaged in the specific arguments for which the specific statistic was devised, the important take-away is “Marriage is not a coin toss, there are things that affect your likelihood of getting and staying married.” Many of which are within your control -like graduating high school, marrying in your early-to-mid 20s (divorce rates are high but declining for late teens/early 20s marriages, start creeping up again in the late 20s/early 30s), or attending regular religious services.

        1. MichaelGC says:

          That is the important take-away, but those aren’t the reasons why. You are not a statistic, your partner is not a statistic, and your relationship is not governed by statistics. I reckon failing to realise any of these things is certainly going affect your likelihood of staying together! XD

          1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            Yes and no. Do bad things happen to good people? Certainly. But not rushing into an early marriage -especially at the cost of not finishing high school -is still good advice. Not only because it seems wise, but because making yourself the kind of person who does this will make you a better spouse. No guarantees, and maybe the reckless will get lucky, too.

            1. MichaelGC says:

              I can agree with almost all of that, but have an aggressive dislike of thinking in terms of ‘kinds of people’ except where it’s unavoidable, which I don’t think it is here. Put another way, I think what you’re saying makes a lot of sense without the statistical aspect – and as I say, when it comes to people I think it would be better if we were try and dispense with statistical thinking whenever and wherever it is possible to do so. (I do acknowledge that it is sometimes impossible, so am not denigrating statistics per se. Quite the opposite! – it’s essential to have good stats for whenever we can’t do without them, which is often.)

        2. Boobah says:

          For those not engaged in the specific arguments for which the specific statistic was devised, the important take-away is “Marriage is not a coin toss, there are things that affect your likelihood of getting and staying married.” Many of which are within your control -like graduating high school, marrying in your early-to-mid 20s (divorce rates are high but declining for late teens/early 20s marriages, start creeping up again in the late 20s/early 30s), or attending regular religious services.

          Sounds to me as though you’re confused on correlation vs. causation. Are you seriously suggesting that spending time at random!church yields a more resilient marriage? Or is it more likely that some third thing encourages both church going and marital stick-to-itiveness?

          As a general rule, if x correlates to y, x is hard to manipulate while y seems easy, and there’s no known reason for why x and y correlate, if you adjust y in an attempt to change x it’s more likely you’ll break the correlation than change x.

    2. Retsam says:

      Shamus was doing the thing where you show a trend by exaggerating something so that it’s much easier to see; his point wasn’t actually to say that the first-marriage divorce rate is actually only 20%.

      While you’re probably right that the proper lies damned lies statistics about first-marriage divorce are still not great, I think Shamus’s fundamental point is important:

      Ernie thinks if he just keeps flipping the coin he'll end up a winner eventually. The problem is that either Ernie is a bad husband or he's attracted to women who are bad wives. (And quite possibly both.) If he can't solve that, then he really needs to stay away from marriage.

      The point seems to be that divorce isn’t a coin flip, not just because the 50% statistic isn’t accurate, but because it’s not really a probabilistic event, in the first place.

      People who emphasize the statistics tend to act like divorce is a lottery or a lightning bolt or a genetic disease: something with a fixed probability that “just happens”, but it’s not. It’s something that happens for specific reasons, and often a lot of those reasons are well within people’s control, and thinking of an individual marriage as a statistical event isn’t the right attitude to have about it.

      People shouldn’t be overconfident about their marriage, either – “it won’t happen to us”, is definitely a dangerous attitude – but the attitude should be “Let’s make this work”, not “I hope we get lucky”.

      1. Primogenitor says:

        It’s also complicated by that “marriage” doesn’t quite mean what it used to – plenty of people don’t get married but have twenty-year plus loving family relationships, and plenty of people get married *because* they know they have a get out clause if they need it. I think women also feel more empowered about both proposing and saying “no thanks” if it doesn’t feel right to them. There’s also becoming more of a disconnect between “religious marriage” and “civil marriage”, and also “civil partnership” aka “marriage in everything but name”.

        TL;DR unpicking changing social dynamics is hard.

