1 down, 80 to go.

This weekend, the Dairy Man and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary. As old(er) people say, “My, how time flies!”

It’s hard to believe I’ve been living this country life for an entire year. I can’t really consider myself a newbie anymore. Though, honestly, that ship already sailed the day I started explaining the difference between a heifer, cow, steer, and bull to my boss.

The past year feels like a great accomplishment. It was challenging and frustrating, but it was also filled with unspeakable joy and love. I am more in love with the Dairy Man today than I was on our wedding day. Now that we’ve gotten a chance to get our hands dirty in this thing called marriage, we are even more certain in this life we’re building together.

Unlike many newlyweds, I don’t think that the Dairy Man and I entered marriage with our eyes glazed over with love and rainbows. We’ve always been fairly realistic people. We didn’t enter into marriage lightly or with unreasonable expectations. And I think that’s what has sustained us through this crazy year.

Over the past 365 days, we lived in two different houses in two different locations. We went through harvest season, planting season, and a whole lot of hay cutting. We began the (never-ending) process of renovating our farmhouse. We started a new dairy. We completely gutted and renovated our milking parlor. We lost two beloved grandparents. We got a dog. We joined a church and made new friends.  We lived through power outages, blizzards, 3 a.m. phone calls, passionate disagreements, runaway cows, and one very expensive trip to IKEA.

This year has been tumultuous and unstable. But it has also been rewarding and reassuring. Somehow our farmer/urbanite love has blossomed into a beautiful marriage.

I still remember something my mom said to me a few months after my wedding. The Dairy Man was in the midst of starting the new dairy. I barely saw him and felt marginalized, alone, and unimportant. I was sick of coming second to the dairy. While the Dairy Man was working 15 hour days, I was saddled with keeping everything else together. I resented it all. I hadn’t signed up to do everything myself. But when I lamented this to my mom, she said,

Jess, in a marriage you can’t be so concerned about things being perfectly 50/50. You both have to give 100 percent–all of the time. Things aren’t always going to be equal. You might have to take turns carrying the other. But you should both always try to give 100 percent. That’s what love is.”

My mother is very smart and her advice stuck with me. An egalitarian marriage (as I hoped for) is a great idea, but real life isn’t always that neat and tidy. You can’t just give 50 percent and stop giving. Sometimes we have to pick up each other’s slack. If you go into marriage thinking that things will always be fair and perfectly equal, you’re in for a rude awakening. Especially if you marry a farmer. We will spend our lives trying to find balance.

My happiness required that I accept this. I had to learn flexibility, patience, and grace. I had to be ok with giving more than 50 percent some of the time. On the flip side, the Dairy Man had to shake off years of putting the farm first and learn what it was like to be married.  He had to learn how to prioritize, say no, and invest in life outside of the farm. We’re getting there.

To my husband, thank you for the past year. Today, like that day a year ago, you are it. You are everything. You’ve turned my life upside down and it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. I may live in the boondocks and have a home that smells faintly of cow manure, but I still feel like myself. Stilettos and all.

Bring on the next 80 years.

Woman vs. Farm: On Being a Farm Wife.

My Dairy Man spends a lot of time out on the dairy. Like, a lot. He usually hits the dirt around 7 a.m. and I see neither hide nor hair of him until 8 or 9 p.m.

The time between when I get home from work and when I see the hardworking farmer can be a lonely time. In the first few months of our marriage (harvest time), it was actually much worse. I resented it. I felt like I barely had a husband. When he finally got home, we would scarf down a quick dinner, spend 20-30 minutes catching up, and then head to bed so that we could wake up to do it all over again. It got better when we actually started living on the dairy, but the Dairy Man’s life is still at the mercy of the farm. If something breaks, he has to fix it. If an employee needs assistance, he has to help. If the cows get out, he obviously has to wrangle. Regardless of the time, day or night, the dairy almost always comes first.

This reality has been the most challenging adjustment as I learn how to live as a modern farm wife. I grew up in a family that treated work very differently. My dad was home for dinner almost every night; no one was calling him at 4 a.m. to report a problem; he could plan his days and we could plan on him.

But farming is very different. Long hours and lack of freedom come with the territory. This is your name on the line, your reputation, your livelihood. There is a high level of personal investment. Farming is like any other small business … if the business were on steroids. Farming will never, ever be a 9-5.

Honestly? I’m still adjusting. I suspect it may take years. The all-encompassing nature of the farm still shocks and annoys me. My Dairy Man will spend the rest of his life trying to find balance and I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to accept that we often won’t achieve it.

A few months before we got married, Dairy Man and I were in a premarital counseling session that changed everything. While addressing my fears of living in the country and marrying a farmer, I came up with a laundry list of worries: living in the middle of nowhere, dealing with my husband’s work schedule, and giving up career options to follow him. Would he make enough time for me? Would I get lonely? How could I survive when the nearest mall or Starbucks was 45 minutes away? What kind of future would I have?

When I stopped to take a breath, Dairy Man started talking. He talked about his love of farming and his eagerness to grow and innovate on the dairy. His passion was palpable; his eyes were gleaming; his ambition was remarkable. And then he said, “But I feel so guilty about all of this because I know Jess is unhappy. And I understand, but I just don’t know what to do.”

BAM. My selfishness hit me like a load of bricks. And it hurt. It hurt to see that I was unintentionally stomping all over his dreams. It hurt to know that I was taking the joy out of something he loved so much. That’s when I decided to stop digging in my heels. I chose him and thus, I chose this life. If we were going to be happy, I would have to start being ok with this.

I’m proud of my husband. I’m proud of how hard he works and how big he dreams. He inspires me to do more and push myself harder. I need to reciprocate. Even though the stiletto-wearing city girl from five years ago would have been horrified at the prospect of living in the land of sky, dirt, and cows, this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

And so, when I am eating yet another dinner alone, I remind myself why I’m here. The Dairy Man and I both have things to learn, but we’re on the same team. Even if the team uniform requires old jeans and rubber boots.