Sometimes, among the myriad of random deep thoughts brewing in my head, I think about marriage. Why, how, wherefore, why do so many marriages fall apart, what does it really mean to be joined to another? Stuff like that. I’ve had practice thinking about this.
As a girl, I dreamt about having a family of my own, “Little House on the Prairie” style (although why I ever thought that I would be willing to do that kind of manual labor is beyond me – yuck!). As a teenager, I gave up that dream, figuring it too elusive for me, and was just hoping for a Room of My Own. After college, when I realized that my parents would never willingly give up control over my life, I settled on the notion of an escape route, one involving a decent guy with a decent home who allowed me my dog and my books. I ended up with a psychotic manipulative violent sociopath – but that is a different story. I was divorced by the time I was 24. The only reasons why I was not younger were that 1) I could not believe that I had made a mistake of THAT magnitude and 2) while I was never in love with him, I took those vows very seriously. I was willing to do anything to make my end of my promises good. To the point that he filed for divorce, even though I was the one with reason to do so. (He wanted to assure that jurisdiction was in Massachusetts and not California. Jurisdiction, as all lawyers know, is extremely important in influencing the outcome of your case. In this case, it was the difference between me getting half of his almost $30K debt and none of his $250K trust fund, whereas in California a judge would have been far more likely to just split everything down the middle.) I walked away with nothing but my last name and a sense of total failure. I also no longer had any dreams whatsoever of family or marriage of any kind. Focusing on what I did have, which was the start of a career in biotech and some new friends (one of whom was remarkably allowing me to live with her indefinitely, since I had been thrown out without any notice – she had only just met me when she gave me her housekeys…), I resolved to make the most of that brilliant career and become so busy that I didn’t have time to notice the emptiness of the apartment I returned to each night. And, I admit, I was happy for several years. I had good friends, meaningful work, and I got my dog back. Yee-ha! I tried very hard not to think about what I was missing. I even went to law school at night (while continuing to work full-time) so that I could successfully achieve major job security and income and so that I could be so damn busy that I did not have time to think about how lonely I was. I mean, I had lots of great friends and never lacked for activities or company. Nothing to complain about.
Until one night, after a full day’s work and classes and way too many hours spent reviewing Contracts, I found myself crying as I fell asleep, saying, “Dear God, if it’s quite all right, I… well… I’d really like a family of my own to take care of.” You can only lie to yourself for so long, you know. It just doesn’t work. And there is nothing like exhaustion to bring out how you really feel about things.
Much to my shock, I met the man I *knew* I would spend my life with shortly thereafter. It was so obvious that both of us kept forgetting that we were not already married. Yes, really. We forgot. Several times. This gave me “permission” to acknowledge that law school was most certainly not for me. It also opened my eyes to several truths about relationships that I suspect most do not bother considering when picking out a ring or cake. And they are the fundamental questions behind and underneath marriage – the answers to these are the ones that determine whether or not you have union, or guaranteed sex and a shared bathroom.
Question 1: Are you prepared for the “worse” part of “for better or worse?” The “poorer” part of “richer or poorer?”
Question 2: Do you respect your partner and do they respect you?
Question 3: Are you absolutely certain you can rely on this person for the truth, regardless of how unpleasant it may be?
Question 4: Are you willing – and ready – to care for someone, defend them, stand by them and their dreams, and also to tell them when they are acting like an ass? Are you prepared to be on the receiving end of these things?
Question 5: Do you share the same values? This is not the same as liking the same past-times. This one comes down to what a person stands for, what you know they will do when their back is against the wall, whether or not they have integrity, whether they can be counted upon? And can they count on you?
Question 6: The issue of children and how they are raised is so obvious that I truly hope I do not have to discuss it.
Question 7: Do you feel safe enough – ARE you safe enough – to trust this person with all of your nightmares? Can you be trusted with theirs?
Question 8: Do you actually like this person? They aren’t going to change. You might be able to negotiate a putting the cap on the toothpaste deal – but that’s about it. What you have today will be the same decades from now – the sense of humor, the sense of style, the sense of fashion, and most importantly, the nature of your friendship. Yes, change is a constant – when it comes to circumstances, but not often when it comes to people. Are you happy with him / her today, or do you feel a need to renovate? Do they try to change you?
I guess that’s enough to get started. If you like, this is a good time to refill your coffee cup or stretch, because I have a lot to say about this stuff, and it’s important. Let’s all think these things over and we’ll come back to them in Part Two (real life is interfering with my pontificating).