    3. Deoxy says:

      The easiest way to determine the statistic on divorce is to look at the numbers for one sex (even now, gay “marriage” is a small enough subset to not make a difference) on “ever been married” and “ever been divorced”.

      Both of those numbers rise over time, of course, but different age cohorts behave differently, as well…

      Anyway, last I checked the numbers, and going on memory, since I can’t find it now, by age 50, comparing “ever been married” to “ever been divorced” among only women, the number was over 40%.

      So yeah, there are indeed a significant number of successful marriages, but indeed, the odds are in the neighborhood of 50/50.

  9. Paul Spooner says:

    Congrats to both you and Heather! And your kids are striking out on their own as well! Amazing!

    Can we get a retrospective post on the blog by Heather too? Would be interesting to hear her advice to her younger self in the same vein.

    1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      Concur. Congratulations, and I’d love the other view, as well.

  10. LCF says:

    “if you find yourself in a marriage where you both want to make it work but you can't figure out why both parties are unhappy, look for some crossed wires in the way people are expressing affection”

    That’s pretty solid advice in any relationship. Also thanks for the categories of affection. That’s nice to see formalised.

    “Don't buy Deus Ex: Invisible War.”

    Last but not least, you forgot to include this photo of yours:

    1. Blackbird71 says:

      If you’re interested in further info on the “categories of affection”, they were first popularized in the 90’s by the book “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman

      Or, just Google “five love languages,” and you will find a wealth of articles on the subject.

      1. LCF says:

        Thanks for the link and the reply, it’s very informative!

  11. Mephane says:

    Congratulations to both of you! :)

    1. LCF says:

      Oh, yes, that too.

  12. Collin says:

    Back in high school and college I pictured myself marrying early, getting a profession and starting a family.

    Twelve years later, I have a profession but my romantic relationships are like waterlogged firewood. Nothing ever went right and there is no evidence that anything ever could.

    Ive resigned to life as a bachelor because the way that I built my personality reiterates to me that I’m not eligible for that sort of relationship. Most days habit is all that gets me out of bed.

    Congratulations Shamus. I am happy for your fulfillment.

  13. epopisces says:

    Congratulations you two!! Shamus, thank you for putting this ode to marriage up here–as you correctly say, we hear a lot about the dysfunction and not a lot about the harmony. Here’s to another 20!

  14. Retsam says:

    As someone who’s getting married in a few months, this is good to see. It matches a lot of the advice that I’ve heard from others recently. (In fact, the first time I heard of the “penny jar” idea was a married friend telling me that it isn’t true)

    Another bit of advice I’ve absorbed over the years is that “love is an action (or a choice), not a feeling”, and that another reason a lot of marriages have issues is that people expect the emotional high of dating to last forever, and start doubting their marriage when it doesn’t. But, Feelings come and go, and you’ve got to make the choice to continue to show love (via, for example, the “love languages” that Shamus lists) even when the feelings aren’t there.

    Again, I’m not married (yet), but I’ve heard variations on the above advice a lot, so I think there’s probably wisdom to it.

    1. PAK says:

      “love is an action (or a choice), not a feeling”

      I can’t remember having seen that one before, but that is fantastic. Thanks for sharing.

      1. Kylroy says:

        Part of a famous quote by Fred Rogers (of the eponymous Neighborhood):

        “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like ‘struggle.’ To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

        1. Retsam says:

          Huh, I don’t know if I’ve ever actually heard the Fred Rogers version.

        2. krellen says:

          “When you love someone, you got nothing but trouble. So you only have two choices – stop loving them, or love them a whole lot more.” – Sherman T. Potter.

    2. Blackbird71 says:

      A family friend once put it as, “Love is a choice; choose the one you love, then love the one you choose.”

      I’ve always found it to be sound advice.

    3. Tizzy says:

      I found that marriage was life-changing in ways that I would never have suspected. It can be a more potent high than dating, in some ways.

      Also something that Shamus skipped and that is worth pointing out in favor of getting married: even if your marriage does end up in a divorce, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place.

  15. Dev Null says:

    Congrats you two!

    Also, don’t express your affection for your wife by buying her Deus Ex: Invisible War.

