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The Greatest Twenty-Year Hangover

December 6, 2019

It’s not Valentine’s Day.

In fact, it’s perilously close to Christmas and the New Year. You know, the time when we reflect on what the past 365 days has brought us and what our hopes are for what’s coming ahead.

I guess that’s why I’ve been thinking about love an awful lot. Because in 2019, not only did I launch the first novel in an epic new Fantasy Romance series I’m writing, but my husband and I celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary!

On July 31, 1999, our closest friends and family descended upon Chicago, Illinois and gathered at a quirky little venue that was built to be an exact replica of the famous Maxim’s de Paris restaurant. We had a party to end all parties, and the rest is history! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves quite yet. Like any self-involved respecting ​Bridezilla, I’ve got something to say about my big day!


Putting the finishing touches on my dress.

I should start by saying that Jack (my husband) and I chose the Chicago version of the famous (and infamous) Paris restaurant because it seemed to channel our love story. For one, it was an intimate space and forced a small guest list consisting of only the people closest to our hearts. Beautifully decorated in an authentic Art Nouveau style, it evoked not only Paris, which we both loved, but another great city that was at the forefront of the Art Nouveau movement – Prague – which also happened to be the city where we met.

Our ambition for our big day was to throw the greatest dinner party any of our guests had ever attended! Great music that would make people want to get up and shake their booties to everything from Sinatra (My Kind of Town, of course) to Prince (Let’s Go Crazy), food that was NOT the usual wedding fare – in other words good and very French, and terrific company. The kind with whom you can cry in your beer, have soul-scraping conversations, let your guard down.

I don’t know how well we succeeded for sure. Nobody’s going to tell you they had a crap time at your wedding, after all. But I can say that we drank the bar dry, my sisters-in-law had a handstand contest in the bathroom, one of our guests went home with the bartender, another guest popped the question to his girlfriend (they’re still together!), and we were up all night long singing, dancing, telling dirty jokes, reminiscing and urging new friendships between people we’d always been dying to introduce to one another.

Some of our friends still talk about that night.

This is the real Maxim’s and this scene looks a helluva lot like our wedding.

​It was crucial to us that our wedding offered the unexpected to the people we most loved. We wanted it to be as much about them and their memories of our nuptials as it was about us and the life we were launching together. We figured, after all, that we were in this together.

Even the photographer we chose was a woman who specialized in candid shots. We didn’t want a bunch of posed photos to look back on. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with those, it’s just that when we flipped through our wedding album…oh, say, twenty years later…we wanted to see pictures of people in mid-conversation or mid-cringey-dance-move. Gesturing wildly, or looking intently at the whoever was holding the floor. In short, we wanted our wedding photos to be prompts that would jog our memories, enabling us to remember that night in detail. Because we expected it to be a night of pure, unadulterated joy. And it was.

I can honestly say I have never had more fun than on the night of my wedding. It was so worth the killer hangover.

wedding 1999But I won’t bore you with any more of my goofy nostagia. There’s a really good chance that like most brides, I’m the only one who truly finds my wedding all that interesting. What I will do is share with you an essay that I wrote a few years ago. It’s about how important story is to a long-lasting love affair like a marriage. It’s one of my most popular posts ever, by the way. The one so many people have responded to with their own love stories. That’s why it means so much to me. The way it was received by men and women alike is quite literally the reason I decided to write a series that put the relationship between two lovers at the heart center of the story.

Love Stories by Yours Truly


The bride striking a 1940s vintage glam pose

Some years ago, about a week before my wedding, I was at work listening to a radio show on a topic that was understandably on the forefront of my mind: marriage. On this show was a man being touted as the preeminent expert on Holy Matrimony – a guy whose name I can’t remember – but a fellow who’d been studying the institution for decades and could tell with startling accuracy and within minutes of meeting a couple whether they would still be married in five years’ time.

I sat listening with my ears pricked up, as this guy was the real deal. Enough to make him the focus of an entire segment of NPR’s Talk of the Nation for two solid hours.

Obviously, Mr. Marriage (as I’ll call him for the sake of this essay) had a lot to say on the topic. He talked about respect being the cornerstone of a lasting relationship, the importance of morality within the confines of a union, the way couples should fight, and how a pair of lovers must always take up the challenge to evolve together. All very sensible and true on an intuitive level.

But what caught my attention most was his assertion that story is an essential element to a life-long love affair. In other words, what seems to matter in an intrinsic way is not that a couple has gotten together but how a couple has gotten together.

The story of us – of how our love takes flight – appears not only to be the spark that ignites the fire we need in order to sustain passion, but the one that foments friendship and trust, and gets us through some of the dark, dark times that visit us during the course of our lives. Things like illness, child-rearing debacles, job loss, snoring, opposing tastes in television shows, and a mother-in-law moving in.


