I Do, For As Long As I Do
Today, I learned two more of my women friends are divorcing their husbands.
Another friend's was just finalized; they're still battling. So far, she's spent $50,000 in attorney's fees, and he's spent $70,000. The cost to their sons cannot be tallied, and she'll pay that for the rest of her life, the way I'll pay for my first mistake and the damage it did to my kids. None of us left our marriages easily. We fought the good fight for years, despite being lied to, cheated on, and worse.
In my experience--and my friends concur--marriage is the hardest job in the world. (Raising children, as difficult as it is, runs a distant second.)
I understand falling out of love. I even sympathize with the urge to leave the responsibilities of house, spouse, and babies behind. But what I can't fathom is the lack of respect some partners show the mothers/fathers of their children, the lack of honor for the history they've shared--the lengths people will go to in order to deceive their significant others, to have their cake and eat it too.
At the wedding we attended this past weekend, part of the traditional vows were conspicuously absent. I noticed at the rehearsal but thought they'd abbreviated for the sake of time. On Sunday, though, during the main event, it was the same: no "till death do you part." Not even "for as long as we both shall love," the twist on that promise I've heard at liberal weddings past. The basic vows just hung there, interestingly, with no real frame.
Could that be a better approach--to simply promise to love and honor each other, etc.? Might it take some of the pressure off? Maybe 'as long as we both shall live' creates such an unrealistic expectation that the first time someone screws up big-time, they worry they'll face a lifetime of punishment or that by wanting out of the marriage, they've already demolished the premise, so all bets are off--anything goes.
I'm finding it impossible to articulate what I really mean here. I guess it's just that if we stopped at promising to love, honor, respect, whatever, it might be easier to follow through. Those are basics, things we should be able to continue, even if mistakes are made along the way. Even if we end up splitting.
I saw a news show recently where they discussed our ever-increasing life expectancy (they claim 150 years, easily, a couple of generations down the road) and what that will mean to marriage and family. Imagine 120 years of your husband picking the dead skin off his feet in bed. Or a hundred years of adjustments to your wife's hormone replacements. It ain't pretty.
Still, we don't seem to be outgrowing the institution. Same-sex couples want in on the action!
I admit I want it. But I want it done right--the love, honor, and respect. I want to be cherished even.
I'll settle for as long as we live WITH EACH OTHER. That's good enough for me.
But I dream of being lucky enough to get my kids to adulthood with both parents under the same roof, and to some day look back in wonder on the hard times, to be able to write a poem like this one, by Ellen Bryant Voigt:
Forward his numb foot, back
her foot, his chin on her head,
her head on his collarbone,
during those marathons
between wars, our vivid
Dark Times, each dancer holds
the other up so he,
as the vertical heap barely
moves, or she,
eyes half-lidded, unmoored,
can rest. Why these, surviving
a decimated field?
More than a lucky fit—
not planks planed from the same
oak trunk but mortise and tenon—
it is the yoke that makes
the pair, that binds them to
their blind resolve, two kids
who thought the world was burning
itself out, and bet
on a matched disregard
for the safe and the sad—Look,
one hisses toward the flared
familiar ear, we’ve come
this far, this far, this far.