Thursday, February 27, 2003

Love and Marriage, Love and Marriage, go together like a ....

Reader Diane writes in response to my transitive/intransitive love comments: What about the question, "Have I loved you?"? I was raised by 2 people with one of the world's best marriages - and each day their question of "Have I loved you?" ensured that the standard proclamation "I love you" became something much more. It wasn't enough to love eachother the way we each wanted to give love, but to search for how that person wanted/needed to be loved. It focused on the recipient, asking, "Have you felt loved?". I know that it can make an extraordinary difference in a marriage.

I sort of agree. Actually, I think I agree totally with the point, but it needs some comment.

"I" is the enemy of "we" in a marriage, and "we" is the purpose of a marriage. This may be why the first year or two is so very, very hard for some people. People who get married and then decide to "self-actualize" (not at all what Diane was saying) don't seem to understand that it is in the marriage that they will be "self-actualized." A marriage, or a Christian one at any rate (and, I suspect a Jewish one, as well) is not something one has or does part of the time, when one feels benevolently for some set of hours in the day. The Marriage is what you become. No more "me", no more "you". Only "us".

Now, of course few of us are capable of committing ourselves as fully to "us" as we are to "me". (The Kairos Guy himself has been known to struggle with this on very rare occasions.) And I oversimplify the problem, by omitting the question of children from the "us." (But I am writing this with a recently married friend, and one considering engagement, in mind, so oversimplification is necessary for this stage. Baby steps. {Get it? "Baby steps"? Ha ha! I slay me!!}) So, to the extent that asking "have I loved you" reminds me that I have been more focused on the half of us that resides in my body, I am totally and completely in favor. But, though I am quite sure Diane's parents didn't mean or do this, to the extent it leads to "Yes I have. What a fine fellow I am for it, too" it misses the point of marriage by as wide a margin as "Have you loved me today?"

The thought, "My wife is in the way of what I want to do," in a perfect marriage would lead to the realization, "Good. Because it is not what I want to do that matters, but what we want to do." It is very much akin to the Christian notion of humility: the object isn't to debase oneself, but to forget oneself. "Will it be best for me to accept the promotion? Of course. Will it be best for us? Perhaps not." If you take the approach of debasing, all you do is weaken the whole, the "one flesh" that a marriage is.

In a marriage properly done, that old cliche about "the whole being greater than the sum of the parts" becomes understandable and literally true. By myself, I can only be in one place at one time. Married, I can, in a sense, bilocate. And don't try to tell me that's true of people who are just dating, too. When was the last time your girlfriend was able to represent you at a funeral while you went to a soccer game? There are many, many other was in which this sort of thing manifests itself. But--and here's the real kicker--they only work when you really do take the humility and the "we/us" not "me/you" approach to marriage. When you maintain "I" as the locus of yourself, everyone around you knows it, and the bilocation and "whole greater than sum" part doesn't work. You can't ask your wife to attend to your unpleasant duty while you do the pleasant one and have anyone else accept it, unless they know that you and she would have switched places in a second if that had been the better way to arrange it. They will know you didn't arrange things for the best of all concerned, but only for yourself.

This has ranged pretty far from "have I loved you," which I think a fine and commendable way to end a day, particularly in trying times, and particularly if you are honest enough with yourself to realize that even on the very best day of your marriage the answer probably is, "Not enough."


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