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


Biggy said...

T, I've been picking the dead skin off my feet for as long as I can remember. It's my one obsessive compulsive disorder. Anyway, it counter balances that trash heap you call your closet.

minus five said...

i prefer to be an outside observer until somebody worth a crap comes along. if that ever happens.


I don't know if I believe in the concept of "forever and ever amen"....if you live your life in a state of self-awareness and self-actualization...and happen to find someone on a parallel path to yours...maybe...and that requires a LOT of work and commitment to self as well as relationship.

At best, I think it is possible, but more often than not, if we could shoot to love without attachments to the outcome and know when to hold on and when to let go, everyone would be a lot better off. The problem is that we are all so desperately afraid to be alone, to be unloved...the reality is that only we can provide that on a basic, core level for ourselves...relationships should simply be an enhancement to what we already are.

Aaah, fuck it...I'll just stick with my dogs for now. The worst they do is eat shit out of the litter box.

Anne-Davnes said...

When we got married, our priest asked everyone there to keep on Doug and me about how we were doing when they saw us - as the years went by. He said we were in for a long haul of work, learning and growth and that we needed the support of our community to really make it. I remember as I said my vows, how it felt that the feeling of being on stage disappeared as I spoke. Through each word, the crowd disappeared from the pews and stood right up there behind me at the altar. It was the most amazing feeling. To not be alone. To say my vows not just to Doug and God, but to my family and friends.

Marriage has been the scariest and hardest thing I've ever done. Just hanging in there when things get dicey or I'm completely terrified deserves an award. Then comes listening. Then comes working. Then we coast for a while and it feels easy - and then something challenging comes our way and we do it all over again. This cycle becomes a little more reassuring as we go.

So far, this is the big lesson I've learned. Patience. I hope I'm capable of learning all the lessons well that will hit us when it's time.

I've heard someone say that when we get married, we come covered with lots of hard, pointy edges and barbs. But as we continue on in marriage and stick with it, the work we do to stay married starts to soften our rough exterier until we get smoother and smoother. I can certainly notice a smoother exterier in myself, and in Doug, compared to a just a few years ago. A neat metaphor, no?

Jason said...

Love is easy. We all know how to do it. We do it everyday with the same deoderant we buy, the movie we watch everyday, the smell of a summer day, whatever the case may be. Marriage is the challenge. It's not something we practice. Boyfriends, girlfriends, relationships; their not exactly practice because the plug can be pulled at any time; but we treat it that way. We treat it that way because we're afraid of failing. Afraid of hurting each other even if we're thinking of each other's best interests.

Marriage is about the commitment not to pull the plug. Whether you're married to your job, your beliefs, or your partner. It's the commitment that states "I'm not afraid to fail." If you're willing to accept that, and share that with someone else, you can only grow and sacrifice together. At least, that's what I've learned.

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