It was much easier for me, when I was younger (and dumber), to determine what would make a marriage work.
When I was 22 years old, I would’ve told you, even if you didn’t ask, that a marriage required love. Squishy, delightful, schmoopy love. Also? I would’ve told you marriage required an investment of time and hard work, but only because once I heard someone say that and I found something oddly romantic about this puritanical angle to long-term relationships. I would’ve told you that marriage required mutual sacrifice (mostly on the husband’s part… thus mitigating the “mutual” part).
Lots of scientists and philosophers and people generally smarter than I have created an entire cottage industry on why and how and who and when and where marriages work best. There are endless top 10 lists of things that promise predict the seemingly inevitable demise of your union.
Smash the wedding cake? BAM. Divorce.
Pick a the wrong first dance song? BAM. Divorce.
Does your spouse wash their hair first in the shower while you wash your face first? INCOMPATIBLE! FAIL!
When Frank and I were getting married, though, we were high on LOVE. Every element of planning the wedding was a beautiful adventure on our way to our storybook wedded bliss.
There we were, traipsing through this loveland, la-la-la-ing our way to September 19, 2003 when BAM, we walked faced first into the sliding glass door of our pre-marital conference at church.
Emily and Frank, young, thin and in love, holding hands and sitting amongst other engaged couples. Eight round tables were placed throughout a large conference room with eight couples per table (plus or minus). We looked at the other couples seated with us and glowed at them – you are like us! we are like you! we are in LOVE! yes! And the other couples looked at us and said back, “stop looking at us like that. You’re creeping us out.”
At the front of the room was a podium and an earnest professor-type opening up our session in prayer and sharing wisdom and trying to impart the mechanics of marriage on people who were more interested in the difference between a fresh fruit cake filling and a jam cake filling. Decisions, decisions.
We embraced this conference – we were determined to get an A+ in pre-marital counseling. We were overachievers. We were in love!
The conference director said, about halfway through, “OK, raise your hand if you are over 25.” Nope. We were 22. “OK, raise your hand if you have college degrees.” WINNER WINNER! Our hands shot straight up. “OK, raise your hand if you make over $50,000 per year, combined.” Nope.
“If you do not have two out of three of these items in your favor, your marriage is more likely to end in divorce.”
Frank and I sat in stunned silence. Did we fail at marriage before we began? How is that possible? I have no idea what else what they said at the conference – I was still trying to figure out if we could get extra credit in order to make up for the two of the three we missed.
Originally I thought it was kind of like that summer before my freshman year that I took a keyboarding class and got a B+. I started my high school career knowing that I could NEVER be a valedictorian… or a court reporter.
And there is something freeing in that – you know, knowing you won’t be the valedictorian. Or a court reporter.
But the part where I got an F- in your premarital counseling class has less of a silver lining.
Fast forward nine years: we have, so far, defied the odds. We have our moments, for sure. We’ve traversed bravely some of the things often described by marital experts as potential marriage enders.
Is there really a magic recipe for a marriage that works and a marriage that fails?
I really don’t know.
Tonight, in a moment of top-of-the-mountain reflection, I watched my brother and his bride rehearse for their wedding. All while watching them practice walking up the aisle and learn their roles in the ceremony, I was thinking about what I wanted to tell them – what I would wish them to help ensure a long and happy union.
Do I tell them, “Never go to bed angry.” Or do I tell them, “Never say Divorce.” (woops. I said Divorce. Woops. I said Divorce again. And again. I’m in trouble.) Or how about, “If you’re the wife, lower your expectations and if you’re the husband, step up to the plate?” (yikes.)
Upon further reflection…
It just seems that marriage is like flying an airplane. There are all these logical reasons an airplane flies. Lift and drag and speed and atmosphere and blah blah blah. (Can you tell I failed my aviation ground school?) But when I see a plane or a bird gliding through the air successfully, doing what it was made to do, the only real explanation that makes any sense is the one that my pilot husband gave me: Pure Freaking Magic.
A lot of people miss the magic. They are caught up in the mechanics and the science and the logistics – and they miss enjoying the moment. A party planner who never dances at his parties. A writer who never reads his books. A painter who never sees the art around him. It’s easy to do the same thing in marriages – to amass “stuff” and to check checklists – and never savor the relationship.
But, oh, the moments where I stopped and wondered at and drank in the magic of it all: lazy Saturday mornings, long car rides, dreaming of our future, holding our babies, lying under the Christmas tree and holding hands on the way to somewhere exciting. How we met and fell in love and stay in love and live in love – that is simply Pure Freaking Magic.
When my brother brought Lauren home, we knew he was a goner. You could tell it in his eyes and his smile. It was magic. And when Lauren laughed heartily and genuinely at his jokes? That, too, was magic. Pure. Freaking. Magic.
My hope for them is that they marvel at what they have, all the days of their lives. And that when they see an airplane flying or a bird soaring or a humming bird floating that they would be less concerned with the details and more enthralled with the Pure Freaking Magic of it all.
To Andy and Lauren: I wish you a marriage full of magic and wonder and joy.