Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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To make marraige last you must put it first. There is implied in the statement, “making marriage last,” a feeling of marathon endurance drudgery; and yet, making it last is very difficult, but it must not be drudgery for it to last. I would feel better if it was put, “making the love in marriage last,” because so often convenience, complacency or fear can make marriage last but without the sustained fire of love.
For me, marriage has the ring of life insurance — an investment in the potentially richest thing you can find in life, and like death insurance it demands frequent investment (daily preferred) to keep it active. No one should enter this extremely expensive contract without the dream of permanence for the future.
It’s funny to me that we enter marriage with so little training — the hardest thing we can do in life we face with the greatest ignorance. In a society with such a large divorce rate and poor relationship statistics — where in conversation and humor marriage is belittled as imprisonment — we could not create a worse soil to nurture hopeful marriages.
A marriage is the only sanctioned friendship for life that society offers. With a spouse one has the opportunity to explore the greatest depths of closeness ever granted for a friend. Perhaps this is the last tribal remnant we have where mutual interdependence can last a lifetime.
You should find out, before trying marriage, what kind of people you are compatible with; this can only be found through deep, intimate friendship. Also, find what it takes to be your own best friend. You take a great chance entering a marriage if you are not happy and fulfilled with yourself.
I would recommend a minimum of two years of living together first. Do not enter with any doubt. And when you decide, then surrender. The key to love is surrender; by that I mean to lose yourself in the intoxication of awe, trust, respect, tenderness and fun for your lover-friend. In surrender is the acceptance of another for who they are today and who they become tomorrow. You cannot survive if you have a wish to change the other. But expect that each of you will change, and see these changes as new integuments of the soul of your love.
Have friends — together and individually. Be thrilled that your lover has friends male and female. Do things together with love all around. Cultivate these wondrous gems as mini-marriages to wrap yours up in security. The fifteen years I’ve been with my wife we’ve only lived communally and I think those other loving friends were the most significant pillar of our marriage. We are, after all, in a continuum of several million years of tribal survival.
Take a consuming interest in the hobbies and pursuits (and friends) of your lover — till you find your individual joy in them, as two vines wrap around each other locked in embrace, yet each separate.
Oh, there is so much more. We are too complex for such a short life to explore even a fraction of our great worth together.
Marriage is a strange relationship, its essence being the mutual possession of two people in the name of love. It never works; it never lasts. It either breaks apart or it suffocates within its own too-tight confinement.
I strive to be open-minded on this subject, but of course the effort indicates that I am not. I just don’t trust anything that has to be sanctioned from the outside, formalized. I can’t imagine a marriage that sufficiently renews itself.
Thus, I look forward to the end of marriage as an important step in human emotional and social development. I look forward to the end of all emotionally entrenched and socially entrenched ways of thinking about relationships, as our founding fathers and mothers must have once looked forward to the end of monarchy.
It seems to me that no matter how we justify it, how we glorify and ennoble it, marriage is a trap. The bait is security disguised to look like love, and the game is the wild-animal-god-within-us. It is important to remain single. It is important to resist this trap and suffer our love moment by moment without formalizations or outer definitions of any kind.
Petersburg, West Virginia
At a crisis point in our thirty-first year of marriage, I finally stopped to think about the difference between need and love. Need makes me say, “Do for me.” Love helps me to say, “What can I do for you?” Need makes me clutch onto Terry’s strength for dear life, but love enables me to give him strength and to glow from the giving.
But the hurt child I was still haunts me, sometimes making me do terrible things to my husband out of my unmet needs. She demands he be the mother I never had — a mother who will finally love and hold and comfort me. She demands he be the father I never had — a father upon whom I can at last depend for protection. She demands he be the brother or sister I never had, or the playmate, or the teacher, or the God-knows-what. That self-centered child in me sees only her own insatiable needs and emptiness. Until now, she had failed to see the glorious uniqueness of the man I married.
I’m still working on separating my needs from love, on becoming whole and no longer feeding from Terry’s strength.
Painful growing-up years crippled both of us. It’s so easy to summon the old hurts. We fall into the trap of making each other responsible for today’s pain, when what actually hurts happened many years ago, before we ever knew each other.
Terry deals with too much stress by raging, but when I was raged against as a child, I was unbearably frightened, fearing abandonment always, being abandoned often. So his rages awaken that frightened child in me; fear overwhelms me and I sink into a deep depression. I become emotionally unavailable and I blame him and lay on the guilt. This cycle, once begun, puts us both into our own dance — the raging one and the tragic one — he raging at hurts from long ago, I grieving over pain from just as long ago, but both of us attacking the other, mistaking old wounds for new ones.
So we’re learning that his rages are his own dance routine and that my dramatic wailing and melancholy are mine. We’re working on allowing the other to do his or her own dance, offering, instead of blame or criticism or counterattack, our support and love. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes our own pain is too intense. Then we revert to the old pattern. But we keep trying to love, understand, and hold each other close, soothing and reassuring the frightened child within the other.
The other important thing we’ve come to understand is that we will never have a peaceful marriage. We’re both pot stirrers. Too much quiet and harmony make us antsy. If it gets too calm, we’ll do something to stir that pot and get it boiling and bubbling. This we accept. Let’s hear it for tumult. Let’s hear it for shared tumult.
Even in this age of high divorce rates, I see a lot of marriages that do last. I see very few, however, in which love lasts. These past few years we have struggled toward making love last. For us, merely making marriage last is not enough. We won’t settle for less than having the pot boiling over in sheer exuberance and delight.
Park Forest, Illinois
There is only one way to ensure a lasting marriage, and it is very difficult: marry the right person. Then you do not have to make marriage last; you only have to love.
After that, be good, honest friends. Be friends before you are lovers, lovers before you are partners, and partners in everything.
Carrboro, North Carolina
Anat cried in my arms in bed last night. “What’s the matter?” I asked.
“I feel you want so much from me.”
“But I never see you!”
“I think it’s subconscious.”
I held her till she stopped.
When she stood to go to the bathroom I asked, “How can you say I want so much from you when I’m going to India next month?”
“Maybe that’s a trick,” she said. Our eyes met and we smiled.
(We’ve been together six years now if you count all the time we’ve been apart.)
Brooklyn, New York