copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
I write this reflection on, what in years past; I would have considered a couple’s certain doomsday. Within hours, Alex and Alia will walk down the aisle and take their vows. Will May 2, 2009, be the day of deliverance for the two, one of delight, or the beginning of the end? I know not. I only understand that on this date, the pair will do, as I purposefully never planned to. They will wed. I have not met either of these individuals; yet today I can think of nothing but their lives and the effect they have had on me.
I became aware of Alex and Alia, A2, for short, while on an airplane headed for The Toddling Town. It was Friday, March 27, 2009. Neither the man who will become a husband today, nor the woman, who will be declared his wife, was physically present. Indeed, I may never see the persons who sincerely moved me to rethink whether I might say, “I do”. Perhaps, they know nothing of what began as an innocent encounter. The Earth did not shake, and certainly, I never expected my conviction to crumble. Indeed essentially my belief did not evolve. In truth, nothing actually changed. Still, after a three-hour exchange, I began to more seriously consider what for all of my live I rejected, marriage.
I am the third child of parents who parted ten days after a twenty-year marriage. I was eight years of age at the time. I remember the moment of their decision as though it was but minutes ago. I can easily relive the conversation that changed my existence. Indeed, the entire incident never leaves my consciousness. As my Mom disgustedly rose from the restaurant table, I knew that nuptials do not bring togetherness. A legal commitment will not ensure quality communication. From the second she stated she was leaving, until, well, forever, I knew I would not wed.
Then, decades later, there was a time in the month of March. On that day, a stranger and I were in route to Chicago. As occurs on any and many journeys, people who might never make an acquaintance sit side-by-side and chat incessantly. The individuals may tell all and then fade from sight forever, or they may do as oddly enough my plane mate and I did, come together on the return trip and again, talk for many hours more.
For me, the travel is a frequent excursion. It has been for years. My most cherished confidant resides in the “Windy City.” While he and I have shared our heart and soul for decades, we had not wed. Early on in our association the thought was far from either of our minds. Each of us saw the other in a way that was far from physically intimate. While our lives were deeply intertwined, a corporeal involvement would have been an abhorrent thought. Time, much talk, realizations about what was once repugnant transformed our truths, but not my fervent reality. I would never marry.
Ela, unlike me, had happily embarked on a trek through holy matrimony. Now, she was ready to take another extraordinary trip. She would watch her son, Alex, follow the path she and her husband Robert had chosen. Alex too would wed. In prelude, on this auspicious occasion, Ela was set to attend a party in honor of her soon-to-be daughter-in-law. Although, at the time of our first encounter I knew nothing of the imminent nuptial, had I been aware of the event it would not have changed my mind. Marriage would not be my idea of an ideal and today it is still not!
When I boarded the plane I had a singular notion. Once in the air, I intended to sleep. I could not imagine that Ela’s energy would captivate me more than my desire to nap had. With only a few short hours of rest the evening before, and a full day on the agenda, I felt a need for some slumber
Yet, from the moment Ela asked if the chair next to me was taken, until the time she settled in, after placing her bags in the overhead bins, it was apparent, Ela and all that was within her would revise my reality. I could see this creature loves life. She genuinely enjoys her partner of more than forty years, Robert. Her affection for her progeny was and is evident in her every breath. Ela’s admiration, appreciation, and her sincere approval for Alex’s choices were, and are, palpable. I felt Ela exuded empathy; at least for those she felt close to. When she spoke of the man she shared her being with for two score, or their offspring, who is near thirty now, only fondness filled the air.
As I listened to her words and studied her actions I marveled. At least for Ela, a legal commitment had not quashed her independence. While she excitedly spoke of her family and the future event, these were not all she had on her mind. Indeed, initially we did not discuss the May marriage other than in passing.
Ela herself was obviously independent from her husband. Her son Alex’s accomplishments while wondrous were not more important or incredible than her own. Ela presented no pageantry. She was not pompous, quite the contrary. As we talked, I became acquainted with a woman who seemed as ordinary as any other being might. Yet, slowly it was revealed Ela is an extremely well-educated and credentialed individual.
In her professional career, this unassuming individual rose to a very prominent position. From the first, I experienced her eloquence, her quick mind, her sensitivity to nuances not verbalized, and her desire to learn. Immediately, when inspired to investigate a subject further, Ela took copious notes.
The woman herself, long before she shared details of what Alex and Alia had done and would do, was wondrous to me. Perhaps that is why her excitement for nuptials took me beyond where I had been all of my life. Hours of conversation with this confident, compassionate, insightful being helped me to consider my long-held belief in a way I had not fully explored.
