The Shelf Life of Love

“_________, wilt thou have this woman/man to be thy wedded wife/husband to live together after God’s ordi

nance in the Holy Estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her/him, in sickness and in

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health, and forsaking all others keep thee only unto her/him, so long as ye both shall live (or for the next 5 or 10 years)? (“I will”)

Mars enters Gemini on Monday who immediately tussles with Venus, who is about to retrograde backward from Virgo into Leo on Wednesday. Seems to me, it’s as good a time as any to kick up some new ideas about love.

I attended a wedding this weekend in North Carolina. It was a southern affair, with all the trimmings – high tea for the ladies, golf for the gents and a reception on a river boat which sailed down the Cape Fear River. The ceremony was full service, held in a Methodist Church. The hip officiant dared to begin with a little number about Mr. Blackwell’s best dressed list, and when he named Paris Hilton in the Church Of Our Lord I just about fell out of my seat. The message was succinct: self-image doesn’t hold a candle to the Lord’s clothes. To be well-dressed, this couple should clothe themselves in the sacrament of marriage. And when the priest asked us, the congregation, to say “we will” to their wedding vows I was given pause. I will be there for the bride. I will clothe her in Love. But upholding the ’til death do they part’ thing…how did they just get me to agree to that?

The burning question is borne: is lifelong marriage or even long-term relationship something our culture deifies and so we follow? Does trying to fit our relationship into “forever” create suffering? How do I really know that this partner can keep pace with the direction my soul needs to grow and thrive? Who’s really in control here: the church, the movie industry, social pressure or you? It seems, when it comes down to how long we’ll last coupled, we can’t cut corners so neatly. And if we can’t see that, then we’re in bigger trouble than we thought.

The sacrament of Christian marriage is a beautiful thing. But to be honest, the message of ’til death do us part’ woven between righteous promises of fidelity struck the fear of God like an arrow straight into the heart of Love. Don’t get me wrong, forsaking all others is right for commitment’s sake. ‘Tis true, we can’t fully trust and open to one another unless we have a commitment. Within this sacred container, I will strive to uphold love in everything I do and everything that I am. And if the bride ever comes to me for heart advice, I will patiently, lovingly search for her truth. Yet I will do so with the knowledge that life changes and love changes, for not all unions are built to last. Am I throwing some new ideas out here? I don’t know. Over and over, life proves every human relationship has a shelf life. Yet in America we insist on forever. We preserve our food and we preserve our unions. We’re also profoundly afraid of death, which is the feeling I left the sermon with. How fragile love is. How futile our attempts to play with a relationship’s shelf-life, to cajole and control it.

I’m a sucker for romance just like you. We all deserve romantic love, but each soul has a different size and shape. Some of us may thrive in a marriage for a time; others will thrive with many different partners. There’s no shame or judgment in knowing this, only the gift of self-awareness and the commitment to do right for our own self. At some point in everyone’s maturity, settling down with one partner to do the deeper work only committed intimacy allows is natural. Yet this partnership, no matter how long it lasts, won’t last forever. Death is guaranteed. My soul mate and I will definitively part. Perhaps we’ll meet again in our next life; maybe as we’ve met before in the past. Reincarnation proposes that we’ve been here before and we’ll be here again. And even then, I will never know him by the same name, face or body. There’s freedom in this knowledge, not fear. Fear enters when we try to put a relationship into an institution to which it doesn’t necessarily belong. Maybe because it’s the popular thing to do. I wonder about this for my sisters searching for true love. Will she be bitten by the “marriage bug,” swept up in the desire for her own fairytale come true…?

