Once again I am letting my personal life dictate the direction of my writing. Tomorrow my middle daughter is exchanging wedding vows with her partner of many years.
It’s a triumph in many ways. There’s the simple joy of “My daughter survived long enough to fall in love and get married, and the larger triumph of the work she and others did to overcome the bigotry of our red state to get the right to marry the person she loved, regardless of their sex or gender.
There’s also a lot of joy in the coordination going on to arrange the celebration. Many of my dearest friends are helping pull off this shindig, and it is providing the many branches of two fairly complex family trees a chance to work together to make this a joyous event.
The Voice of Experience
I have the opportunity to deliver a toast at the event. My immediate reaction was to fall into “Dad” mode, trying to encapsulate the benefit of all my wisdom and experience into a glib and succinct few sentences that would guide them both into a lifetime of uninterrupted wedded bliss.
Then my habit of self-reflection tuned in, and laughed a blunt Who the hell are you to be giving advice on marriage?
It’s a good point. I’m not married now. I’m quite happy not being married now. Aside from the occasional glance at the couples-privilege built into our tax and legal system, I have no desire to be married.
Part of that is because I’ve had more than one “failed” marriage. I put that word in quotes because it’s kind of like saying I’ve “failed” at being seven feet tall, or “failed” at remaining twenty-five years old. When you set unreasonable expectations, “failure” becomes the only option.
What actually happened was that I was married, and there were some really great things that came out of that time, and there were some really difficult things that happened, and at a certain point the “marriage” was no longer serving our life’s purpose. At this point, everyone involved is happier than they were then, so it’s a good thing, right?
The Joyous Work
Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.
– Bob Packwood
Now, before I sound fatalistic, I definitely have things I wish I’d done differently. Or, to put it into a more constructive frame, memories of times when I now realize that I could have made different choices. It’s with the understanding that the person I was then made the best decision he could have in that moment – and second-guessing it now doesn’t help at all.
That’s what it comes down to, though: choices. The more you have, and the more time you have to evaluate what the likely results are, the better chance you have at happiness. I could perhaps make that into some useful advice: constantly make the choice to work at the relationship.
But that word – work – doesn’t sound very joyous, right? Love and marriage and relationships are just supposed to flow naturally because love, right?
That’s the advice. That’s the thing that I’d love to tell my younger self, but failing that, the thing that I want to tell my daughter and her wife:
Marriage is a skill. Like anything else, you will only get better at it through deliberate practice, reflection, and work. Don’t ever think it won’t be work – but it will be joyous, satisfying work that will feed the soul.
Yeah. That’s about it.
What advice would you give a newly married couple? Let me know in the comments, and I promise to pass them on to the Brooms (Bride + Groom = Broom, obviously) and maybe even give them a blog post all their own!
2 thoughts on “How to Marry Well”
Part of the work is an ongoing rejection of the fantasy person you should have / thought you had married — the spouse trope that we see in popular media. Real people fail, change, crave, wonder, and change again. And through it all, there will be times when you don’t like each other as much as you did, but that will change too.
At times marriage can be like a long road trip where nothing seems to change, and at those times everything depends on the actions of the people in the car and not the trip or state of the marriage itself. If you use it as a chance for reflection, silliness, experimentation, or exploration it can turn into something that provides incredible shared memories. But if you turn the monotony inwards or worse start lashing out, you’ll find yourself focusing on the end of the trip without realizing everything you’re missing and giving up on the way.
Congrats to the happy couple, best wishes for a lovely ceremony!