Partners and Marriage


I have never met a man who didn't want to be loved.

But I have seldom met a man who didn't fear marriage.

Something about the closure seems constricting, not
enabling. Marriage seems easier to understand for what
it cuts out of our lives than for what it makes possible
within our lives.

When I was younger this fear immobilized me. I did not
want to make a mistake. I saw my friends get married
for reasons of social acceptability, or sexual fever, or
just because they thought it was the logical thing to do.

Then I watched, as they and their partners became
embittered and petty in their dealings with each other.
I looked at older couples and saw, at best, mutual
toleration of each other. I imagined a lifetime of
loveless nights and bickering days and could not
imagine subjecting myself or someone else to such a
fate.

And yet, on rare occasions, I would see old couples who
somehow seemed to glow in each other's presence.

They seemed really in love, not just dependent upon
each other and tolerant of each other's foibles. It was
an astounding sight, and it seemed impossible.

How, I asked myself, can they have survived so many
years of sameness, so much irritation at the other's
habits? What keeps love alive in them, when most of us
seem unable to even stay together, much less love
each other?

The central secret seems to be in choosing well. There
is something to the claim of fundamental compatibility.
Good people can create a bad relationship, even though
they both dearly want the relationship to succeed. It is
important to find someone with whom you can create a
good relationship from the outset.

Unfortunately, it is hard to see clearly in the early
stages. Sexual hunger draws you to each other and
colors the way you see yourselves together. It blinds
you to the thousands of little things by which
relationships eventually survive or fail. You need to find
a way to see beyond this initial overwhelming sexual
attraction.

Some people choose to involve themselves sexually and
ride out the most heated period of sexual attraction in
order to see what is on the other side. This can work,
but it can also leave a trail of wounded hearts.

Others deny the sexual side altogether in an attempt to
get to know each other apart from their sexuality.

But they cannot see clearly, because the presence of
unfulfilled sexual desire looms so large that it keeps
them from having any normal perception of what life
would be like together. The truly lucky people are the
ones who manage to become long-time friends before
they realize they are attracted to each other.

They get to know each other's laughs, passions,
sadness, and fears. They see each other at their worst
and at their best. They share time together before they
get swept up into the entangling intimacy of their
sexuality. This is the ideal, but not often possible. If
you fall under the spell of your sexual attraction
immediately, you need to look beyond it for other keys
to compatibility.

One of these is laughter. Laughter tells you how much
you will enjoy each other's company over the long term.
If your laughter together is good and healthy, and not
at the expense of others, then you have a healthy
relationship to the world. Laughter is the child of
surprise. If you can make each other laugh, you can
always surprise each other. And if you can always
surprise each other, you can always keep the world
around you new. Beware of a relationship in which there
is no laughter. Even the most intimate relationships
based only on seriousness have a tendency to turn
sour. Over time, sharing a common serious viewpoint on
the world tends to turn you against those who do not
share the same viewpoint, and your relationship can
become based on being critical together.

After laughter, look for a partner who deals with the
world in a way you respect. When two people first get
together, they tend to see their relationship as existing
only in the space between the two of them.

They find each other endlessly fascinating, and the
overwhelming power of the emotions they are sharing
obscures the outside world.

As the relationship ages and grows, the outside world
becomes important again. If your partner treats people
or circumstances in a way you can't accept, you will
inevitably come to grief. Look at the way she cares for
others and deals with the daily affairs of life.

If that makes you love her more, your love will grow.

If it does not, be careful. If you do not respect the way
you each deal with the world around you, eventually the
two of you will not respect each other.

Look also at how your partner confronts the mysteries
of life. We live on the cusp of poetry and practicality,
and the real life of the heart resides in the poetic. If
one of you is deeply affected by the mystery of the
unseen in life and relationships, while the other is
drawn only to the literal and the practical, you must
take care that the distance does not become an
unbridgeable gap that leaves you each feeling isolated
and misunderstood.

There are many other keys, but you must find them by
yourself. We all have unchangeable parts of our hearts
that we will not betray and private commitments to a
vision of life that we will not deny. If you fall in love
with someone who cannot nourish those inviolable parts
of you, or if you cannot nourish them in her, you will
find yourselves growing further apart until you live in
separate worlds where you share the business of life,
but never touch each other where the heart lives and
dreams.

From there it is only a small leap to the cataloging of
petty hurts and daily failures that leaves so many
couples bitter and unsatisfied with their mates. So
choose carefully and well. If you do, you will have
chosen a partner with whom you can grow, and then the
real miracle of marriage can take place in your hearts.

I pick my words carefully when I speak of a miracle.

But I think it is not too strong a word. There is a
miracle in marriage. It is called transformation.
Transformation is one of the most common events of
nature. The seed becomes the flower. The cocoon
becomes the butterfly. Winter becomes spring and love
becomes a child. We never question these, because we
see them around us everyday. To us they are not
miracles, though if we did not know them they would be
impossible to believe.

Marriage is a transformation we choose to make. Our
love is planted like a seed, and in time it begins to
flower. We cannot know the flower that will blossom,
but we can be sure that a bloom will come. If you have
chosen carefully and wisely, the bloom will be good.

If you have chosen poorly or for the wrong reason, the
bloom will be flawed.

We are quite willing to accept the reality of negative
transformation in a marriage. It was negative
transformation that always had me terrified of the bitter
marriages that I feared when I was younger. It never
occurred to me to question the dark miracle that
transformed love into harshness and bitterness. Yet I
was unable to accept the possibility that the first heat
of love could be transformed into something positive
that was actually deeper and more meaningful than the
heat of fresh passion. All I could believe in was the
power of this passion and the fear that when it cooled I
would be left with something lesser and bitter.

But there is positive transformation as well. Like
negative transformation, it results from a slow accretion
of little things. But instead of death by a thousand
blows, it is growth by a thousand touches of love. Two
histories intermingle. Two separate beings, two
separate presence, two separate consciousness come
together and share a view of life that passes before
them. They remain separate, but they also become one.

There is an expansion of awareness, not a closure! and
a constriction, as I had once feared. This is not to say
that there is not tension and there are not traps.

Tension and traps are part of every choice of life, from
celibate to monogamous to having multiple lovers.

Each choice contains within it the lingering doubt that
the road not taken is somehow more fruitful and
exciting, and each becomes dulled to the richness that
it alone contains.

But only marriage allows life to deepen and expand and
be leavened by the knowledge that two have chosen,
against all odds, is to become one. Those who live
together without marriage can know the pleasure of
shared company, but there is a specific gravity in the
marriage commitment that deepens that experience into
something richer and more complex.

So do not fear marriage, just as you should not rush
into it for the wrong reasons. It is an act of faith and it
contains within it the power of transformation.

If you believe in your heart that you have found
someone with whom you are able to grow, if you have
sufficient faith that you can resist the endless
attraction of the road not taken and the partner not
chosen, if you have the strength of heart to embrace
the cycles and seasons that your love will experience,
then you may be ready to seek the miracle that
marriage offers. If not, then wait.

The easy grace of a marriage well made is worth your
patience. When the time comes, a thousand flowers will
bloom ...endless.

From Ch. 26, Letters to My Son” by Kent Nerburn

http://www.kentnerburn.com
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