I just finished reading -- or more accurately listening to -- Elizabeth Gilbert's follow up to Eat, Love, Pray. It is the story of how she, a woman who had 'broken faith' with matrimony found herself at the threshold of remarriage. How on earth did this happen? Long answer, short --> it was all because of the American Department of Homeland Security. Seriously.
When her Australian born, Brazilian partner was deemed a persona non grata by a DHS officer due to an overuse of the standard three-month visitor visa, marriage was the only option if they wanted to live in the United States. Gilbert and "Phillippe", although deeply in love, had consciously chosen NOT to marry -- both having lived through their own scorched-earth divorce. When it became clear that the only way they were going to be able share connubial bliss was to lawfully wed, Gilbert decided to look at the whole concept of 'marriage'. Her theory, which I share, is that the more I learn about something that scares me, the less I am frightened by it.
While enjoying her examination of the institution of marriage, I continue to take out and examine my own thoughts and feelings about pledging one's troth. You see, I too, have failed at marriage. And, in spite of my enlightened, evolved-being statements that it really wasn't a 'failure'. [Nobody died. We’ve managed to salvage a friendship and partnership to raise our child. Both of us have grown as people and learned a lot about ourselves and the world.] The bottom line is that there is a part of me that truly believes that the marriage failed. Or more accurately, WE failed the marriage. The wide-eyed promises we made to stick together through good and bad times, were so just so much ‘puffery’, as they called it in law school. Somewhere in the fine print were exclusions we did not know about and eventually tripped over.
Gilbert points out that marriage is more than a commitment to another person. It is a commitment to the marriage vow itself. A promise to honour and hold fast to something bigger than either individual. Divorce -- the intentional ending of a marriage union -- is more than failing to cleave only to our chosen other. It is rejecting that vow to God, the Divine or whatever 'higher power' (even if that power was just the power of the governmental State) that blessed and sanctified the union.
In order to sort out my own thoughts on marriage -- and answer for myself the question of what, if any, my future is in relation to it I have decided to write my feelings out. Please note that I am NOT currently in a 'relationship' of any kind -- other than with myself and the Divine. The only beings that share my bed have four paws and fur. There is no man clamouring to lead me down the proverbial petal strewn path nor have I set my sights on enticing a man into a commitment of any kind beyond, perhaps, a double-double at Tim Hortons. No, this is a question I actually have begun to realize I need to answer before I can honestly enter into a committed, dating relationship. I recall hearing Marianne Williamson speak about getting very CLEAR with what you want and what you believe. This is a cosmic precondition to actually opening the Universe to lead you to that destination. From clarity -- an honest searching of one’s deepest soul -- comes the ability to love unconditionally both the Divine and our fellow man. It leads, therefore, to living an authentic life -- which has become the central aspiration for the second half of my life.
On the face of it, I am a good statistical bet for a successful second marriage, should I decide to take the leap again. My first marriage ended just 6 months short (to the day, I just realized) of 20 years. For the most part, my experience with marriage, as a relationship, was good. My former spouse and I did not fight -- either verbally or physically. We were that loving and sweet couple that you see holding hands in public and stealing steamy glances across the room.
My final analysis is that the marriage died silently and slowly over several years of benign neglect and willful blindness on both our parts. We each stopped putting our marriage first – before our jobs, our child, our friends. We did not do the regular maintenance on our marriage that we did on our cars. And one day, the engine ceased and nothing could revive it.
My ex (who I’ll call Renfrew) has confirmed that I was a 'good' wife -- even though I admittedly fell far short of Martha Stewart in both the housekeeping and cooking departments. I was, however, the primary breadwinner for more than half our married years. With the exception of the first year after our move from Northern Alberta when I was recovering from a deep depression, I have been at least self-supporting.
We produced a child -- a pretty darn GREAT one. It is not just me and Renfrew who say this -- pretty much every teacher, Girl Guide Leader, Sunday school teacher and acquaintance who has had more than a passing encounter with her says so as well. She is, more often than not, the most together person in the family and she is only just turned 12.
Together and separately, we worked to make the communities we found ourselves in better and safer. We looked after, as best we could, our extended family and friends in need.
Our marriage created more good than bad and, for that alone, I am deeply grateful.
Anyway, back to Gilbert’s examination of marriage. I was surprised to learn that marriage was actually NOT part of the gospel taught by the disciples of Jesus. It seems that the early church fathers had carefully calculated that the End of the World was rapidly approaching. To insure a swift and sure ride on the Rapture Express, their teachings were that humans were to eschew relationships of the carnal nature and devote themselves to a life of celibacy and worship. As you can probably figure out, THAT idea was quickly trampled by hormone charged citizens. Once the Christian powers that be realized that the whole celibacy thing was a non-started, they did the only logical thing -- they appropriated the institution of marriage. Gilbert postulates that this, and the continued interest of both religious and political leaders in the nature and rules surrounding marriage, had a lot to do with the reality of the private nature of the interactions between spouses.
