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Sunday, June 29, 2008

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Tonight we are having a couple of our new neighbors over for dinner, newlyweds. (I don't know if either of them ever read this blog, but I hope they aren't too horrified to discover they have become writing prompts. Welcome to my world. Dinner and everything else is strictly off the record.)

I love entertaining. I'm looking forward to this evening for all kinds of reasons: conversation, wine, an excuse to eat decadently. But there's more to it today. I feel like I am getting to welcome someone into the league of married people. Like anyone died and made me nuptial ambassador, I know. But still. That's how I feel. Like I might run out the door when they pull up and pelt them with rice (I won't).

I am excited for this couple in the way some parents might feel excited when friends announce a pregnancy. I barely know them, but I know they are creative, unconventional people, and I know from experience that when two creative, unconventional people board that most conventional of institutions—marriage— it makes for a hell of a ride.

Both times I got married, I was already living with my intended. Both times, I swore that marriage wouldn't change anything. I don't know who I thought I was kidding. Marriage changes EVERYTHING. I don't care how free-spirited you are, you cannot sign on to a culturally-sanctioned covenant as old as civilization, with the collective heft of history and society behind it, and not be altered by it. I can't, anyway.

This is why I don't think civil unions cut it as an ultimate substitute for, instead of a step toward, legal marriage for all consenting couples. It's not the same. Marriage is different. You go into marriage and you might come out again, but you come out as something other than what you were, legally, spiritually, substantively. You can't turn bread back into flour and water, and you can't turn married into anything that doesn't define itself against the word married.

I once attended a wedding where the couple had painstakingly written very elaborate vows outlining all the ways in which they would protect and respect each other's individuality. I had been married long enough to be very, very amused, though I was sad for them when it didn't work out. I wrote our vows (or assembled them from various traditions) when Patrick and I got married, and they were also quite elaborate for two people who claimed to be doing it mainly for the benefit of the INS at the time.

I don't think I've referred back to them since, although I've threatened to, in times of sickness and poorer, hoping that I might have left those parts out. But I'd probably be chagrined to see how many of those high-minded promises we've broken over the years.

It's been a hell of a ride.

A friend of mine who teaches relationship workshops says that there is as much a need for stories about real marriage as there is a need for soup kitchens for people who are hungry. I agree. I think too many couples are fed a bland and watery gruel of happily ever after. I mean, congratulations to all the people who stayed married for forty years and never knew a cross word between them, but that doesn't help ME. I would much rather be seated across from the couple who divorced and remarried each other twice in those forty years and still know days where another anniversary seems dubious.

I don't have real wedding silver to shine up for dinner. Ours was not that kind of wedding. Our guests were a ragtag band of gypsies from the bar where I worked at the time, and our families aren't the silver-bestowing kind. But I'd like to think if we had, the pieces would look well-used by now: tiny scratches, a dent here and there from being dropped on occasion (or flung), perhaps a missing piece we've learned to do without. It would bear the mark of wear and tear, the patina of something precious, durable and worn.



Blogger Laurie said...

I'm not married yet, but for it to happen it would have to be with someone also (I say pretentiously?) creative and unconventional. And I know it'll take work and sometimes it'll be difficult, but that's just way it'll have to go.

"Patina" is one of my favorite words, by the way. Enjoy this lovely dinner. : )

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I so agree, Kieran. I'd love more stories about real marriage. Your blog has been a great source of many topics, including marriage, but I haven't found many other that have struck a balance between being a total bitch-fest or sugary pap. The shades of gray are what interest me most because I live them everyday.

3:41 PM  
Blogger paper napkin said...

As someone who will be coming up on anniversary number 17 next week, I enjoyed this post. There were several years in there when if I hadn't promised "til death" I definitely would have hit the road.

My parents divorced and remarried by the way, and they're still together.

4:46 PM  
Blogger reneedesigns said...

That is a beautiful way to think about marriage. We had several friends get married recently and I'd like to think that we've shown them what a good marriage is like.

