Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Modern Love: A Joint Account that Underwrites our Marriage (New York Times)

Modern Love: A Joint Account that Underwrites our Marriage
By David Sarasohn, New York Times, December 11, 2009

Back when we became engaged, our news was also greeted with baffled curiosity. It was the ’70s, after all, when the freedom to be able to hop from one relationship to the next was as essential as anything in the Bill of Rights. Our friends were profoundly perplexed; nobody, they thought, could want a fondue set that badly. We had already been together three years at that point, pretty much ever since I turned around at the orientation meeting for new history graduate students and saw her in her granny dress. (As I say, it was a long time ago.) Our feelings about marriage may have been shaped by our pursuit of such a traditional area of study. Perhaps our attitudes would have been different had either of us been in gender studies.

Of course, back then no one had heard of gender studies.

The surprise that now greets us at the fact that we’ve managed to stay married so long — as opposed to having shaken hands at some point and decided who kept the ice cream maker — is even more extreme. Friends you haven’t seen for a long time often inquire delicately about the spouse you had when they last saw you.

In this piece, David Sarasohn discusses his experience of marriage, through the years that have seen many of his friends divorce or separated, through the loss of friends as a side effect, through the struggle with infertility (and listening to may supposedly pro-marriage people proclaim that the primary purpose of marriage is to bear children).

When I was 19 I was first told I was entering into an activity that was associated with a high risk for divorce. And of course, of this group of 19-20 year olds, not one blinked at the thought. Now, while this was being said by some kind nurses who were warning us of what we were getting ourselves into, so maybe we could do something about it. And some of us filed that away for when that became an issue. And I've been told many other reasons why relationships would be problematic since them by people without the same level of caring, including my choices of friends, acquaintances, and relations.

There have also been others like that nurse who were more interested in my well being, and if I do get married, that it be done well. First, that this is done with eyes open. We know who we are and how we got this way. And not everyone is ready for a life with such as us. We all knew of stories of people who got into relationships where their partners first priority was to try to get them to stop going on the calls (i.e. the very things that developed the character that made them so appealing, at least to us)

David talks about his marriage and the hard times. What he says:

Being single is all about the future, about the person you’re going to meet at Starbucks or after answering the next scientific compatibility questionnaire. Being married, after a certain point, is about the past, about a steadily growing history of moments that provide a confidence of comfort, an asset that compounds over time. What you share is what you’ve shared, and measuring your communal property in decades puts you in a freakishly high bracket.

So this is what we are looking forward to. Our albums include pictures and letters from war zones, disaster areas, question and thoughts on dealing with risk. Questions about our careers. Engaged and sharing in the toil of our chosen paths. Learning to endure/appreciate/experience each others patterns, reactions and language (spoken and not).

And somehow we take each other. With both of us having edges adapted for environments with little tolerances, somehow we manage.

I am somewhat better with words than my wife is; she is infinitely better with people. In different ways, we translate each other to the rest of the world, and admire each other’s contrasting language skills. Being married to someone you respect for being somehow better than you keeps affection alive. That this impressive person chooses you year after year makes you more pleased with yourself, fueling the kind of mutual self-esteem that can get you through decades.

The other part, about how those decades change over time from obstacles into assets, is something my wife’s student will have to figure out for herself. It could take awhile.

Like, forever.
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