Ela was not her marriage. She was not a wife and mother more than she was herself. She was separate and equal; Ela was the sum of her parts, and perchance, to a certain extent a bit more. Possibly, that was the reason I reflected on this encounter and what it might mean to me in ways I had not before when I spoke to others of a legal bond [bondage].
For decades, I have heard excited brides gush, grateful grooms boast, prideful mothers and fathers of the betrothed flaunt. As I listen, I wonder; what they will say far into the future. “She is a bit**!” “He a bas****.” “We were too young at the time.” “I was blinded by love and should have known better.” When asked why a couple separates, divorcees who later declare them selves happily single, offer the oft-avowed explanation, “We just grew apart.” It seems an accepted veracity that this just happens. People evolve and chose distinct and different paths.
I believe and have observed as my Mom, ultimately, a twice-divorced damsel never in distress, admits of her escapades. People can predict. All one needs to know of another is apparent early on. Even without awareness for who a person is in depth and detail, a few conversations, a day trip or two can tell us much about the person who pretends to be perfect. What persons portend is perhaps a far truer picture of whom they are within. As Mommy often mused, we choose to convince ourselves that what we wish to believe is correct.
Infatuation, lust, a longing to leave our current circumstances, convenience, customs, the desire for companionship, all conjure up notions of wedded bliss. The desire for romance often rules over a rational reason.
Whilst in a state of euphoria, already anxious over what might be, people have faith. Nuptials will bring the best into their lives. If only that were true. In most instances, it is not. One need only consider the divorce and separation statistics, or the number of spouses who say they are miserable in their marriage.
I trust intendeds expect to live together ’til death do they part. Few of the many who part in acrimony anticipate such a split. I can only assume most are unlike me. All I ever imagined was if I entered into a marriage, the relationship would change. A legal union would build barriers around me. Possibly, he would feel constrained, chained, or caged as well. Restrictions, even self-imposed, would be realized. I feared what my spouse would sense as much as what I might experience.
When I contemplated nuptials, I could not envision a rhyme or reason for such a sacrifice. At least, for me, matrimony seemed madness. Did I mention the studies show a toxic marriage may literally hurt your heart? Yikes! I prefer good health and genuine happiness. I totally love my own company and take pleasure in the tranquility I have created.
Too often I heard tales or saw those close to me conclude, “I need to escape for the sake of the children, his or her physical or intellectual health, and for my sanity, or ours.” Papers would be filed. There would be a formal dissolution. Pain for someone, anyone, or everyone would be profound. It was for me.
There was no violence in my childhood home. Physical, emotional, and, or verbal abuses were alien concepts. In our abode life was calm, cozy, and comfortable. Yet, not everyone, if anyone, was authentically happy. Outwardly, it appeared that my parents and their progeny thrived. We existed. My family went through the motions. Inwardly some of us died.
Before my parents decided to divorce, I was uncertain why I felt as I did when with my family. Years of anecdotes from my parents who were no longer each other’s spouse and from my siblings helped me decide. I would never dare do what Alex and Alia thought wise; enter into what I thought a legal lock on my life. A commitment, regardless of a formal ceremony, frightened me. It still does.
Before my parent’s divorce I saw too much, heard more, and understood why a legal union was not for me. After, the split my awareness intensified. I contemplated the home life of friends. What seemed solid and sane, before I looked beneath the surface, was often stressful and strenuous. No words of joy about one nuptial or another had, could, or would sway me. People often profess happiness and hide hurts.
Hence, it is no wonder that Ela’s deep devotion to husband and son, as well as her fervor for her future family did not transform me. Nor did her tales touch my truth. For all of my live, others have shared similar passions. In a euphoric moment, people present tales of family, fiancés, and a feeling of fulfillment within the framework of matrimony. Yet, I came to realize excitement over an individual faded fast. At times, all that was publicly stated proved to be but a façade. Hence, I had no reason to trust that Ela’s veracity would be different.
However, there was an aspect of her enthusiasm that varied from the usual. Ela’s dedication to her own being brought me to a place where I could see me, myself in a relationship recognized by the law. Indeed, Ela’s independence was the catalyst for my novel contemplation. Though her many accounts all that I had rejected was viewed in a new light.
The sincerity my plane-mate expressed was not as easily dismissed as the superficial statements others offered all of my live. Indeed, the profundity of my Mom’s philosophies was more apparent when delivered by a stranger.
When Mommy chose to enter a third marriage, consciously she knew not to do as she had done in the past, wed for convenience. On the last of her plunges into partnership, my Mom made a commitment to her best friend, someone she did not simply love, which Mommy always avowed was an emotion easily expressed, but a person she genuinely liked.