    1. Tizzy says:

      1. Words of affirmation. “I will *not* let you play Deus Ex: Invisible War.”
      2. Quality time. Spend time together not playing Deus Ex: Invisible War.
      3. Physical touch. Hold hands while stepping on a copy of Deus Ex: Invisible War.
      4. Acts of service. Take out the trash bag that contains the copy of Deus Ex: Invisible War.
      5. Gifts. A baseball bat and a copy of Deus Ex: Invisible War.

      1. Joe says:

        You win all the internets.

  16. This gives me some optimism for my future love life. I’ve witnessed two divorces and been surrounded by people who’ve been through at least 10 combined (5 each). You just made me think about this differently; only two people have been divorced so often. It’s honestly scared me out of getting married. And dating, for that matter.

    I’m not getting married anytime soon, but I know that when I do, it’ll be worth it, for the most part because I am slowly but surely getting the negative aspects of marriage out of me.

    I found this blog about six months ago. It has quickly become both a source of entertainment and inspiration. And pessimism for Mass Effect: Andromeda.

    1. By the way, I have no idea when I started showing up to this site.

  17. Start says:

    Congratulations, you guys ^^

  18. And congratulations to twenty years of marriage!

  19. Bubble181 says:

    Congratulations to both of you!

  20. PAK says:

    Congratulations, Shamus and Heather. Having just gotten engaged myself, this post is incredibly affirming. I’ve been fortunate to have a few good role-model marriages to look to in my “real” life, but I always enjoy the peaks you two afford us into your own happy and healthy partnership.

  21. Lazlo says:

    I sometimes wonder if there’s a cyclic nature to relationships over the generations. Like, if your parents had a horrible marriage, you’ll overcompensate and take too long and worry too much about finding the right person and making it perfect, and end up with a better-than-average chance of finding the right person, making them happy, and living happily ever after.

    While on the other side, if you (like me) grew up in a home that was happy, loving, supportive, and overall great, you might begin to think that relationships and marriage are easy and simple, and end up making horrible, horrible relationship decisions (as I have).

    Whether that’s true or not, it makes me unbelievably happy to see how strong and happy your marriage is, and you have my sincere hope for many more joyous anniversaries.

  22. Mike C says:


    The marriage advice that worked for me was “a continuous relationship takes effort; always make the choice to put in the effort”.

    Or there’s my grandfather’s wisdom when he was asked the secret to his long marriage: “1) Don’t leave her. 2) Don’t die.”

  23. Duoae says:

    I just came to say, “Congrats!”.


  24. Christopher says:

    This week marks the anniversary of more than Spoiler Warning, huh. Congratulations so much to both of you! I’ll take every piece of relationship advice I can get, too.

  25. Phantos says:

    “half of all marriages end in divorce” factoid actualy just statistical error. average person divorces 0 marriages per year. Divorce Georg, who lives in cave & divorces over 10,000 each day, is an outlier adn should not have been counted

  26. baud001 says:

    It’s funny, I’ve heard about the five way of expressing/receiving love from other people, that’s odd to hear it from someone who lives on another continent. Then I realized that the author (Gary Chapman) is from USA, so I’m not so surprised anymore.
    Also it’s interesting to see the view point on that of someone older and married for twenty years (the other people were all around 20).

    Congratulations !

    1. Jocommando says:

      They seem like good words to live by, and it’s clear that Shamus has done so for quite some time. ‘Interesting horsehockey,’ ftw!

      Congratulations to the Young family: you give the misanthropic lurkers of the interwebs hope.

  27. Baron Tanks says:


    A bit of a preachy vibe with this post, but I guess you earned one after 20 years. What a milestone. Again, congrats.

    1. Mephane says:

      Well, the post opened on the premise of giving advice to his former self. ;)

  28. Cat Skyfire says:

    I love when you write personal stuff.

  29. MrGuy says:

    Congrats to both of you!

  30. Blackbird71 says:

    First of all, congrats Shamus and Heather on 20 years! As I’m getting within sight of the same milestone, I can attest that it takes a lot of work, but is well worth the effort. Well done!

    Now Shamus, if I may be so bold as to suggest one more piece of advice to send your younger self: “When you find that “Heather” girl, hold onto her!”

