I should be an expert. Well, not compared to say, Elizabeth Taylor. I’ve only been married 3 times. Evidence prevails that sheer numbers does not make one an expert, perhaps only optimistic. Truth is, I’d say I make a fairly good wife. Lots of practice. Good genes. Thousands of years of DNA in service to the masculine. A role model mother that was exemplary. And references from former partners that this is indeed the case. What brings this musing on the institution of marriage, you may ask? Tired subject, for sure. I find myself preparing to officiate a marriage today.
Right before my birthday this year, I received an email from friends, they wished me to officiate their wedding. They wanted a woman. Someone who was not associated with any organized church and who had a spiritual perspective on the world. I was flattered. After all these years, one would think that I had grown beyond the “oh my god, they want ME!” impulse. I felt I put forth simple requests. I wanted to meet with them 3 times. Felt some responsibility in solemnizing vows with 30 somethings if I had not provided some opportunity to consider the pitfalls and obstacles of committed intimacy that I am all too familiar with.
First meeting did not go well. I had hoped to open the conversation on what I perceive to be the most pernicious lie in marriage: That two people look at each other and say “I will never be attracted to another person for the rest of my life EVER! And neither will you! Now I am not saying that this is not possible. Highly unlikely, yes. Impossible, well, nothing is impossible. Given that the U.S. has the highest divorce rate in the 1st world, I’d say evidence exists that our dreams do not match our reality. From that first lie, all partners collude, depending on the often ‘unspoken’ agreements; they subtly or not so subtly, manipulate or repress (as the case may be) their behavior to avoid the inalienable truth that we may be abandoned at any moment. That we are truly, utterly alone. That we may find some temporary respite or comfort in one another, but that more than likely the evolutionary hormones that drive desire shift, and without intention and awareness, one or the other finds themselves drifting towards ennui, boredom, and the mistaken conclusion that there is something better out there, that next time it WILL be different.
So anyway, that’s what I had hoped to prepare these young optimists for. Barely a word from them for the next several months, until just a few days before the ceremony I receive their vows. There it is, the line that I know I could not speak “I, (insert name), take you (another name) in MONOGAMY for the rest of our lives. I was sick to my stomach. The families are in town. More energy had been placed on who was bringing the coolers and getting the groomsmen meaningless gifts, than the words that would set the intention for their lives together. I could really give the bride something to worry about (truth is anyone from any conventional church would be happy to read those vows), but what came up more for me was, what was my line in the sand? Do I go along, just to not make other people uncomfortable? Do I have some over-inflated sense of self that what I do/say has that much impact? The groom and I spoke. He admitted that he had abdicated responsibility in crafting the words. New job, avoiding conflict, over-extended financial, personal and professional responsibilities. He agreed with me. She had asked him numerous times to participate. The word ‘monogamy’ was important to her. He told me I really wasn’t aware of her ‘wound’ how sensitive she was about this. She had been in open relationships and been betrayed. I said “WE HAVE All BEEN BETRAYED!”. In the most loving of relationships, we all at some time, have, and will, disappointment one another. Do we have, what I call, the internal muscles, that allow us to speak, listen and experience the true revealing of ourselves and the other, while simultaneously keeping our hearts open. Ouch. Not an easy job. Do we accept that for love to move through our bodies, to sustain the qualities of open expression, we need to get comfortable with the truth that we change. We grow. That love does not ‘die’. The form, the expression of the relationship may change. But love, that spacious open expression of life, is always there, right inside you and I. Independent of what the other or the world does or says.
And yes, all the sex toys we have created, tantric workshops and marriage encounters may produce temporary novelty, but what don’t I want to face? That we all die? That we are imperfect? That I do not complete anyone anymore than they complete me? That ultimately, I am my partner for life?
So what happened? I asked the groom to place his voice in the vows. To shift the word ‘monogamy’ to ‘fidelity’. And he did. And today they will stand before me, their families and friends, and I will wish for them to become the most courageous they can be as I read their words…….