7.04.2009

Love and Marriage


A friend of mine pointed me to this cover story in Time Magazine about marriage: "Why Marriage Matters." Eagerly, I tore through the article, glad for this major media coverage on the importance of this hallowed institution. Unfortunately, the piece ended on a sour note for me, as it concluded that committing to another through thick and thin is no longer very attractive, so it must be about raising the next generation right.

Um, no and no. Certainly, once two people who are married decide to become parents, raising their kids becomes an important responsibility. And yet that would seem to relegate the marriage itself - the relationship between the two adults - to a functional means to the ultimate end, that of child rearing, rather than a noble and worthy end in and of itself. And of course, the perspective offered in the article essentially devalues any marriages that do not result in children, whether by choice or not.

As for the alleged unattractiveness of hanging in there with the same person through thick and thin: um, isn't that the best thing about marriage? "Best" in an honorable sense as well as in a purely selfish sense: to know you are with someone who has committed to you in good times and bad, and to rise to the occasion of committing back.

Sure, if you always thought of marriage as "this person has the optimal package of benefits among all my viable choices," then you could see why that kind of marriage wouldn't last: your spouse changes, and your own preferences change. From that perspective, it's no wonder marriages don't last: with a clean slate, would married couples choose each other ten years out, twenty years out, thirty years out?

But, to paraphrase a homily I once heard, when people marry, they're basically saying, "Whoever's in that other body over there, I'm committed to loving, being the number one influence on, and having that person be my number one influence." In other words, we assume that people change - ourselves and our spouses - and we choose to evolve and be evolved together.

From a completely mercenary standpoint, far from being unthinkably stultifying, this is quite a liberating thing. Consider the angst you have when you buy a new laptop or car: having agonized over your choice, you are almost immediately flooded with buyer's remorse as new version after new version gets paraded in front of you. If you think of marriage like this, I'm sorry to hear that, since you'll find nothing but regret and restriction and infidelity.

But think of marriage instead as a grand commitment. Two people becoming one unit and tackling life's joys and sorrows together. If they be lucky enough to have kids enter into the mix, shepherding those young lives into adulthood together in the most rewarding collaboration imaginable. Fighting, rolling of eyes, being incredibly mean at times, but ultimately knowing we're in this together and believing that loyalty and honor are stronger than fleeting temptation or pangs of disdain. Growing old together, flutterings of young love replaced with the smooth sureness of daily "falling in like" with another person who continues to command your fascination, respect, and fidelity. And, sparks of passion at times, not meant to sustain a union on their own, but neither non-existent - how could they be, when two agree to become one and do so for life?

That, to me, is why marriage is still relevant. Because, from that perspective, it is the most enriching, liberating, life-giving thing one can sign up for. No matter how besieged it may seem in the eyes of those who chase trivial pursuits and shallow pleasures and instant gratifications.

Hey, it helps that my wife is smoking hot, cooks food that makes my knees buckle, and has a deliciously sharp wit; but it also helps that we value the institution of marriage, and our commitment to it and each other, in the same way. We've had our thick and our thin, our drag 'em out and kick 'em down fights, and our individual and couple wilderness seasons. And, not in spite of but through and even because of these trials, we continue to invest in our partnership, in being each others' number one fan and resource, in being the best we can be and hoping that for the other. I would not wish on others much of what we have had to go through, nor am I proud of some of the things I have said and thought and done through the years as it relates to my wife; but I would not choose any other mate and I would not wish for anyone else's marriage.

I close with wise words from, of all places, the Indigo Girls. Note the last line: "The closer I'm bound in love to you, the closer I am to free." Love, it seems, is full of such profound paradoxes. This was the closing line of the closing song at our wedding reception, and I'll hope to say it to and dance it with my bride for many years to come.

The Power of Two

Verse 1:
Now the parking lot is empty
Everyone's gone someplace
I pick you up and in the trunk I've packed
A cooler and a 2-day suitcase
Cause there's a place we like to drive
Way out in the country
Five miles out of the city limit we're singing
And your hands upon my knee

Chorus:
So we're okay
We're fine
Baby I'm here to stop your crying
Chase all the ghosts from your head
I'm stronger than the monster beneath your bed
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart
We'll look at them together then we'll take them apart
Adding up the total of a love that's true
Multiply life by the power of two

Verse 2:
You know the things that I am afraid of
I not afraid to tell
And if we ever leave a legacy
It that we loved each other well
'Cause Ive seen the shadows of so many people
Trying on the treasures of youth
But a road that fancy and fast
Ends in a fatal crash
And I'm glad we got off
To tell you the truth

Chorus

Bridge:
All the shiny little trinkets of temptation
Something new instead of something old
All you gotta do is scratch beneath the surface
And it's fools' gold
Fools' gold
Fools' gold

Verse 3:
Now we're talking about a difficult thing
And your eyes are getting wet
I took us for better and I took us for worse
Don't you ever forget it
Now the steel bars between me and a promise
Suddenly bend with ease
The closer I'm bound in love to you
The closer I am to free

Chorus
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