Sunday, February 13, 2011

Marriage as a Daily Practice

This is a fortuitous week for me to talk about marriage because last Monday marked 13 years that Emily and I have been together. AND, today is the seventh anniversary of our second wedding, also known as the One That Got Annulled Without Our Permission. In July, we’ll have our eighth anniversary of our first wedding – the Friends and Family one – and in October will be the third anniversary of our Third Time’s the Charm wedding.

This plethora...overabundance...somewhat ridiculous number of weddings is really ironic, because I definitely was not one of those girls who grew up dreaming about every last detail of my Big Day. And I’m bisexual, so it’s not that I couldn’t picture myself with a guy. The thought just never occurred to me. I didn’t know until I was an adult that hundreds of millions of American women had spent endless hours imagining themselves gliding down the aisle in a satiny gown, or planning the floral arrangements that would grace the tables at the reception. It just wasn’t in my girl lexicon.

While I never fantasized about a wedding, I did dream about my marriage. Or to be more precise, I thought about what it would be like to share my life with someone I loved. I’d daydream about modest things, like snuggling on the couch while watching TV, reading books side by side, or making stupid jokes in the grocery store. The devil gets lots of credit for being in the details, but there’s a lot of divinity them, too.

What both of these daydream worlds leave out, though, is that relationships take a lot of work. They need ongoing care and maintenance. You don’t just say some vows once and POOF! you’re all set for the rest of your lives.

A life built day by day wound up being central to our wedding vows. I knew til death do us part wouldn’t work, because life is too uncertain for me to make a promise like that in good conscience. I’d heard the alternative as long as love shall last, but to me, that sounds like a couple is waiting for things to blow up. So I started from scratch: what was I willing to promise?

The words came quickly, and I still think it’s a pretty good list:

I promised to start each day with an action that is loving.
I promised to treat her with kindness and respect.
I promised to cherish her gifts and support her dreams.
I promised to remember, even when things are hard, that first and foremost, she’s my friend.
I promised to take care of myself, because my wholeness is a necessary part of our wholeness.
I promised to communicate clearly and lovingly, and to listen carefully with both my ears and my heart.
I promised to keep a sense of humor with me at all times.
I promised to do everything in my power to nurture our bond.
I made these promises freely, willingly, and joyfully, and I vowed to do my best to live them every day.

I knew that if we paid attention to these things daily, we’d also be attending to the long-term health of our relationship. There’s no need to promise 50 years into the future when a series of single days is the only way to get there anyway.

Even though those three weddings grew out of an injustice, they also made it explicit that we’re making an ongoing choice to be together. They gave us the chance to make those promises over and over. Plus, now we have anniversaries woven throughout the fabric of the year.

In the end, maintaining a healthy relationship requires a daily practice of love, patience, kindness, and acceptance. And if my marriage is any indication, a little chocolate never hurts.

I wrote and delivered this piece as the Credo for the February 13, 2011, service at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.

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