We love eachother always, we like eachother most of the time and we've hated eachother more than I'd like to admit. But we're still here after 10 years.

4:58 PM  
Blogger McSwain said...

Oh, how I love this post. My first marriage, with another creative, didn't make it. But I don't know how I'd make it with a non-creative, 'cause, well... I don't get that.

But this is so beautifully said. "Patina." I like that word. I hope I get to experience that one day.

Have a nice dinner, and may you be a lovely example for the newbees. :)

6:05 PM  
Blogger White Hot Magik said...

I too loved this post. It is honest. I try to be honest on my blog about my marriage. I admit I often feel like I miss the mark though and it sounds like a "bitch-fest or sugary pop" as r3 put it.

7:14 PM  
Blogger the mama bird diaries said...

Fabulous post.

Marriage is hard and amazing and insane. I feel so lucky.r

8:57 PM  
Blogger all over the map said...

No two ways about it, marriage is hard work. It's like a breath of fresh air when you read "real" stories where things aren't perfect and people own up to all of their shortcomings. It's the reinforcement, that no you are not alone in your struggles and you are not doomed because of all of your imperfections.
On a completley different note. I love your writing. I never gave much thought to writing but have found myself wanting to explore more of this experience. I'm in awe of your talent.

1:35 AM  
Blogger Neil said...

Are you saying that next time -- if there is one -- it will be safer looking for, say a female accountant, than another crazy female writer/actress/painter?

11:03 AM  
Blogger nuttycow said...

Hope you had a lovely dinner. I love dinner parties too (note how I'm commenting on this since I have no experience in the main topic of your post!) but always find that I stress too much about everything and forget to enjoy it all!

1:01 PM  
Blogger Susanne said...

"I don't care how free-spirited you are, you cannot sign on to a culturally-sanctioned covenant as old as civilization, with the collective heft of history and society behind it, and not be altered by it. I can't, anyway."

Love, love, love this post. I remember having a discussion with my husband before we decided to get married about whether it mattered if we actually got married. We decided that it really did matter but couldn't quite articulate why. Nice that you did just that for us and very eloquently to boot.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

I love reading your blog, particularly for entries like this one. You're refreshingly honest.

After 7 years together plus 1 year of "official" marriage... I can say that my relationship, and how my partner and I relate to each other, hasn't changed. But he and I approached our relationship as though it were a marriage from the start... we're both somewhat serious like that... which means I've had my fair share of days when I wake up and think, "What the hell am I still doing with this person?!?" I'm know he's had his share of those moments, too.

I guess I'm still technically a young'un in the world of marriage, though. :)

Now we face the next big step--parenthood. I'm pretty sure if there is any true test of a relationship's ability to endure, parenthood is The Big One. I always remember this line from one of your essays on the subject: "even the most carefully planned and anticipated pregnancy is like a bomb going off in a marriage."

Tick... tick... tick.

3:36 PM  
Blogger amy t sharp of doobleh-vay said...

9 years and I can so relate- love yr beautiful imagery...

6:00 PM  
Blogger RW said...

Thanks for this. I agree - we need more stories that reflect the work of marriage. The arc of repentence.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

Thank you for this entry - it was timely and appreciated. I recently read a celebrity (a 19yr old)quote/comment essentially saying that if you were really in love with someone you shouldn't need to work to make the relationship work - that it should fall into place naturally. It made me want to scream -- and to feel sorry for this deluded girl.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

Wonderful, honest thoughts on marriage and what it is not. I love your touching carefulness about the real work it takes.

8:22 PM  
Blogger Julianne said...

Great post.

My 11th anniversary is coming up and I could write a book about the perils and triumphs of a "real marriage."

9:49 PM  
Blogger Daisy said...

I love your emerald (peridot?). I have an aquamarine. There are so many fabulous stones to choose from, I'm always excited when I meet (read) someone who strays from the diamond.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Sparkliesunshine said...

This was a lovely post. It's always great to hear about relationships where things aren't perfect, but they work out anyway. Honesty in talking about relationships is a beautiful thing.

11:22 PM  

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