Did you know that in Germany, there are far fewer marriages than in America but people still couple up and enjoy the pleasures and pains of companionship? There’s no actual word for boyfriend or girlfriend, the word is “lebensabschnittsgefaehrte” (what a mouthful!) meaning “time of life partner”. From speaking with a German friend, I understand the social pressure to get married isn’t as high in Germany as it is in America. And so they’re together, for a time. How refreshingly honest. It sure takes the onus off forever. I remember introducing the “time of life partner” concept to a girlfriend who was struggling with the idea of moving the relationship forward into babies and marriage…and clearly slogging through deep ambivalence. To her, it was a revolutionary thought. To me, it was a natural one. See, before I married, I was very clear about the men I dated. They all fulfilled a need for different kinds of companionship necessary to my soul’s growth at that time. One boyfriend gave me back the feeling that I was attractive and lovable after years of solitude, but lacked emotional depth and unconditional support. Yet another (not simultaneously, mind you) gave me my independence and strength by teaching me how to off-road bike and being my loyal companion. I, in turn, taught him to receive his worth. He deserved to be with an intelligent, caring woman. Another (three year long) relationship with a man contained absolutely no physical passion to our dismay, and yet his companionship gave me powerful wings for my spiritual journey. Maybe some would call this relationship progressive. Indeed, it defied definition. Maybe because it didn’t fall into a category, it allowed me to never confuse my partners with anything other than what they were – time of life companions. And I’ve got to say, this choice created a lot less suffering than the other.

Back at the wedding, while we watched the bride and groom being photographed at wedding’s end, I searched for and found a glimpse of happily ever after in their eyes. Ruminating on the power of love to change all things, my husband whispered a grand idea into my ear: wouldn’t it make sense to replace that sticking point, that very last line, “so long as you both shall live” to “for the next 10 years?” What if marriages were subject to renewal like driver’s licenses? We would renew our vows, check-in with each other and perform any other necessary marital tune-ups. Then if we mutually decide to give it our all for another 10 years, we move forward with fortitude and renewed commitment. It seems a lot more honest. And maybe even healthier.
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Comments

  1. cskougor says:

    “…Nature gives us shapeless shapes
    Clouds and waves and flame
    But human expectation
    Is that love remains the same
    And when it doesn’t
    We point our fingers
    And blame blame blame…” Paul Simon, You’re The One

    This is a lyrical excerpt from our wedding dance song September 2, 2001, at the Chief Hosa Lodge in Gennesse, CO. The entire song specifically outlines some of the fears, and the heavy weight of being someone else’s “true love”. I would say I do have a pet peeve regarding new love’s focus on romantic love, that has been described by some professionals as a true “manic state” versus the actual day to day state of committed companionship, marriage. Commitment and marriage is sacred in my book, but its not for everyone. Just like not every runner is a marathon runner, or a triathlete. Its the vows that are important when practiced, but the “I do” is not a rubber stamp that will carry the marriage through hard times. This is hard emotional work, its going to get raw and your going to have to grow to succeed. We can say similar things about relationships as we do about peoples choices to have children. Are they checking a box? Are the completing the perfect family image? Or are the committed to giving this soul that they have created out of there union a lifetime of unconditional love and support? My true belief is that most people haven’t been tried emotionally before they make such grand commitments. They haven’t seen themselves in dire circumstance before, seen their own cooping skills, or lack there of. Marriage doesn’t fix life, it enhances the journey. There are pro’s and con’s to single and wed. I just wish more people could see the depth the contrast of the big picture when we take vows (or choose not to). Looking through the para scope of a southern wedding is a hard way ingest a new reality. Regardless, cheers to all those in or out of love. Keep loving yourselves first, and do kind things one to another.

  2. Claire, yes science proves the chemistry of falling in love is similar to mania. From that perspective, marriage can be quite a shock.

    I agree, the folks who haven’t been emotionally tested have a harder time of it. In this astrologer’s opinion, marriage might be postponed until the adult self, the responsible ego forms – in astrology this is around the Saurn return, ages 28-30. How can I be there for another until I know how to be there for me? That said, I am a Californian, American and child of divorce. There’s my bias. In some cultures, marriage is a container for “growing up” – and guess what, it works! It seems like any young marriage needs strong cultural and community reinforcements to grow strong and healthy. Maybe the tribal consciousness of the Southern states has those elements.

    Self-awareness and self-love…

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