My Mom stressed; individuals intent on marriage must consider invisible issues. She embraced a lesson learned in her first marriage; shared ethical values matter. Everyday exchanges with the object of one’s passion, if critical, cruel, combative, confrontational, or curt will ultimately cause a relationship to crumble. Calm, caring communication, Mommy proved through practice, creates the connection most everyone craves.
Perhaps, my history had left me too badly bruised. On the subject of marriage, I had lost my bearings. I had easily navigated away from any commitment to closeness. Emotionally, intellectually, and even physically I could connect, deeply. However, my heart was not open to a lengthy, legal, what felt to be as an obligatory bondage. In friendship, I was more than fine. I revel in real relationships. I always have.
My friendship with Barry, the person I was off to visit, is a constant for me it has been for decades. He and I had pondered aloud what the two of us, might want to be. Rather than live in two distant cities as we have in recent years, could we choose to create a combined home. If so, where would we reside. How might we make our time together as meaningful as it has always been? Change, while a constant, for me holds many challenges.
The question that haunted us was could we adjust the circumstances and not alter the quality of our relationship? A relative or two thought it possible. Alexander, a cousin of mine whom I respect, made an argument for marriage. I considered it, for it was as practical, as I am. However, humans, I understand are not necessarily logical. Emotions enter into essential considerations.
Rapport, I believe, is the root to all happiness. I wonder if that is why my time with Ela helped transform me. While my Mom’s last and final marriage may have alleviated some of my apprehensions, just a smidgen, I could not see her strength, her independence as I might that of a stranger.
I smile as I recall what Ela said of her husband and her son. She was not in awe of their achievements; I was. Closeness, when it does not breed contempt, may give rise to comfort and complacency. This construct might explain why the tête-à-tête with Ela transformed my truth. Communication with a person who is not an intimate can serve to enlighten in a manner the words of a loved one do not. A sympathetic sharing with someone who is separate from ourselves can affect us in ways we would never imagine. Certainly, Ela had that effect on me.
When we exited the plane we were so engrossed that we continued the conversation as we walked. Ela and I had discussed what we did, do, and dream of. The dialogue was fluid, fun, and far from shallow. Folly, fears, failures, and feelings entered into each narrative. We reflected on personal strengths, weaknesses, and ways we, and those familiar to us approach life.
Perchance, I was enamored with the cosmic coincidences and our similar personal histories. With the exception of the divorce that had dictated many of my decisions I could relate to the woman whose son will wed today.
Aware that hours from now the person who changed my life will witness another transformation, I wonder if she knows, what it was about her that moved me. I did have the opportunity to tell her that I would say, “I do.” However, for weeks after our shared travel I did not understand why.
Ela might believe I was in awe of the her son’s arrangement, or the art Alex created to announce the event, While wonderful, the plans and powerful presentations, did not persuade me to engage in what I still believe is the myth of matrimonial felicity.
Who Ela is, separate and with her husband Bob, her stories of all that they are separately, and have shared together transformed my perspective, at least in part. Still, their tale alone had not shocked me out of the abyss of apprehension.
Once able to more objectively assess the independence of one who is happily intertwined, a treasure was revealed to me. I came to cherish the memory of my Mom and her marital experience. I recognized that for oh so long I empathized with her earlier wedded hurts. I had allowed these to cloud my consciousness. When change came, I discounted the difference. I had not fully appreciated what had become Mommy’s truth in the last three decades of her life.
When with Ela, I was able to see Mommy and marriage through a new lens. The woman who brought me into the world did more than conceive a creature. My Mom imagined love and an authentic fondness could exist within a legal framework. She did not lose her heart, her soul, or her individual identity once she dedicated herself to something greater than herself. Just as Ela and Bob had done without regret, and as Alex and Alia will do today, Mommy said, “I do: and did it well.
After much discussion over the two days in Chicago with Barry, on March 29, 2009, I told him I would.
Hence, on the afternoon of May 2, 2009, as Ela’s son, Alex, and Alia, his fiancé, wed, I solidify plans for what Barry and I recognize as a wee bit more than a “civil” union. Already, I designed and produced a “Save the Date” magnet, as Alex did. These have been delivered to invited guests. The webpage, an idea inspired by Ela, Alex, and Alia is my next pursuit.
A casual observer might think I changed. People might presume I am anxious to be wed. Perhaps, they muse, I have become the bride who anticipates marriage will bring a better bliss. Indeed, none of these assumptions are valid. I have not been transformed. A “Wedding” is still not what I want. My best friend will not become my husband and I will not be his wife. Neither of us will have a spouse other than on paper. I will not participate in nuptials, at least not in a conventional sense. I [and Barry] will commit to communicate.
On this May date, separately and together, Barry and I hope that today Alex and Alia will do as we have decided to do, grow greater with the person they like just as he or she is.
References for Relationship Realities . . .