Love Lessons: A Marriage Manifesto

Overhead at the spot where we married, Memorial Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Overhead at the spot where we married, Memorial Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts

” . . . [T]here are three people in a marriage, there’s the woman, there’s the man, and there’s what I call the third person, the most important, the person who is composed of the man and woman together.”

–Jose Saramago, “All the Names”

” Because, you know, you and your spouse are, like, one.”

–Melissa Gorga, “Real Housewives of New Jersey”

I’d like to weigh in as a mom.  One with young daughters and sons.  The remaining member of a couple who lived out our wedding vows until–and in a way after–death us did part.

I believe in osmosis–the continuing two-way exchanges within a good marriage.  It’s not so much that one consciously molds or shapes a partner, but I think sustaining loving relationships let us incorporate the best parts of one another.

The person the two of you become can be a better human being than the people you once were.

(I refuse to link to an original mom “manifesto,” issued by, I am somewhat pained to say, a fellow alum who produced two sons.  She wrote an open letter–published in the school newspaper of the university her son then attended–exhorting the nubile female undergraduate population promptly to set about seizing husband material from the upper classes.  In a subsequent self promotional tour, she paused theatrically and announced, without benefit of a preceding question, “Yes, I went there.”  To which John Stewart responded, “Where?  The 1950s?”).

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Wedding Flowers

I’ll spare you reading that screed and report that–while celebrating the supposed uber-marriagability of her sons and their male classmates–her clarion call to to other mothers’ daughters did not contain a single discussion of love, kindness, faith, grace, friendship, or anything like a commitment of souls for better and worse.

Your College Romantic Relationships, or Lack Thereof, Will Not Doom You.

Three Cheers . . .

First a disclaimer: I happen to have married a man I met when I was a teenage college student.  It was a statistical improbability that this relationship would last.

He broke up with me after nearly a year.

I didn’t take it all that well.

What he said, with some puzzlement at my surprise: “Did you think it would last forever?”

What he didn’t say, but what I read in his decision and discomfort: “You’re my first girlfriend.  We’re still teenagers.  Neither of us has any experience with a serious relationship.  How could this possibly survive?”

As it happened, he reconsidered.  And it did last forever.

Jim’s Closing Ceremonies took place in a church on a school campus, attended by multitudinous children and teenagers.  The Reverend commented on the beginning of our marriage.

“And don’t rush it, guys,” he told them. “But if you chance to meet someone at seventeen and think, ‘This is my life partner,’ know that sometimes it works.”

The key word here is chance.  Happenstance.  Serendipity caused us to meet.  A confluence of love and hope and compatibility, as well as innumerable concrete events we did not control, led us to marry.

Absent any of these whispers from the wings, Jim could have been to me and I could have been to him, as Greg Brown put it, “just another face in the crowd.”

Had any number of other choices been made in either of our lives, no doubt we would have had other relationships and become very different people.  But I guarantee that the quality of the marriage wasn’t influenced by us attending the same college.

If my own children one day emerge in their adult lives with partners they had in college, then great.  And if not, great.  I will never subscribe to, let alone ply, the misguided notion that a “name” school is necessarily the ideal breeding ground for . . . well, finding someone with whom to breed.

I do believe that everywhere my children have gone and will go–from the playgrounds where they ephemerally encountered fellow littles (hat tip to E.  Lockhart)  to the coffee shops they may frequent; from the bands, dance troupes, trivia nights and game boards where they gather to the far-flung countries where they are immersed in different languages and cultures–is a way to learn how to love and value other people.

If romantic love comes to town along with that, fine.  And if not–as any widow or widower can tell you–that’s not all there is.

The capacity to love, wherever you found it, endures. Continue reading “Love Lessons: A Marriage Manifesto”

A Tale of Two Cities: Coffee in Cambridge and a Cracked Knee in Philly

Cambridge, Massachusetts
January 2011

There is a vast difference between the narcissistic “That could have been me” and the empathetic “That could be us.”  It is not a mere matter of tense.

In law school, rows of seats were tiered like an upside-down wedding cake.  By the middle rows, one had lithely to step around quite a few students to get to most seats.  During winter, when wan students were thickened by down coats and armored with backpacks bulging with dense hardcover textbooks, this required particular finesse.

One morning, the unforgettable E. (she who remarked upon my engagement ring by saying “It’s so . . . . small.”)  was sitting a few seats away from me in such a row when another student wended his way along, stumbled, and pitched a cup of hot coffee on the woman sitting on my other side.  Most of us jumped up to try to wipe away the scorching liquid and see if she had been burned.

Not everyone.

While we all patted away at the coffee-drenched student and her belongings, E. announced, very loudly, and in a dissonant and peculiar tone of personal affront, “That could have been me!”

Continue reading “A Tale of Two Cities: Coffee in Cambridge and a Cracked Knee in Philly”

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