Is there really any way to prepare for marriage?
Is there a ‘real’ definition of marriage to be had?
Some say that living together is not the same as having an actual legal document, or having stood before God to make those vows.
How can that be, when some of the strongest relationships I have ever witnessed are not legally condoned, as others point out?
What makes a marriage? Is it the ‘official’ vows? If you are in an abusive relationship, just because you are married, is that a good thing? Would you put up with the abuse if you weren’t married?
Is living together less meaningful simply because you don’t ‘have the paperwork’? How can you really be sure you’re in love?
These are all pretty good questions. I have to examine things from many perspectives.
One: I married an abusive man, a mentally and verbally abusive man. I dated him for years prior to marriage. I lived with him for years prior to marriage. I knew I shouldn’t have married him, but I did it anyway, because it seemed like ‘the right thing to do’, especially at that time. Basically, for all the damage he’d done me and all the trauma he’d put me through, I thought I had earned the right to call him husband and to be called his wife. I needed to be legitimized in the eyes of the world at large. There is a great deal more convoluted idiocy involved there, but let us say between extreme emotional and mental torture, yes, torture, he made it sound like marriage was the only option open to me.
I did not go into the marriage expecting much. I had met him, come to find out, only two or three months after he married his first wife. He and I had already been seeing each other for awhile before then. My first thought, on that deserted country road where he told me, was to get out of the car and never look back. BUT, I was a teen-ager, and I was stupid, and it felt like ‘real love’ to me. So I stayed in the car. I stayed in the relationship. I was there through his divorce. Eventually, as promised, he married me. Numerous times, I wish I had run the other way, so many times over those what, almost 15 years of ‘togetherness’.
I did get out. It wasn’t easy. What is worse is I got out several times, and he kept coming back, begging me to take him back. Eventually, I found someone else, someone not as charming as he, but who abused me in the same familiar pedantic I am so much better than you can ever be milieu. At least I did not suffer there for half as long as I did before…and at least I didn’t actually marry that one. We only lived together.
Two: I am a Minister, an Ordained Non-Denominational Minister. I marry people. I hand-fast people. I bless unions and relationships.
My own views of marriage do not have to extend to those that I work with every day in the context of their relationships.
My mother, born a Roman Catholic, who attended convent school, told me, point blank and hands down, always live with a man for at least one full year before you marry him. You will never know a person, through and through, until you live with them.
I can see the logic in this. I often counsel people to do the same. It’s harder to hide the temper, the angry words, the abusive tones, when you live with someone every day, day in and day out.
I lived with the ex-husband for many years before we got married. We probably lived together, off and on, for about ten years, give or take. We were married for under four. Why? What changed? He didn’t. I never expected much from him. You don’t sleep with a married man and then expect him to be completely faithful to you after he’s divorced. That’s just … plain old stupid. He cheated on someone else with you; he will cheat on you, and probably use the same lines on the next woman he sleeps with too. Is this true 100% of the time? No, nothing is true 100% of the time; however, the law of averages says if he cheats before, he will cheat again. (or she, for that matter)
What changed is the fact that I finally awoke from my coma. The man had hurt me so badly, crippled me so completely, that I was less than a zombie walking. I worked a job I hated, because he told me I had to work it. I couldn’t go to college, once that urge hit me, because of the job, and because he kept telling me there was no way we could make it if I took a lower paying job (which even then made no sense to me, and which makes even less sense now). What it boiled down to was my head over heels, changing every single day, suck the life out of you telephone operator job suited his needs and his purposes. He went to night school; he got to meet all sorts of women; he kept many on the side, throughout our relationship and our marriage. Did that bother me? No. I knew he was a cheater, long before I married him. It was the lying, and the fact that he wanted me to challenge people who caught him cheating on me by confronting them before they confronted me to tattle on him that bothered me. For the record, many people dropped hints, but no one ever told me a thing outright—and I never confronted anyone he told me to confront. I was never his champion who declared he would never cheat on me. I did on occasion say yes, I know he sleeps around. We have that sort of relationship. If he had stopped and listened to me, we did have that sort of relationship, only I had no desire to sleep around, and I was fine if he did, so long as there were no lies between us. The man’s entire life is about lying and getting away with things. He took a perverse joy in berating me and turning things around on me to make me feel as if it were all my fault, or all in my head, or both.
