“_________, wilt thou have this woman/man to be thy wedded wife/husband to live together after Godâ€™s ordi
nance in the Holy Estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her/him, in sickness and in
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 GeminiÂ on MondayÂ 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.