Friday, July 10, 2009

Committed Monogamous Long-Term Spouses?

So there's no handy title for my sweetheart and me, two people living together in a relationship who aren't engaged but who are close: we're not betrothed, we're not married, and for crying out loud, "going steady" makes us sound like letter jacket-wearing, chocolate malted-sipping white kids from fifty years ago. We're talking about marriage actively, we're thinking about marriage individually, but we're just, well, I guess we're somewhere between the tent poles of the handy titles society doles out to better understand itself.

I feel like now that I'm thinking about marriage in an active way, words about it are flinging themselves in front of my face. I recently read a couple of articles that were on two very different sides about marriage. The first of the two is in the August '09 Yoga Journal called "Grow Your Love". If you've never read it, it might seem like an eco-friendly, veg-head, sitar-playing trade paper; but really, it's a magazine about pursuing physical, mental and emotional health in a thoughtful, compassionate, loving way. Who among us can say we don't need more of that in our lives? So often in YJ I read about people who are making major life changes, heralding a conquering of fear, or learning to go with change, that means for them, walking away from a marriage. I got tired of reading about yoga students who were all divorcees; to have a brilliant yogic breakthrough, must I first have a pyrotechnic break-up? I was so grateful for this article. It cites several couples who take the lessons they learn on the mat--together and as individuals--and apply them in relationship. Nothing as crunchy or outlandish as talking sticks and Tantric sex, but some really sound ways for diffusing conflict, uncovering truth, and openly communicating.

The second article was in this month's Atlantic, called "The Case Against Marriage" by a writer who's on her way out of her marriage. It's a compelling argument about why marriage is obsolete and not worth the pain and trouble, and it's caused me to think in a very personal way about what marriage is, and why I want to take my sweetheart by the hand and walk into it. It made me think a lot about the choices we make and how they affect our lives. Is the exclusive private school really worth it if it means I have to keep a job that I hate? If I climb into bed with this man who makes me feel gorgeous and vital and brilliant in a way my husband hasn't in years, can I handle the likelihood that my marriage will never recover from this tryst? Everything we do affects everything else.

There's a really interesting tension about gender roles that is almost going unexpressed in Loh's writing: she expresses women's frustration that we no longer get to be "the woman" (insert pearls, vacuum cleaner and drinking problem here) in our relationships, and doesn't know what to do now that the female gender role has been usurped. You can almost hear some of her girlfriends wishing they weren't quite so egalitarian, and maybe their husbands needed them to be just the teeniest, tiniest, barefoot and pregnant. However, I have enough sense to know that divorce is painful and complicated and awful; the only thing more stressful than divorce is death of an immediate family member. The author might be so miserably, painfully beside herself that not only is she in favor of ending of her own marriage, but the end of all marriage everywhere. I probably would be, too, if my marriage had just ended.

I'm ubersensitive about this and here's why: I am both delighted and freaked about marriage; it's huge, it's permanent, and the odds are against us. I love my sweetheart and he couldn't be a better partner for me; I want to spend the rest of my life with him. But the marriagethink forces me to confront my fears, expectations and concepts of marriage, some I've held as long as my whole life. I have to remind myself that he and I make our marriage, and nobody else, but I'm shouting down a whole chorus of voices in my head. I just want a lot of good words around me as I grow more and more certain in this decision.

My sweetheart and I talk about articles like these, about friends we have who struggle in their marriages, and it seems like the more we talk about it with others, the more advice gets poured into our laps. What happens if I become a wildly successful writer and his ego can't take it? What happens if he becomes a wildly successful writer and begins to berate my talent? What happens if I get easily distracted (which so often happens) by students or books or children, and some worldly, well-read scotch distributor reminds him that he's handsome and sexy and talented on the 157th day that I forgot to tell him these things, and over highballs of Glenmorangie she whispers to him, "would you like to come home with me?", he says yes?

I don't know the answers to these things. Here's what I do know.

This word he taught me a new word, a word he's never used before, for loved one, for sweetheart, for spouse, for wife. He addressed me in a letter as such. I know he loves me today, and I know that tomorrow we will both choose to do our part to make the healthiest relationship we can.

5 comments:

Tacuma said...

Okay, I'm commenting again. This is the hotness! Your column made me think about Paul Rudd's line in Knocked Up: "Marriage is like "Everybody Loves Raymond," except there's no pithy dialogue and no one's laughing. And it doesn't last 22 minutes. It lasts forever."

I think it's what you make it. Congratulations on that next step, sis.

Gina DiPonio said...

I LOVE reading your blog, Jess! Honest. Fearless. Relatable. Fun!

Don't ever stop.

Darlene said...

Beautiful.

Erica said...

If you're doing yoga, then you might want to pick up on some other Eastern philosophies, particularly those of Krishnamurti, who wrote "Freedom From Fear". Basically, if you're speculating about/concerning yourself with the bad things (or even the good things) that MIGHT happen in the future, then you are not fully available in the present to experience everything (good and bad) that is happening RIGHT NOW. Thus, you are short-changing yourself in the experience of life. In each thought and endeavor, focus right here and now and get it (whatever "it" is) fully. You cannot control ANYTHING that happens in the next second (meteor strike, random bullet anyone?)let alone a month, year, decade down the line. Expectations can be guideposts (positive or negative) but they shouldn't really be considered all that much. You'll marry or you won't. It'll last or it won't (any number of reasons why for each one. Some well documented, some purely individual). Bottom line: don't inhibit your enjoyment of happiness because of fear it won't last.

SNH Editor said...

Jess, this is the song of my heart, enjoy!