Think about it. I'm sure you have had instance to shake your head mystified by some revelation about a married couple who know. And I am NOT talking about Tiger Woods' dalliances here. No, I'm talking about Jill and Stu down the street. The erstwhile perfect couple with 2.4 children, a dog and a minivan. That is until the day that the moving van pulls up at their door and Stu and his well worn Barca lounger move on down the line. Or you discover that Jill has relocated to an Ashram in India and changed her name.
When my ex and I separated, it did not come as a big surprise to those who saw us daily (it is hard to hide that level of misery and the frequent marriage counseling appointments were a dead giveaway). Seriously, we were not exhausted and drawn looking because we had discovered the joys of almost-middle-aged sex. We were beaten down by trying to bridge a gap in communication and understanding that rivaled the depth and width of the Grande Canyon.
Friends and family we saw less often (including some with whom we had been very close) were visibly flummoxed when learning of our marriage's derailment. Even almost 3 years later, I occasionally meet up with someone who doesn't know about our parting of the ways. The only thing that drops their jaw faster than learning we are divorced is discovering that Renfrew has already bought a ticket for another ride on the 'marry-go-round'. He always was a lot braver than I am.
So, what were those arguments for me to consider marrying again? Oh yeah, I'm a good bet based on my demographic. Another reason to consider pairing up again would be the over-riding rationale for marriage in general: we humans need companionship. Another soul to share the peaks and valleys of day-to-day life. A person to count on through whatever life tosses our way. Oh, wait, I did that myth once -- it didn't work out. Next argument.
If I've heard it once, I've heard it a dozen times: "You must be lonely."
You know, there is a huge difference between being alone and being lonely that I did not truly understand until recently. I am alone a lot -- too much according to some friends and family but I am rarely, if ever, lonely. Lonely is not something that having another person in the room can cure. Lonely comes from deep in the soul. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that both me and Renfrew were pretty lonely the last 3 or so years of our marriage, even though we were rarely alone.
Another factor weighing heavily in favour of my projected future success in a marriage is the amount of therapy I've had. Renfrew and I spent almost two years trying to solve the puzzle of where we had veered off the path of marital happiness.
After our separation, I continued to excavate and take ownership of my contribution to the death of the relationship. With the help of numerous counselors, friends and the Divine, I think I have a better understanding of where I end up when I let fear run my life choices. Now, when fear shows up, instead of turning tail and running for the hills (or chocolate), I look into the fear. Heck, I turn around and walk straight into the fear and make friends with it. I am not totally fearless, but I am naming my fears and trying to unpack them into small bits I can conquer.
In spite of all the therapy and insight I’ve gained, I still sometimes think that I clearly wasn’t good at being married, or I would still be married. I ignored things that should have been my focus and focused on things that I should have ignored. Perhaps I have learned my lessons and I would be able to create a wonderful marriage with a new partner. But what if I haven’t?
Then there is the other side of statistics. Sure I’m a good candidate for a successful second marriage, but given that single women rate their lives as much happier than those of married women do I want to take a chance?
Right now I am happier than I have been in a long time. In fact, I am perhaps happier than I have ever been in my life. It is a different kind of a happy. It is a comfortable happy that reminds me of the red hooded bathrobe I had many years ago. No matter how lousy a day had been or how tired or sick I was, just pulling that red polar fleece hood over my head and stuffing my hands in the front kangaroo pocket made me feel safe and happy. I miss that robe.
My house is truly MY house – When I selected the colour for my bedroom I didn’t have to consult anyone. No one gave me a stink eye when I dripped a couple of drops of ‘mystique sea’ on the carpet or got a bit on the ceiling. My basement includes a meditation room AND a craft room. I let my child paint her bedroom eggplant purple and allowed her to do free-form paint designs on her walls in contrasting colours. My main floor living room is a library – bookshelves on 2 walls and comfortable chairs for curling up and reading.
Oh and my pets. Renfrew and I had three dogs for most of our married life. I now have two dogs – who, yes, sleep on my bed. My home is also the residence for two cats and two snakes – yes the kid was responsible for these additions, but they are now part of the family. Love me, love my zoo!
Well, I suppose I should fess up to one of the biggest factors why I’m hesitant to even consider marrying – or even getting involved in a long term relationship. Somewhere I have lost trust - - not in other people but in my own ability to accurately assess my own life situation. Honestly, until the day Renfrew looked across the table at me and said: “I’m miserable, I want a divorce,” I thought we had a strong marriage. I knew we were in a rough patch – we had recently moved, Renfrew had just turned 40 and was questioning a lot about his life, I was just pulling out of a depression deeper than the Marias Trench. But when he said those words, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I truly did NOT see it coming. I think I know how Sandra Bullock is feeling right now – except that Renfrew was faithful almost to a fault (yes, there are some men who really do consider that monogamy thing important).
So this is where I am – sitting here wondering when (and if) I’ll trust my judgment in the romance department again. I guess that is part of my journey. . . and it is always an adventure.