"Success in marriage is more than finding the right person: it is being the right person." - Robert Browning (1812-1889)
Maybe it's my age, maybe it's the time of year, but lately just about everyone I meet is going to a wedding. Or planning a wedding. Or getting married. I've found that weddings are a Rorschach test, revealing people's complicated, conflicted, and often surprisingly hopeful views on the state of matrimony.
I sit at the very top of the "conflicted yet hopeful" list, because I am, dear reader, a two time loser. I've been married twice, both times solemnly repeating "'til death do us part" and both times meaning every word of the vows.
I have been known to joke that my first was a training wheel marriage, a kind of practice round for the real thing. But that isn't true, and what's more important, it doesn't do justice to the intention that went into our union. The words I spoke at the ceremony were real for me. I wanted our relationship to be forever. But we were young - there should be a law against 23-year-olds getting married - and volatile and poorly prepared for the reality of joining our lives. We were both the product of divorce, with inadequate tools for the job at hand. We didn't know how to live together or compromise or share.
But we were really, really good at fighting.
It takes passion and motivation to wreak the kind of destruction we visited upon each other. And in the end, the relationship crumbled under the weight of the damage we inflicted.
My second marriage was a long (19 years) and for most of those years, a happy one. We built a business, made and raised two extraordinary children, cultivated wonderful friends and created lovely homes. But, during our years together, we never worked very hard at being a couple. We seemed to have everything, but we never really figured out how to build a life for just the two of us. By the time the business was sold and the children were launched, we really didn't have much in common. And we never found a way to get back to each other.
So, yes, you could say I'm a two time loser. But lately, as I plan for my daughter's wedding and think about what I can tell her to make her own way a little easier, I've had a chance to reflect on my past, to try and tease out what went wrong so I can help her learn from my mistakes.
Here is what surprised me. Try as I might, I can't bring myself to say either of my marriages was a failure. I was lucky enough to have married two extraordinary men. I am better in every way for having them in my life. In both cases, for very different reasons, I chose well.
If I have one regret, from either of these relationships, it's that early on, I didn't try harder. I wish, from the beginning, I had treated my husbands more like I have treated my children - with truly unconditional love, with endless second (and third and fourth) chances, with total acceptance and boundless tolerance.
So, while I am loath to claim any superior matrimonial knowledge, here is my advice to my daughter: From the very first day, when things get tough, try harder. Make it work. Plan for forever. Take every chance to get closer to your husband. Do not neglect your relationship, especially after you have children. Remember that after they're gone, and believe me this happens sooner than you can ever imagine, it will be just the two of you again.
There is no greater accomplishment than a successful, happy marriage. And, if you ask me, no greater aspiration.