My parents will have been married for 35 years this December. That’s a long time. And five children later, they’ve been together longer than they’ve not been together.
It’s hard to comment on anyone’s marriage, much less one that you’re a product of. It may sound counterintuitive, but you can never really look at the marriage as an outsider looking in – your perspective is always biased.
I did re-read my dad’s book on marriage and family this summer. He wrote it five years ago, as a celebration of their 30th anniversary. It reminded me, as it always does, that my parents are imperfect people.
It’s a realization you have some time in childhood, but the revelation becomes more apparent in adulthood. And knowing this, can make you relate to them even more. It makes you realize – and I always get a little teary-eyed when I consider this – that your parents were people with hopes and dreams (some of which did not come true) before they were your parents.
Through my parents imperfections, and what I’m sure has been many ups and downs, at almost 35 years, they’re still going. Whatever you think about marriage, that’s a meaningful accomplishment and a tough journey for anyone to have embarked on. Through their journey, I’ve learned a few things about love and commitment.
I’ve learned that love and commitment can go together but they can also be separate things. It seems strange in a modern world obsessed with #feelings and (sometimes childish) passion, to affirm this. But just because you love someone, it doesn’t mean they are the person you should marry. Marriage needs more than love in order to be “successful,” I think.
I’ve learned that the primary synonym for love is sacrifice. A lot of people are going to tell you that they love you – if you’re lucky (or not so lucky). But you need to ask if you and the other person are truly willing to sacrifice for each other, and what you are willing to sacrifice for the other. It’s important to note that “everything,” is the answer you may want to give, but if it’s not the truth, be honest.
I’ve learned that dating for the sake of dating is meaningless. And I’ll argue that it’s not a numbers game at all. Meeting someone you can love and commit to is the beauty of chance, and the effort of choice. It is also about who you are and what you want. But it is above all, not a race. Yes, my parents were lucky to meet in their very early twenties. But their story needn’t be everyone else’s.
I’ve learned that committing to someone is not a restriction of freedom but rather an exercise of it. It’s easy to think of marriage as the “last form of bondage,” or make quips about it that are similar. But it is a liberating choice to make when one has the autonomous decision not to – to still love someone and say, “I choose you. Let’s try this.”
I’ve learned that forgiveness is the name of the game when it comes to love and commitment. Because both of you are going to mess up and often, because you are both imperfect. And maybe it gets easier but only long after it gets really difficult. Forgiveness is a marriage’s continuous redemption.
I’ve learned that no matter how strongly you feel or the values you embody, all love and commitment is a risk. There is no 100% certainty. All you have is a promise, and a promise that transcends change and time and space. How maddening; how utterly maddening and beautiful.
I’ve learned that while there is no exact formula for how to “do” love and commitment, there are some things that might be considered essential. Respect, kindness, an understanding of values, someone with whom you’re willing to suffer, and a commitment not just to the love, but to the commitment. That last one is confusing but when you get it, it’s imperative.
I’ve learned that laughter is important and perhaps still severely underrated in commitment and love. You’re going to grow with this person, you’re going to argue about money and politics and pillow cases. But if this can be turned into stories about stuff you shouldn’t sweat and end in laughter, the journey is made lighter.
I’ve learned that the person you love and commit to should ultimately be someone you can “hang out with for a long time” and get bored with – in a good way; someone with whom you can talk about anything. In other words, a friend.
I’ve learned that when it’s all said and done, whatever kind of love your parents had or didn’t have, you don’t have to be your parents. You don’t have to have the kind of love they have or they had, or make their same mistakes.
But there’s nothing wrong too if you want what they have, or at least some of it. The important thing, I think, is to be the kind of love and commitment that you want. And with a little help from chance, choose it when you find it. Or maybe when it finds you.