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marriage's meaning has changed

Marriage is hard

My heart feels a little heavy just now. I'm thinking of a friend–call him Andy (not his real name)–and the heartbreak he's enduring because his wife wants a divorce. This I learned about only a few days after learning that another friend, Bonnie (not her real name), has left her husband Stu (not his real name), taken out a restraining order against him, and filed for divorce. Stu also is heartbroken.

Marriage is hard, isn't it? For two people to meld their lives, to learn the back-and-forth, the give-and-take, of a shared life. It's hard in the best of circumstances. But in a culture that devalues marriage, it's infinitely harder.

marriage is hard
Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

In this 21st century, it seems marriage literally means something different than it once did. Even setting aside the legal redefinition to include same-sex unions. It once was a covenant, a binding contract, a lifetime promise–in sickness and health, for richer for poorer, until death parts us.

But no more. Now it's a temporary arrangement based on feelings. Movies and TV, even books, have created this vision of romance that people think their relationships should live up to, and Hollywood has taught us that if we “fall out of love” or “grow apart,” we can, should, must move on.

But romance novels (and Hollywood rom-coms) typically stop at the “I do.” They seldom, if ever, show the routine day-to-day or how we can continue to love when the heat of passion cools. Movies teach us that attraction is irresistible and sex is the first way we show love. And if the passion wanes, something is wrong.

Marriages end on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. But what that term really means is neither person is willing to change. Two people, each expecting the other to bend to his or her will. And when neither will give, they reach a stalemate. And in anger or frustration or resignation, they quit, they give up, they pack it in and walk away.1

So sad. And sadder still when one person wants to keep trying and the other refuses. As is the case with my friend Andy and his wife, and with our dear friends Bonnie and Stu.

Marriage is hard. No doubt about that. I'm just so sad for them all.

Footnotes

  1. I'm by no means intending to disregard or minimize the situations where a marriage ends due to physical abuse, infidelity, addiction, or other serious issues. My thoughts in this post only pertain to the many, many marriages that end for far less serious reasons.

Losing a Loved One

Although the calendar now reads the second week of September, in north Texas the daytime temps are still in the 90s. Summer is rolling over into fall and school has resumed, but in this part of the country the air conditioning is still running and it’s not yet time to put away the shorts and sleeveless dresses. That makes it hard to remember that one season has ended and a new season is beginning.

A new season has just begun in my family’s life as well. Late last week, my husband’s mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. My husband, his brother and sister, and their father are still processing her abrupt departure, and our grown children are grieving the loss of their beloved grandmother and trying to explain to their own young children why their great grandmother is no longer with us.

IMG_0237I have nothing profound to say about any of this, but thought I’d share a few random things I’ve pondered as we’re working out way through this experience.

  1. We really never know how long the people we love will be with us. In the busyness of life, it’s easy to let that truth fade from our thinking. Mike's first comment to me after telling me of his mother's death was that it was surreal. The woman who gave him life, a constant in his life literally from his birth, was there and then . . . she wasn't.
  2. Perhaps the hardest thing about the way Mike’s mother died is the fact that no one got to say goodbye. She collapsed almost without warning after supper and was gone long before morning, without ever recovering consciousness. There was no farewell moment at her bedside, no chance to say “I love you” or “thank you” one last time–not for her grown children, and not for her husband. More than fifty years of their life together ended all too abruptly. I can’t even imagine the loss and pain he must be feeling. Every one of us left behind has to deal with the regret of unspoken words.
  3. There is some small comfort in knowing that, as difficult as it is for those left behind, her sudden departure means that she did not suffer a prolonged and pain-filled decline. As I’m approaching my mid–50s, I find myself pondering how my own life will end, and whether there is such a thing as a “better” way to go.193599_1984773097795_658772_o
  4. Like most families these days, our extended family is spread out across the country, so we seldom get to see each other in person. As it happens, though, over the course of this past spring and summer, each of my boys separately had the opportunity to make a trip to western Washington and spend a day or two with Mike’s parents. Our oldest son took his two little boys for their first, and now only, visit to their paternal great-grandparents. Those visits now are cherished memories for which we are all grateful.
  5. This past weekend, when I watched Mike playing his fiddle with the band he joined recently, I felt sad as I realized how much Mike’s mom would have loved to see him play. Like any mother, she was his biggest fan. When he was a kid, she drove him from one bluegrass festival to another in support of his talent, and I think she always regretted that he had “abandoned” the instrument for thirty years in favor of other musical (and non-musical) pursuits. I am thankful that in what turned out to be her last days, through the miracle of technology, she got to see him play his fiddle again after all those years, via videos posted on Facebook.

Like I said, I have nothing profound to say about all this, and certainly nothing new. But pondering the things that have happened over the past week, and the conversations we’ve had about it, I am reminded of the same cliches that often are spoken in the wake of death: Treasure the people you love while you have them with you. Don’t take them for granted, and don’t assume there’ll be time later to speak your heart to them. Celebrate every moment you have together, and take every opportunity to create memories to sustain you when they are gone.

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Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . . 
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