Sunday, October 16, 2011

Love and Marriage

Back in the day, a popular Frank Sinatra song said "love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage." Well, you don't see a lot of horse-and-carriages around these days, and divorce, sadly, often takes the place of the fairy-tale happy ending.

I am an obsessive reader, and I love to read romances that end with the promise of a happily-ever-after. In real life - though I'm a Pollyanna-optimist in most ways - I'm somewhat cynical about marriage. To this day, I don't wear a wedding or engagement ring, although my husband does. I still have reservations about marriage, and I worry that people focus so much on the wedding that they forget to think about all the days ahead.

This may come as a surprise to those of you who are aware that a) I got married at age 19 and b) I just celebrated my 40th wedding anniversary. My husband and I started going out on April 18, 1970, so it's actually been a bit longer than the anniversary indicates. It beats the heck out of me how this happened, since my husband and I - as much as we loved each other and wanted to be together - didn't have much confidence in the institution of marriage, despite the fact that neither of us came from "broken" homes.

We both were familiar with far too many marriages that were either lopsided, with all the power going to one person, or desperately unhappy, seeming more like a prison than a partnership. I wasn't at all sure I wanted to get married, ever. Apart from dressing as a bride for Halloween one year, I never had fantasies about my wedding day. I was the opposite of Bridezilla - my mom liked the idea of planning a wedding, and for the most part, I let her have at it.

Becke (spelled Becky back then), Halloween, 1959

In spite of our very young age, my husband and I didn't enter into marriage blindly. He never proposed, which was smart of him. I might have panicked and run if forced to make a yes or no decision. We were together every day and it just felt wrong to go to go our separate ways at night. When it came to our future, it was more a question of whether we'd elope or move in together, and we weren't quite unconventional enough for that. Marriage it was.

We labored over our vows, mingling our own words with those of Kahlil Gibran, removing "till death do we part" and the references to "obey" from the script. Music brought us together, so it naturally played a big part in our wedding. We put together our own soundtrack, carefully choosing songs that had personal meaning to us. Paul Stookey's "The Wedding Song (There is Love)" had just hit the charts and was an easy choice, as was "our song" - Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed."

But I'm willing to bet no other wedding ceremony has featured Carly Simon's "That's the Way I've Always Heard it Should Be," which also came out that year. Here are some of the lyrics:

"You say it's time we moved in together
And raised a family of our own, you and me -
Well, that's the way I've always heard it should be:
You want to marry me, we'll marry.

My friends from college they're all married now;
They have their houses and their lawns.
They have their silent noons,
Tearful nights, angry dawns.
Their children hate them for the things they're not;
They hate themselves for what they are-
And yet they drink, they laugh,
Close the wound, hide the scar."

Weird song for a wedding, right? That song was included as a conscious choice, a statement that we were NOT going to let that happen to us. Privately, we swore to each other that if we ever wanted out, we'd do it before we ended up hating each other. That our happiness would be more important than the marriage.

I was going through some papers yesterday and found a poem I wrote during the first year of our marriage. Bear in mind I was 20 years old and a very amateur poet, with a love of e.e. cummings and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The title was simply "1972":

what i like about being married is you
in bed at night and on chilly mornings
our bodies, content, fit like two
puzzle pieces or two hands holding
each other against the world

and i like you to talk to and be with
while I read and you play guitar

like old married people we joke
we laugh and love and fight
we take care of each other and
it's nice and your love is warm

what i don't like about being married
is, being young, both of us don't know
all there is to know about our hearts
and forever is a hell of a long time

it can be scary, like a closed book,
the pages stuck together to keep
dreams out, but at least right now
we have each other while we're needing
each other
and loving and wanting and caring
about each other

i hope our love lasts and grows,
but marriage is not much, by itself
and if you change or i change
or we both change

if in growing up or old we grow
apart instead of together
please let's not make the marriage
the most important part of our love

Wow. I'd forgotten all about that poem, and it was strange to read it all these years later. Lots of things have changed, but some things haven't changed - I still read, he still plays guitar. And I still smile when I hear his voice on the phone, and we still like to tell each other about our day.

Bec and Mart, Christmas 1982

Of course, we also drive each other nuts at times. We sometimes joke that while divorce isn't on our minds, murder isn't out of the question. We are opposite in so many ways it shocks me we ever got together in the first place, and it's a freaking miracle we still get along. Maybe it took the pressure off, taking this relationship one day at a time. We didn't go into it with huge expectations - we just wanted to be together. Maybe that's enough.

This was another poem I wrote in the early days of our marriage - again, forgive the technical imperfections:

Love -
I do not know
if it is worth it.

Two brick walls:
we talk as though
our words will never touch,
Letting them shatter
on the asphalt earth.

Perhaps a word
will wound my wall
staining it with tears,
and a green sprout
replace the stained spot
and flowers bloom.

two brick walls
a building make, or
fall, and give a garden
room to grow.

would fill the space
our words left untouched -
and the silence
telling so much

Love -
did I say I do not know?
It is worth it.


dontcallmejessie said...

I missed this post on my blogroll! I loved reading this, especially the poems (and especially the first one). I definitely think I got the anti-Bridezilla gene from you - if I get married, I just want a fun wedding with close family & friends - and the bridesmaids can choose their dresses!

Becke Davis said...

I'll remind you of this when that day comes...

Mary E Ulrich said...

Becke, this is lovely. I forget. Your anniversary is in August?

What did Marty think when he read it, all these years later?

And Jessica? When's the wedding? :)

Becke Davis said...

Hi Mary - Our anniversary is October 2nd. (Our other anniversary is April 18 - that's the "biggie" for us. It's the anniversary of our first date.)

Jessica is looking to the future - no wedding on the agenda! She has her hands full with her two new kittens right now.

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