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”

Unwritten and Unfolding

 

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I am not living the life I expected to live.

Not nearly.

From the time I was in kindergarten I expected to be a mother.

From the age of about twelve I expected to be a trial lawyer.  I had been an insatiable fan of detective novels and the Perry Mason show.  (It was only much later that I would learn which side actually wins nearly all the criminal trials.)

I expected to go to college and law school, to marry, to enjoy my career.  I trusted that someday my children would go off to school themselves, become independent, start families of their own, and assumed that when that happened I would happily resume life as a couple with my husband Jim.

He–needless to say to anyone who knew us as a couple–was the one doing all the concrete future planning, saving for tuition and for his expected retirement decades from now.

Then his own cells betrayed him and stripped away his future.

In those detective novel terms, I suppose we focus on the dog who’s not barking.

A fellow storyteller helped me re-focus those double negatives: it’s not what’s not here; it’s what is.

I had that marriage until death parted us. . . to a degree.

I have those children, who have now all gone off to school and launched themselves into amazing young adults.

I have that career.

The rest is unfolding.

 

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Collecting the Past

In All the Names, the lead character worked as a sub-clerk in a mindless job; during his off hours he collected newspaper clippings about famous people.  The author wrote:

          There are people like [him] everywhere, who fill their time, or what they believe to be their spare time, by collecting stamps, coins, medals, vases, postcards, matchboxes, books, clocks, sport shirts, autographs, stones, clay figurines, empty beverage cans, little angels, cacti, opera programmes, lighters, pens, owls, music boxes, bottles, bonsai trees, paintings, mugs, pipes, glass obelisks, ceramic ducks, old toys, carnival masks. . . .

Why do they collect these things?

. . . they probably do so out of something that we might call metaphysical angst, perhaps because they cannot bear the idea of chaos being the one ruler of the universe, which is why, using their limited powers and with no divine help, they attempt to impose some order on the world, and for a short while they manage it, but only as long as they are there to defend their collection, because when the day comes when it must be dispersed, and that day always comes, either with their death or when the collector grows weary, everything goes back to its beginnings, everything returns to chaos.  

Well into their seventies, my parents began the task of contemplating the statistical possibility that they might not be here forever.  Like most members of both sides of the family, they always went to my husband Jim for advice about medical matters and stewardship of finances and earthly possessions.

As to the latter, they asked their three children if there was anything we wanted.  (My grandmother had taken a different path, and hid her diamond ring so skillfully in her small apartment that no one ever was able to retrieve it after she passed away; somewhere in California, it does not see the light to sparkle, possibly hibernating  in an old freezer or carved into a hollow in a dark chest of drawers.)

Perhaps my parents wanted to know if one of us especially wanted the valuable antiques or Japanese prints.

“That’s easy,” I told my mother.  “I’d like the physics books and the poster Uncle Robert made for the festshrift.”  The latter, prepared for the occasion of my father’s sixtieth birthday in the world of bose condensates and such (or, in haiku form: nearly coherent/electromagnetic and/classical phenoms),  features photographs of my father and his brother as they were growing up in New York. Continue reading “Collecting the Past”

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