    Veering off into a more mundane observation:

    “Two people have a stable relationship and are generally happy” makes for very boring entertainment, which means you've spent your whole life soaking in stories about defective people in defective relationships.

    This is one of the main reasons I enjoyed the series “White Collar” so much; aside from being generally entertaining, I felt it did a good job portraying a healthy husband-wife relationship, without any of the craziness or dysfunction that so often is portrayed in TV marriages.

    The thing that people should remind their selves of about marriages in TV shows (or movies, for that matter) is that for the most part, the people writing those shows are surrounded daily by a culture and industry which has a significantly higher divorce rate than the rest of the country. So even setting aside the usual needs of drama and entertainment, the creators of such media are of course going to have a skewed perspective on marriage.

    1. Noumenon72 says:

      They also can’t help writing about sex every week, leading people to believe “I’m the hero of my life, so I’ll probably get just as many shots at sex as the hero of this show! As long as I don’t waste my potential by getting married.”

      I don’t think I ever heard anyone say anything as positive about marriage as Shamus just did, until people started posting Reddit threads like “married men of Reddit, how often do you squeeze your wife’s boobs?” and people started describing what daily intimacy is like.

      To me marriage still means financial and emotional risk, annoying roommate issues, and diminished access to porn. I’ll never quite understand why people go for it. I’ve even started hanging out with the super bitter guys at Reddit’s Men Going Their Own Way.

      1. Sunshine says:

        Reddit has this saddening swamp of sneering disdain for women, and even a quick look at MGTOW shows that it’s part of that. I hope things brighten up for you.

        1. Wide And Nerdy ♤ says:

          I went to them mainly because it seemed like if I could just accept that its not going to happen to me and find reasons to be happy about it (“look at all this sucky stuff you’re avoiding”) I could just be happy. And they’re a good source of reasons for you to be happy about not getting married if you need that.

          It didn’t prove to be that simple. Sure I eliminated the sadness. I got to that point of thinking “wow, I dodged a bullet.” And I ignored people who told me otherwise because that isn’t really the point. I’m knowingly telling myself this as a coping strategy, not searching for truth.

          But when you reach that point, suddenly you’re a single guy at or near middle age, and if you aren’t doing something pretty cool, you start to wonder why you’re here. That kind of hit me out of nowhere.

          But maybe that’s a good thing. I think part of the trap of being stuck on dating, at least for me, is that I was waiting for my life to happen.

          1. Linda S says:

            I truly sympathize. By my late twenties, I was so sure I was going to end up alone that I bought a studio condo rather than a one-bedroom, because I didn’t think I’d need any extra space! I had the extreme good fortune to meet my future husband the year I turned 30, and we’ve been happily married for 21 years now. (Luckily, we were able to sell the studio a few years into our marriage and buy a somewhat bigger place.) We also have friends who married for the first time in their 50s, and they seem very happy together.

            Obviously, things don’t always work out so well–I know several great people who are single and don’t want to be. But if you do want a relationship, I think it’s worth putting yourself out there and being open to possibilities.

        2. Deoxy says:

          At least you have to go to out-of-the-way places to find “sneering disdain for women”.

          “Sneering disdain for men” gets national prime-time TV coverage on a regular basis.

          I think they are equally bad, but only one of them is societally accepted, and is thus doing far more damage (like greatly encouraging incidence of the one that isn’t societally accepted).

  31. Destrustor says:

    Congratulations to both of you, and here’s hoping for another twenty!

  32. Cuthalion says:

    Congratulations, Shamus and Heather!

  33. silver Harloe says:

    I could congratulate you, but that would be redundant with everyone else.
    …no, wait, I don’t care if it’s redundant:


    And thanks for the relationship advice. It sounds solid.

  34. Deoxy says:

    Congratulations – I’m very happy for you.

  35. The Mich says:

    You guys all look super sweet ^.^ Congrats and wishes for plenty more anniversaries :)

  36. Rich says:

    Congrats to you both from an old married dude.

  37. thatSeniorGuy says:

    Congratulations Shamus and Heather!

