Today is our thirty-ninth anniversary. Despite my remarkably flawed personality, she has opted to tough it out all these years. Based on the experience so far, I guess our marriage is going to last. And I’m very glad and grateful that’s the case.
The concept of marriage, though, seems odd to me. How is it that two people can be drawn to one another to such an extent that they decide to commit to an entire lifetime of living with each other? I know, many marriages don’t make it that long. But a lot of them do. And that’s the part I don’t quite understand. It seem to me the odds of encountering someone with whom I feel adequately compatible to commit to living with them for the rest of our lives must be astronomical. But such unlikely encounters happen all the time. Yet, but for circumstance, the encounter and subsequent commitment almost certainly would have resulted in a completely different pairing.
I think people who have been married more than once offer evidence of what I suggest. The second or third or fourth (or whatever number you pick) marriage suggests that coupling occurs not because the “ideal” mate is out there, but because two people decide they have enough in common to outweigh the differences or faults or incompatibilities. Arranged marriages (at least those that last), suggest compatibility is not necessarily required. The parents mutually agree that the lives of their respective children will be better within the settled pairing; they decide the couple’s individual and mutual needs will best be met by the support they can provide to each other. Marriages that occur without the immutable influence of parents mirror arranged marriages; except for the absence of external influencers.
But what about people who decide not to get married or who simply never find that “sufficiently compatible” partner? On the one hand, I think they miss out on the enormous emotional benefits of living with a person for whom the partner’s happiness matters more than one’s own. On the other hand, unmarried people do not have the sometimes maddening and restrictive and horribly confining constraints on their freedoms. And, I think, unmarried people can engage with others in ways that married people cannot (according to socially acceptable custom, anyway). No, I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about support that may not be as deep as the support one gives in marriage but is deeper than casual friendship. It’s hard to explain; words sometimes fail to adequately describe emotional connections.
In fundamental ways, chance encounters that either lead to marriage or not alter the course of our lives. Marriages impact one’s decisions in many ways: seeking or accepting employment; moving to new locations (or not); having children (or not); lifestyle choices that include, or don’t include, physical activities and adventures; and on and on. The courses our lives take rely heavily not only on whether we marry or not. They rely on who we marry and when. Marrying early is apt to lead in one direction; marrying late is apt to lead in another. And, of course, not marrying at all leads in an altogether different one. It all seems so random; the course of one’s life depends on chance encounters and their strength or lack thereof.
Reading back on what I’ve written, I realize some people might misinterpret my musings about marriage as misgivings about marriage. That is not the case. I’m only going down the nearest rabbit-hole, as I always do. I think about things not because they’re attractive (or unattractive, as the case may be), but because I like to think and explore ideas. Even sacrosanct institutions merit intellectual meddling, in my view.
Back to reality, abandoning philosophizing about “what if” concepts. The chance encounter with my now-wife led me on a course for which I’m profoundly grateful. There have been plenty of challenges along the way, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Our lives thus fare have been, despite the tests, largely happy and fulfilling. I hope she feels, deep within, the same way. We’ve supported one another during our respective battles with cancer and other health challenges. We’ve allowed one another to pursue job/career opportunities with the commitment that we would follow one another where they took us (though she has given up more than I ever did). We’ve wandered around the country, moving from place to place together, dealing with the torments that accompany relocation. And here we are, thirty-nine blissful years on (forty-one if you count the period during which we “lived in sin”), still there for each other, through thick and thin. It’s a happy anniversary, indeed.