Yesterday made it ten full years since me and my wife Angelia exchanged marriage vows. Even though this is a great thing, this marriage and love of ours, it ain’t been a crystal stair either. Meshing our ways, our likes and dislikes, our approaches to life, and our baggage can still cause me and Angelia more gray hairs, not to mention ulcers. Noah has taken up much of our lives and time over the past seven years, leaving precious little time to work on our relationship. None of this takes into account the ups and downs of job security, financial stability, going back to school, and taking chances with our careers that can take their toll on any marriage, no matter how much spouses love each other.
The average long-term marriage lasts about fifteen years, so if I or one of you were to take a cynical perspective, you could say that our marriage has already reached the zenith, due to decline into a slow, painful cycle before the big D occurs. After all, we all have our issues, me in particular. With my socioeconomic background, I still find it amazing sometimes that anyone would fall in love with me, much less marry me. Prior to 2000, I never made more than $21,000 in a year, and the most I’ve made in any year in our ten-year marriage is $80,000 (although, that number represents most of our years together). With the financial problems we’ve had the past three years, including the feast and famine of consulting work — not to mention my work to publish Boy @ The Window — most women would’ve moved on for that reason alone. That’s the nature of marriage in an age in which money justifies almost everything people in our world do.
But there’s more, much more. I’ve discovered through a decade of marriage how truly imperfect and human I am. The high level of emotional control that I demonstrate in the workplace or in the classroom can be missing at times in my marriage. I care so much about making all of our lives better that I sound like I don’t care at all. I’ve been tempted — although not seriously so — about three or four times by other women over the years. Nothing approaching adultery has ever actually taken place. But temptation in one’s mind is still a challenge, one that all of us adult humans face. I’ve felt a number of times that a week away by myself on South Beach would be a good thing for both of us. And all of these things have been expressed in so many ways by Angelia over the past ten years as well.
So how does this thing work, this marriage, when our lives are so unbalanced, when we’re still growing and maturing as individuals, when dramatic changes occur in our lives, when there are children involved? I don’t have any major words of wisdom. All I know is, that after ten years, I still enjoying talking to my wife about everything. God, social justice, education, teaching, sports, music, sex, politics. I don’t tell Angelia every thought I have at every moment of every day the way I used to. But I do prefer to share things with her first before approaching any of my friends or current and former co-workers. I really can’t imagine having this kind of relationship with anyone else.
If I had to do this over again, would I get married again? Probably not. I’ve learned that when it comes right down to it, any serious relationship, in order for it to be a successful one, requires commitment, communications, and a rooted and grounded love. Having a piece of paper in the form of a marriage certificate, or even exchanging vows before God does not guarantee much but heartache and debt if the marriage doesn’t work out after the honeymoon. Marriage as we know it today is a two-century-or-so institution that sells us the dreams of harmonious, monogamous heterosexual relationships that are nominally sanctioned by God, but more directly, sanctioned by our government and economic system.
Knowing this, knowing all of the hard work that’s involved in maintaining a marriage, requires the ability to separate a relationship from the junk that has accumulated in our minds about how a marriage ought to be. Whoever thinks about their marriage in this way has ignored the human factor, the fact that we married another human being, not a robot that can only express unconditional love. Ultimately, for a real marriage to work, it means rejecting most of what we’ve learned about marriage from poets, priests and politicians (as Sting and The Police would say). It means having a marriage based only on who you are and who your spouse is, not one on societal, religious or others expectations. Which is why I would have the nerve to suggest that, looking back, I might not have gotten married to Angelia, at least in the way we define it these days.
Oh, I can hear it now. The voices of my more godly acquaintances, of men and (mostly) women complaining about what I’ve suggested. That I should feel lucky that I’m with a woman who understands me and would be willing to allow me to post this sacrilegious document. And how dare I go against the dictates of my God and Christianity. Fine. Believe what you will about me. I actually don’t care. But understand this. Any real commitment to another human being that involves supporting each other’s growth and maturing, the development and raising of another child, a love that endures through hardship and suffering as well as the good times, doesn’t need marriage as justification.
And yes, I’m a lucky man. To have the love and support of a wonderfully weird woman who understands me in ways few people in this world, including my mother, have even attempted to. To have been able to spend almost fifteen years in love with my best friend, with ten of those in marriage. If it somehow doesn’t last, if the worst occurs somehow, I still believe that I will always cherish the years we’ve had together, and the future that we will continue to strive for and in.