This is actually my grandma – I miss her. My mom does live with us now, though.

In my interpretation, Mr. Marriage was explaining how courtship – the process of wooing an amour by gestures large and small (i.e. the candy and flowers routine) – plays a vital role in spinning that magic web we call true love. Courtship, like a good story, tantalizes. It promises so much, but threatens to take it away at any time. At its heart, courtship makes a couple earn each other’s affection and intimacy. It is the inverse of a hook-up.

I was reminded of the symbiotic relationship between love and story very recently when a friend – a new friend who I’m just getting to know and with whom I’ve found a lot in common – asked me to share with her the story of how my husband and I got together. She and I are both writers and we also happen to write about love in various ways. Neither one of us are romance writers, per se, but love in its many forms is definitely a shared theme of ours.

She and I are also both happily married, and have confided in one another about how love took us completely by surprise. It’s not like our previous relationships were all that great, and neither of us came from what popular culture would call happy families. We had to piece together on our own what we thought a blissful union might look like.

But somehow, as if by osmosis or destiny, it happened for us.


“You may kiss the bride…”

Before I began telling her my love story, I took a deep, meditative breath. It had been a long time since I’d recounted the tale of how my husband, Jack, and I had fallen in love. In all honesty, I’d put that narrative on the back burner while he and I focused on some pretty big things, like having babies and making sure we could feed them.

But damn, we do have one helluva story, and it wasn’t until I told my friend about how we met and went nuts about each other that I realized what a critical subtext our love story has been in getting us through some very challenging episodes. Things I’ve written about on this blog – obvious things like dealing with one of our children being born with a catastrophic illness and surviving the financial train-wreck that hit a lot of folks around 2008. But also the smaller things like moving from city to city, starting a business and deciding how much autonomy to give our children.

So, yes, I will tell our story. But if you’ll forgive me, I’ll give you the condensed version. The fleshed-out, nitty-gritty version makes me blush and withdraw. It’s also too long for a mere blog post.

It involves a chance visit to a foreign city,
A meeting in a four-hundred year old, candlelit pub,
Some dirty poetry,
A Christening,
Several dozen anonymous postcards,
New Year’s Eve,
A jazz club,
Fried chicken and champagne on a cliff side,
The kind of mushy language most people pretend to despise,
And a belief in destiny.


In color!

Of course, after the swashbuckling part, the early wonders of discovery, the heavy breathing, we pretty much replaced our candy and flowers routine with the meat and potatoes of our relationship. Less poetic perhaps, but warm, comforting, sweet. Our nearly twenty-year love story has been a very different adventure than our courtship.

It has involved believing against all odds,
Not blaming each other for things that have gone awry,
Doing our part,
Mustering every bit of energy in order to conjure romance amidst ruin,
Ignoring bad moods,
Having sex even when we don’t feel like it,
Bragging about each other’s accomplishments,
Dancing close in our kitchen when it all gets to be too much.

We could’ve never gotten through the latter list without the former. And I guess that’s what Mr. Marriage was talking about. Over and over, his research pointed to how the foundation of a relationship requires a sense of transcendence, a belief in the overall good of the love that has bloomed. There is a reason why we call the one we’ve been looking for Mr. or Ms. Right. Right implies virtue, honor, truth. And according to Mr. Marriage’s research, an attraction built on betrayal, for instance, has a hard slog ahead. Such a union has no anchor, and over the long run often devours itself from the inside. After all, what do you say when someone asks you how you met? “Well, my first wife was at Little Gym with our two year-old, and I, uh…well…you know. I guess I just couldn’t help myself.”

Story, it turns out, can sink you as well as save you when it comes to love.


Five of my seven sisters-in-law

In fact, story is so crucial to the long-term viability of a relationship that it can actually be the determining factor as to whether a troubled marriage can or cannot be salvaged. When asked how he knew when a marriage was definitively over, Mr. Marriage said this, according to my memory: “In my experience, a marriage is beyond repair when you ask the couple how they met, and they cannot conjure any joy, even a smile from recounting that tale. If they can still tell that story with even the tiniest glimmer of fondness for how things transpired, there’s hope.”

That is a powerful truth to behold, and one we might want to consider in the broader context of our lives. As we endeavor to create new stories this coming year – whether it be with spouses, friends, colleagues or acquaintances, we may do well to remember that the promise of love, of what is right, strikes at the core of our very humanity. And the narratives we are spinning today through our actions, words and impulses will have a tremendous influence on our future well-being.

Charleston Christmas Card 2019

Dougherty Christmas card, 2019. It’s been a great story so far.



From → family, love

  1. It is a great story, Victoria. My best to you and yours. 🙂

  2. Thanks, Tim. Say to you 🙂

  3. Excellent post, Victoria. Beautiful Christmas card.

  4. Thank you, John.

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