My wife has been intimate with at least 5 different men since we’ve been married…
and each of them was me. Preparing for the birth of our second child, Wendy and I have been sorting through our unorganized odds and ends of potential scrap-book materials. I am stunned when I look at pictures of us when we married just 6 years ago. “Holy cow! We were like 12 years old!” We were 22. Same difference.
Reading the letters we wrote to each other, I’m even more amazed. I not only looked like a different person, I thought and spoke like a different person. Very different. And so did she. While we admire the passion we had, we also recall the fights that so often provoked the necessary apologies and affirmations of love. We are both so relieved to be the people we are now, with so much of that fighting, anxiety and misunderstanding behind us! We have each gone through so many changes in character traits, deep beliefs, habits, and styles of communication, that I’m quite sure my wife has lived with at least 5 very different versions of me since we have been together.
I am also pretty sure that at this point she wouldn’t be inclined to marry the original me if they just met. But we made it work. And here’s the real point: there have been no guarantees; I may not have been the “right one”, but we have made it work. “It” didn’t want to work. It wanted to break apart so many times, and with such great force at times, that we surely would have divorced if it were not for a deep moral obligation to either make it work or kill each other trying. And the latter definitely would have been easier at times!
But we made it.
Not everyone makes it, and it seems like sheer luck that she decided to be who she has become. I could very easily still be struggling to make it work, paired with a wife who had given up, stopped trusting, served only herself, or even left me.
And me – I certainly would not bet on the me of six years ago. He was even more self-serving than the me of today! He was an unlikely candidate for change, humility or trust. But by some crazy twist of fate and a heavenly hedge of thorns guiding me on either side, forcing me down a path I would not travel of my own will, I have made some positive changes. There were no guarantees that it would work out. There still aren’t. Tomorrow I could discover she has a drug addiction or she could discover I have a gambling problem, and we would be instantly back in the battle again.
Granted, our track record implies that this won’t happen, but there is still no guard against mood-altering prescriptions we could soon need, diseases like as Alzheimer’s (which would bring to nothing so much of the work we have done so far), or the unknown reaction to the tragic loss of one of our precious children. I don’t fear these things or expect them, but my point is: there are no guarantees. It is possible to raise the statistical chances of success by marrying a person with the right demographics, but a good gamble is still a gamble, and this one will always cost two lives. This lack of guarantee destroys the American/Christian/Romantic idea that there is a “right” person out there for everyone.
1 – We Change
As I have shown, even if there were a “right” person and you could find them, there is no hope for guaranteeing that your “right” person will still be the “right” person tomorrow. Even if you could find a person who perfectly met the description of your “right” person, and even if you could guarantee they would stay exactly the same, you would certainly find within a short time, that they were not who you thought they were. They either matched the “right-person” description by their description, your description, or someone else’s description. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for any of those three to be sure they’re right. Every growing person is under constant change, only knowing themselves truly in hindsight.
How I see myself is not how others see myself, and my actions often surprise both of us. Who I am right now is unknown right now. As Will Smith said in the movie Hitch, “YOU…is a very fluid concept right now.” In a Biblical example, King David prays, “Lord, search my heart and know me. Reveal myself to me.”
An objective look at our predicament shows:
- No one at the altar fully knows who they are.
- No person at the altar fully understands who the other person is.
- Since deep identities are not well known at the beginning, all married people will feel defrauded at some point; as if the other person had misrepresented themselves. There is no way to marry the “right” person. Everyone marries the “wrong” person!
2 – There Is No Living Happily Ever After
The “right” person will not make you happy. The “right” person will make you good. Marriage is a sign-up for character boot camp. You join for the signing bonus, but you don’t really know what you’re getting into. No one who knows what you’re about to go through envies you. Everyone who gets married because the other person makes him/her happy is quickly and deeply disappointed!
3 – It All Takes Work
The “right” person is the person who is going to be utterly dedicated to making it work. Unfortunately, even this quality is not guaranteed. You could marry a person like that today, only to have them change their mind tomorrow. BUT…if you just can’t/won’t control yourself, when you believe the signing bonus outweighs whatever uncertainties the future may hold…get married.
You’re not going to be an effective individual with that level of distraction, so it would be advisable to put out the fire that’s demanding your attention and preventing you from serving the world with passion. So jump in with your whole heart! Don’t be single and let your let your mind long for a partner. Don’t get a partner and let your mind long for being single. The only sure thing about a marriage is that it will be at least hard work.
When all feelings and rationale direct a person to leave the relationship, there must be a backup system, a safety net, to push the person, against all other forces, back to the partner. This is the role of the marriage contract. The vows that say, “I like you so much” aren’t really vows – they’re observations, and fleeting ones. The strong wedding vow is some version of:
“I am excited about the potential I think I see in you. I will help you become a good person without demanding that you become the person I thought or wished you were. When I have done harm, I will change my actions regardless of how sure I was that I was right and regardless of how difficult it is for me to change. I realize that this commitment will change me more than it will change you, but I’m pretty much done with my own life and I’m ready to bet the rest of it on you. Even if this ends up being a terrible investment, I’ll only ever invest more; I won’t withdrawal.“
My advice: Don’t marry. But if you do, beware the mirage of the “right” person
“The great challenge of marriage is learning to know and love the stranger to whom you often find yourself married.” – Stanley Hauerwas
At the moment I’m 11 years past this entry. Uh…yeah…I didn’t have a clue. I have some pretty strong objections to that dude who was married to Wendy back then. He seems a bit cavalier about weighty things.
I hope to be able to check back in 11 years to say the same thing about my current self.