Splitsville, Part II
I puzzle, and I ache.
I have married over 200 couples and my overall sense is that they know that marriage is a lifetime deal; a permanent proposition through thick and thin, sickness and health, bad breath and fallen arches and wheelchairs and the final feeding tube... all the way to plots side by side in the graveyard. They recognize that they are walking into the great unknown together and they generally know that there will be rocky times. The graph of expectations, if charted, might go like this:
Great sense of compatability and sense of mutual enchantment and sexiness (highest point); stresses of living together, mutual disenchantment, establishing more realistic mutual understanding (leveling out); uh-oh -- affair or extreme weight gain and/or profligate nose hairs & lack of hygiene, incredibly tense or non-existent sex life (when one of the partners wants one), evidence of major character flaws (low point); purchase of house, child-rearing (high peaks, low valleys); occasional perfect weekends, trip to Bermuda (up again); and so on until the tombstones.
In other words, the married couples I know seem to have a sense that married life has some definite phases, and they're ready to endure them together.
I wonder, though, how much help we could give marrieds if we talked a lot more about these lesser-known and discussed phases in coupled life, such as :
The "I Really Don't Think I Even LIKE You Any More, Let Alone Am In Love With You" phase.
The "I Have a Wicked Hot Crush On My Flirtatious and Available Co-Worker" phase.
The "I Secretly Think You're a Really Lousy Parent" phase.
The "If You Repeat That Story At A Dinner Party One More Time I Will Set You On Fire" phase.
The "I Am So Bored I Could Set Myself On Fire Just To Have Something To Feel" phase.
The "I Regard You As a Professional /Domestic Failure And I've Totally Given Up Hope That You Will Ever Adequately Contribute To The Running Of A Functional Household" phase.
"You're A Really Sweet And Good Person But I Don't Feel Like Being Married Anymore" phase.
I have thought for many years that marriage, like parenting, is a vocation. Romance, if romance is felt or experienced, is just so much icing on the cake.
One has to feel called to marriage and parenting not so much because one is in love and eternally delighted with the object of one's devotion and care, but because one feels that it is one's highest calling to be loyal to the relationship and role of spouse/parent, because one feels spiritually fulfilled through the daily acts of love, understanding and forebearance that such commitments require, and because one's life would be obviously and eminently poorer without such commitments.
When my unmarried Master admonished his disciples to hate our mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers (I'm paraphrasing, of course. You'll find the teaching in Luke 14:26), I think he was pointing to the radical nature of love, which is after all, not about them but about us. It is about the spiritual integrity of the one who loves, not about the object of our love, whose charms will surely ebb and flow in our eyes over the course of time, and whose very lovability is entirely subject to our own projections and dysfunctions.
In other words, and more prosaically, when I see the oldest marries in my community together I think they got that way by honoring the sacred bond of marriage over the pursuit of individual happiness. In my fondest hopes, I imagine they have learned, over the passage of many years, that individual happiness comes not from the enduring adorableness of the other, but in the daily spiritual practice of being a trustworthy, committed spouse.
Before marrying: Know Thyself.
Before divorcing: Consider whose tombstone may be next to yours, and what name shall be inscribed there.