” ‘The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. We never know whom we marry, we just think we do. Or even if we marry the right person, just give it awhile and he or she will change. For marriage, [being the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem….learning out to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.’ ” – Tim Keller, quoting Duke University ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas in The Meaning of Marriage
Once upon a time a young man and a young woman were enjoying pizza and a pitcher of cheap beer at The Rat, or Rathskellar ( a German word for “council’s cellar” traditionally located in the basement of a government building where officials could enjoy a pint after hours.) It was in this cavernous, councilor’s environment that the young woman realized she had met her twoo wove. He was handsome and so very funny. Out of the 6.2 billion people living on the planet, how extraordinary that she found herself in the exact same location at exactly the right time with The Only One For Her. If it wasn’t for his last minute transfer to the same college only weeks before they never would have met.
That was close.
A year and half later the couple married on a beautiful winter’s day with just the right amount of snow on the ground to make everything sparkle. No one needed a coat for outdoor pictures and guests still say it was one of the best weddings they had ever attended.
Then the honeymoon happened.
Driving north for a trip to Old Quebec, the temperatures suddenly plummeted to sub-zero degrees. Severe wind gusts blew snowdrifts across the plains and onto the highway making driving difficult and terribly long. The post-wedding glow on her husband’s face was fading fast but the young woman ignored it and decided to re-count the honeymoon money she’d ripped from all the cards the day before. After settling into a quaint hotel in the historic village, the couple braved the cold to take in the attractions as much as they could, often ducking into coffee shops to keep from getting frostbite. Most establishments did not speak English, making communication difficult, but the couple didn’t mind. They were in love. Cold and shriveled, but in love.
They had just enough money to eat at one special place and decided on a beautiful restaurant in the heart of the city. They dressed in their best clothes and headed out into a siberian-esque night. The tuxedo-ed, tight-lipped waiter, who did not speak English, handed the couple a French only menu with many dollar signs, but the young woman was able to navigate through it having taken some French in high school. The couple laughed at their ineptness even though their waiter clearly did not think Any Thing or Any One was funny. After a delicious meal and plunking down their last Canadian dollar, the couple again braced against the cold and within minutes of entering their hotel room the young woman began what was to become a series of embarrassing trips to the bathroom all night long due to a sudden shellfish allergy.
Wedded bliss hit the brick wall of reality.
Wait. That’s not right.
It should read: The Beginning.
Meaning: the beginning of refinement and polishing and downright scraping.
My husband and I were launched right from the beginning into the stark reality that happily ever after is a fairy tale myth because no one really just bumps into their one true love. There is more of choosing than finding in the marriage business. Even if the first blush is all romance, at some point the knight in shining armor sheds his steel and the princess lays down her crown. This is where we got all bent out of shape. One can only walk in armor and wear a crown properly for so long. We quickly realized that the person we had just married was not the person we had just married.
We were strangers.
Every circumstance, every curve around the bend brought out pieces of each other that hadn’t been seen before and those pieces sometimes cut, bruised, and buffed up against our egos, our own personal wants and desires.
The ending of the story The Princess Bride isn’t true. Real marriage isn’t when Buttercup and Wesley finally reunite as they were meant to be, riding off on horseback together. Real marriage is more like several scenes before when Wesley is standing as the Dread Pirate Roberts arguing with Buttercup and she pushes him off the cliff and they both go rolling down the hill, hitting every rock and boulder along the way. It’s in this tumbling and bruising that she recognizes who he really is.
My husband and I have had to learn to make true love over and over again if we wanted to stay in this thing. It wasn’t just about staying together in the same geographical place, it was about staying… friends. It was about staying lovers no matter what feelings or circumstances or inconveniences or weight gains and stretch marks got in the way. Thirty two years is a long time to wake up next to someone you think you know, and then another layer gets peeled, another depth gets plumbed. You share another crisis or another euphoria happens and you are getting to know him all over again.
He gave me a card with the boy and girl on the tricycle a few years ago. I keep it in plain sight on my bureau. Some days I think, yup, that’s us, whizzing along our journey, him trying to go as fast as he can and me with my arms wrapped around him for dear life. Other days I think, yea, right…he’s always wanting to steer, to be the boss, and why do I have to be the one in the back wondering if my skirt is going to fly up? Then there are the days when we’re not sharing the bike at all. We are on our own unicycles riding circles around each other because we are doing our own thing. The problem is we’re not very good at it. We’re always falling.
The truth is, it is better for us when he steers. He buffets the wind when I need a strong navigator. I need someone to lead the way when I am afraid or indecisive or lazy.
The truth is, it is better for us when I lean encouragement into him. I buffet his back when he needs a strong advocate. He needs someone to cheer, “Keep going.” “You’re the best one for the job.” ” You might want to lean a little to the right”.
We thought we knew all of this on that sparkling February day when I wore Gunne Sax and he made the whole wedding party bust out laughing during photos.
But, we were strangers.
We didn’t know anything.
We didn’t know that loving right can be really hard and, when done right, builds muscle. Love muscles, like strands twisted, braided and wrought into one unbreakable rope-thing called marriage.
So, we got bent out of shape to be re-shaped by unconditional love that only the Ancient of Days can impart to flawed human beings.
This is what is extraordinary; when two people who essentially start out as strangers are, over time, scraped together bit by bit, piece by piece until they are truly one.
It is no fairy tale.
But it is a great adventure.
Besides, if my life were a fairy tale, I’m thinking it would be more like Shrek.