I’m going to school.
I’m auditing a class at the local state university called the “Politics of Marriage.” It’s an upper-level undergraduate class full of gender studies and anthropology seniors who are writing honors theses and likely applying to graduate school. They are young, fresh, appropriately cynical and ready to take on the world.
I’m clearly the old lady in class. Bags under my eyes. Haggard and always covered in sweat and a child’s vomit. And always carrying a bag overflowing with pacifiers and toy trains and diapers that fall out. Occasionally, a wipe might be pulled out to clean an iPad screen. I feel out of place. Weathered.
Since I don’t have any assignments to turn in I’m trying to write and reflect on the material so far but it’s difficult to sit down and sift through the questions. And readings. And discussions. And OnCourse (the online gathering place for the class like Blackboard). It’s all so…high tech. When I was in seminary more than a decade ago we were registering for class on pink notecards. And waiting in line physically in a hallway that was often dark. And doing everything by hand and in person. Reading course descriptions written in tiny fonts in thick, stapled paper packets. Putting down our preferences. On pink notecards. It’s a different time now. But one thing that remains necessary – to be engaged I have to do something responsive.
I’ve only written one blog post here. I have a couple of drafts but still mulling over the first week of readings and discussions. Mulling over theories about the relatively recent view of love as being an acceptable reason to get married versus some evolutionary theories that read culture and see the result of love bonds that surely were present from the beginning. All of it is blowing my mind a bit. Marxist interpretations of how marriage destroys women’s personhood and how capitalism relies on the marital unit. Picture brides. Gay penguins. Arranged marriages viewed not as oppression but exciting and a practical way for families to come together. The importance of marriage economically and socially. And polyandry was actually a thing??? I mean, sister wives, right, but, what…brother husbands? Who in their right mind would want more than one husband?! I mean, seriously?! One is basically a full-time job.
Thinking about it all it’s hard not to reflect on my own marriage. Deep down inside I quietly wonder whether we are all following some script simply for the proliferation of the species and civilization.
I spin my wedding ring over and over on my finger.
Love is weird. Real and actual, in-the-flesh-and-blood-and-tears love. And everything that Hollywood puts out there certainly compounds the confusion. Like all the nonsense about soulmates and destiny and waiting for The One. I gave up those notions before meeting Andy.
Because, truth be told, marriage is not as simple as falling in love. In the beginning it feels like that’s all that matters and is necessary…and then the bills start to come in. And work schedules have to be negotiated on a regular basis. And the tube of toothpaste is missing its cap (usually my fault). And the creamer is left out on the counter (again, my fault). And the dirty clothes are piling up in the laundry room. And you might get to a point where you look and wonder where’s the love now?
Quite simply: Falling in love just isn’t enough.
I know I was compatible with the other boys before Andy. Maybe in some ways even more compatible. Yes, actually definitely, I had more in common with others. It’s easy to say that something was missing in the end with them. But what was it? Did I ultimately need my parents’ approval? Was it maturity? Readiness? Timing?
Even still the timing wasn’t perfect with Andy. We were finishing up seminary and he was ready to take a call to his first church. I was still in school with one more year and my ordination exams looming around the corner. And that first year – living together only on the weekends – it was kind of, well, hellish. Not recommended at all. It felt like we had to cram in all the catching up, flirting, fighting, and time together in 2 days. The perfect storm of stress from marriage and school, marriage and work schedules, marriage and two different life seasons, and the commute battered our little vessel in the beginning. East coast commutes can really crush one’s soul and wreak a special havoc on one’s sanity.
In the beginning the thought - did I make the right decision? - began to creep in. Because it didn’t look anything like the movies. Or Shakespeare. Suddenly trying to decide about “falling in love” becomes fiercely significant. Those marriage vows feel huge. But the current state of “traditional” marriage is a war zone and all sorts of party lines are drawn in its changing sands. It’s confusing and statistics on divorce don’t help but only make more sense.
I’ve discovered that what anchors me is less love and more grace. Instead of love faith gives shape and substance to my perspective on marriage the most. Not love. Not butterflies-love. Not Romeo-Juliet-Leonardo-Dicaprio-Claire-Danes-Titanic-Kate-Winslet love. It’s faith. Living out the covenant promise as an expression of faith. Learning to be vulnerable and dependent on this other person as an expression of that same faith. Letting go of so much as an expression of faith. Realizing the miracle and grace in it all and the necessity of faith to sustain it through intentional and hard work. Accepting that fighting and conflicts are part of it, and even the ugliness we bring in can always be fodder for God’s deepest redemption.
Even if it means going to bed angry or frustrated with one another. Like tonight. When we were both exhausted from the day. And needed something more. But we fell short of each other’s expectations. That’s ok. It’s the faithfulness of God, the steadfast love and mercies that are new every morning that continues to sustain us. And faith helps me to sleep at night knowing in the morning and beyond we will weather anything and everything together.
‘What do you want in a woman, in life?’
I thought a moment…’The Rangers…we began to describe one another in a few simple words: El es muy bueno para cabalgar el rio. Meaning, ‘He’ll do to ride the river with.’
In Texan, it means, ‘I’d trust him with my life.’
I scratched my head. ‘I want someone to ride the river with.”
― Charles Martin, Thunder and Rain: A Novel