“For better or worse.”
That’s the one that gets you. It’s enough of a catch-all to keep people guessing, even when they find out they’ve married a thief or a (God forbid) a lawyer.
But the others are pretty darn steep, too: “in sickness or in health” (that one will break your heart) or (the worst) “for richer or poorer” (half of that one is fun – the other half….not so much). Then there’s the kicker: “Till DEATH do us part.” Good lord. That’s basically getting chained together until one of you drops dead…LITERALLY.
I don’t know who came up with the wedding vows, but they left very little wiggle room in them for people to breathe. You literally have no outs. There are no, “if you turn out to be a person who posts on Facebook in all caps, we get a two-week break to date other people,” or “If you get drunk at the party and start conga line, I am not legally bound to live with you anymore,” clauses.
Nope. It all falls under “for better or worse.” What no one ever tells you is that there is almost always more “worse” than “better.” Why? Because you are marrying a human being. And ALL human beings are in some sort of process. If you only see that human being from a distance, you might think they’ve conquered many things or have it all together or are exactly what you’ve been looking for. But living with someone day-in and day-out shows you who they really are. And over time, you’re going to see things you didn’t want to see. And guess what? So are they.
I’m intrigued by the current notion of love and coupling. Everyone’s looking for a “soul mate.” I don’t even really know what that is. I’d say most people don’t know what that is. Not really. Everyone has an idea of what they think it is, but nobody really knows.
“Love” as we currently understand it, seems like a relatively new concept. If you read the Old Testament (mainly Genesis) nobody was finding their soul mate or “dating” or in any real courtship, they were basically just hooking up and pounding out babies. Sometimes I read Genesis and wonder when sex even became something people enjoyed. It all feels very functionary and utilitarian. And we don’t see people start “falling in love” until maybe the book of Ruth or something. And it feels like love as we now view it, has actually evolved over the years.
Definitely, when society was male-centric and male-dominated, marriage was a much different arrangement than it is now. Dudes (who could afford it) had wives all over the place. It appears that you could be a player as long as you ponied up and took responsibility for whatever offspring you produced with the new sister wife. But the whole idea of one man and one woman didn’t seem to be a thing until the new Testament.
I’ll just leave it there. My wife hates it when I start talking about this stuff …
The ever-maddening dance between men and women has been going on for thousands of years. Essentially, we’re all fighting our own internal instincts; men are designed to spread their seed all over the place. That’s to ensure survival of the species. It’s hard-wired into every boy you’ve ever met. It’s not an “evil” urge or a “sinful nature.” It’s just biology and thankfully so. It’s why everyone reading this is even here: dad was a cad at one point.
Conversely, women are all protecting ONE egg at a time. So, their internal imperative is 180 degrees different than their male counterparts. They are looking for “Mr. Right” to fertilize that egg. And they aren’t interested in just allowing any old bro to take a shot at it. This is why rich, powerful men, rock stars and overpaid athletes seem to always have any woman they want. Because they are the best candidates for mama’s little egg.
In the big middle of this socio economic, biological maze, we try to find something as elusive as “love.” And we write songs about it and tell stories about it and make movies about it and we actually base our very lives on it.
Every Valentine’s Day we celebrate the ideal of that elusive thing we all seem to be searching for. We want the butterflies and the “spark.” We want our hearts to skip a beat when that person walks into the room. We somehow think they will always look as beautiful and young as they did on our first date, when we couldn’t take our eyes off them. We never see down the road, to 30 pounds heavier and hair loss. We never realize that the “beauty mark” will one day have a hair growing out of it.
But love – real love – isn’t this pretty thing we all want it to be.
Real love is ugly and gritty and rough. Real love holds her hair when she’s throwing up, or it washes his sweaty sheets while he’s trying to kick the flu. Real love gets told horrible things in the heat of a fight, but decides to get up the next day and try again. Real love watches him lose over and over again, but keeps cheering him on…knowing it probably won’t really help.
Real love notices his love handles…but doesn’t notice at all. Real love watches her closet morph from stilettos and pumps into orthopedics and still wants to take her out on the town.
Real love goes blind over time. Because if it kept seeing everything perfectly, it wouldn’t hang around.
Toward the end of her life, my grandmother would occasionally blurt out things about my deceased grandfather that I simply didn’t want to hear. This man was a saint in our family. He was the best man I ever knew. He was the kind of grandfather they write country songs about. But I wasn’t married to him. She was. And as she got closer to the end of her life, she would, from time-to-time, forget to keep his perfect legacy alive for all the kids and grandkids, and tell some story that put in him in a not-so-favorable light.
And in those moments I would always remember that for me, these people were my foundation and my bedrock. But they didn’t start out that way. They started out as two young, wild-eyed kids thinking (like all young lovers) that they could beat the odds; that they were the exception; that they had found the real thing. But 52 years has its own say in the matter. And the last thing they were doing, when my grandfather suddenly died of an aneurism, was fighting over the plumbing in the kitchen.
That’s what real love looks like.
This Valentine’s Day, send the flowers and eat the candy and write the cards. But know that that little fat angel who shoots us with arrows, isn’t doing us any favors. He’s plunging us into an ocean we can’t swim. He’s sending us on a long journey toward heartbreak. He’s sending us to better …but then to worse. There’s no good ending to a love story. Eventually somebody leaves or somebody dies.
And the only way to truly appreciate real love is to embrace the imperfection of it.
And when you finally see the ugly part of love, and you can run toward it with the same passion you ran toward the pretty part, that’s when you finally discover how beautiful it actually is.
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