  38. Jingleman says:


  39. Galad says:

    Well, congratulations to you and your lovely wife, for your 20 years, and how happy you two look after all this time. I wish I could share your feeling, but I’m feeling pretty sad and lonely these last few weeks…more so than the usual. Still, I couldn’t help but smile after reading the post about Gilbert, reaching the end, and remembering how I also smiled reading its end two years ago when I’d first read that post.

  40. Cinebeast says:

    Yays for you and Heather, Shamus!

    I don’t know if I’ve said it before, but you’ve got a beautiful family. Does Rachel dye her hair? My sister, who’s 19, just started dying her hair.

  41. lurkey says:


    I like the composition of the last photo — carbon copy of Shamus, slightly less carbon copy of Shamus, Shamus, Heather, copy of Heather. :-)

  42. Cozzer says:

    You know what, I sort of needed this, or something like this.

    Me and my partner are planning to move in together (which is basically Entitled Millennial marriage), possibly before the end of the year, with all the doubts and fears that entails, and a bit of positivity about that subject is both very helpful and very hard to find.

  43. Eichengard says:

    I had a much longer comment than this, but my Internet connection ate it.

    Congratulations !

  44. Phill says:

    Congrats on 20 years of marriage. I’m just coming up to 13 years, and have to say I agree with all your advice here; it certainly means with my own experience.

  45. Zekiel says:

    Congratulations! Some lovely photos too.

    And this is a fantastic article – as an 11-years-married person I basically totally agree with everything Shamus said. Also, my experience (not everyone’s, obv) is that – contrary to steroetypes – marriage gets better over time, not worse.

  46. Zak McKracken says:

    Typo: “Hegginbotham” should be “Heginbotham” (or is it Higenbotham?)

    Also, may I add one piece of advice:
    Talk. Not smalltalk
    (okay, also smalltalk if you like, but also plenty real proper deep talk and shit)
    People’s characters and preferences are not set in stone, and they can synchronize over time, or move in different ways. One thing which governs this is how much you talk about them. If one person goes out of their way to express affection in a manner the other will appreciate more, it counts double if the other knows how hard it was to not just do the usual thing. Attempting to see from the other person’s point of view is key to understanding what they mean when they do X. It also helps to free you from the stupid stereotypes about the other gender you may or may not have sloshing around in your head, at least the ones which do not apply to your significant other.

  47. Leslee says:

    All the congratulations to both of you!

    Having been married FOUR times, I can attest to the soundness of your advice.

    But don’t buy Deus Ex: Invisible War?!?!?!

    That’s the only Deus Ex that allowed me to play as a woman!

  48. NoneCallMeTim says:

    Congratulations on a loving marriage.

    I want to say many things, but will sum it up: thanks for a heartwarming post.

  49. AndrewCC says:

    I disagree with what you said completely, Shamus.
    I quite liked Invisible War.

  50. mookers says:

    Congratulations Shamus and Heather. Here’s to many more years.

    I really enjoy these personal posts, keep up the good work.

    Also your family is adorable.

  51. Sunshine says:

    Congratulations! Your family posts are always a positive read.

    Still, your one future detail was to avoid Invisible War rather than “there will be a madness called ‘dot com’, do this to come out covered in gold” or [political comment redacted]?

  52. Clive Howlitzer says:

    Congratulations. Here is to 20 more!

    As someone who is going to be getting married this year(And gaining 2 kids in the process) I am still rather terrified by the idea. I look forward to it but I am worried that once we are living together and exposed to each other full time that she won’t like the fact I might not be showering her with attention 24/7 like I do when we go on vacation together. (She is coming from the UK and I am in the US so our visits are spread apart.)

  53. Linda S says:

    Congratulations, Shamus and Heather! May you have many more happy anniversaries!

  54. Kronopath says:


    Thanks for this, Shamus. As someone who's around the same age as the "you" you're pretending to write to, this kind of openness actually means a lot.

  55. Sharnuo says:

    “Marriage is awesome. You'll be fine. Don't buy Deus Ex: Invisible War.

    Good luck,”

    Better advice has never been spoken.

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