Case in point: he was in bed with one of his women and had her call me, in the hopes, he told her, that I would get a hint and leave him. When he got home, he couldn’t suck up to me enough to make sure I wouldn’t leave him. He told me he couldn’t live without me. He told me how much he loved and needed me. Then there were gifts and dinners and … the usual stuff that never really meant a thing to me. That was him—he was whatever the person he was with wanted him to be—but he was so sure of himself that he could turn, manipulate and control any other person, it didn’t mean a thing to him. He told me later he was hoping that by calling to get rid of me, the other woman would see what a solid relationship he and I had and she would go away—while he was telling her darn near the same thing about me in regards to her calling.
It gets worse. I finally had enough of his lies. I was finally breaking out of my empty husk of a body, reawakening and wanting my own life, when I started divorce proceedings against him. We were legally separated, living apart. He was already in the process of moving a girlfriend into his house. I hooked up with someone I was set up with, even though I knew it was a mistake and I knew it wouldn’t last…it wasn’t supposed to last… it was different…it wasn’t the almost ex-husband. I felt loved and beautiful and wonderful. I felt like a woman. I also got pregnant at that time. The almost ex knew the baby wasn’t his. I was very specific about that at the time. I told him specifically and in no uncertain terms, the baby was not his. I had dates and everything to back up my statements. He somehow not only managed to convince himself, and everyone around him, that the baby was his, but he had me convinced as well. He used that to get back into my life, while telling his girlfriend I don’t know what, not only to be ‘together’ with me again, but also to convince me to move back into his house. Even after a paternity test confirmed what I had said all along, he still maintained that we could be a family. He took me home to his parents, with the baby. The divorce was final, but he wouldn’t let go. Thankfully, his girlfriend would not let go of him either.
Looking at my child is what got me out of there. I never, ever wanted her to be in a position like that and think it was fine, because Mom had been there too so it must be ok.
Now, after that, the ex-husband still tried to stay in my life, through my child, whom he professed to love and adore, and at first I was ok with that. But I had been brought up to ‘need’ a man in my life. So I took the first comer. I didn’t look around. I took what I thought the Universe was offering.
Come to find out a man who lies to cover his tracks is not as bad as a man who lies to himself to make himself think he is a much better man than he really is. I fell from one trap, into another, but both men verbally and emotionally abused me in such similar manners, I thought I was in the right place. I thought I had loved the ex-husband. I thought he had been ‘The One’. I thought that man was my soul mate. Then here comes this other guy, who is so similar to the ex-husband, but who would never do the things the ex had done. A man to ‘save’ me from my loneliness, and children need a father, right? Something else my loving mother told me, drilled into me. No woman, I was taught, is ever whole, without a man. This is a fallacy!
Thankfully, I only lived with this man, even though we did have a child together. Even though we were told by his Bokur we should get married, again, for the sake of the children. I stuck by my guns and I refused.
Strangely enough, even while I was living with that man, even while I was pregnant with his child, real “Love” was never really an option for me in regards to him. I loved him as a person. I cared about him. But being ‘in love’? No…I needed him. I needed a father for my daughter. I needed the legitimacy of being in a relationship brought. I also needed this man in my life in order to finally get rid of the ex-husband, or else the ex-husband would have kept coming back and coming back, because he simply could not let go.
After that relationship ended, I didn’t date, for a couple years. I took time off, to take care of myself and my family, to get myself back together, which I should have done long before the divorce ever happened, much less that break-up. I needed to learn simply how to live.
The Universe came into play again.
My best friend of ten years and I began to date. Here’s the relationship that is making me re-access everything.
First, he is not at all happy about the way our relationship started, simply because he was not done with the entanglements from a girlfriend who 1 didn’t want to be in a relationship with him (or anyone else really) and who 2 wasn’t about to let go of him, even when he broke up with her, until someone else came along, so she could save face with her friends and say hey I do have a man, I am not unlovable. That is honestly the worst thing we can say about our relationship: he doesn’t like the way it started.
We lived together, as room-mates, at various times. He took care of my daughter and me right after the final split with the ex, when I started massage theraphy school. He took care of me when things with my son’s dad went sour while I was pregnant with my son. I even gave birth in his living room, with the help of a midwife. We know each other. We know we can live together. We know we get along. We have history together, as friends and as fellow students, as we’ve taken quite a few courses together, like UFT.
I always held him up as an example of what a real man should be, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that he and I could be a couple.
Now we are. Amazing does not even begin to cover it.
Everything I thought I knew about love and trust and communication and relationships and friendships and respect and so many other things….has gone completely out the window.
I look back at that first marriage of mine and stare in awe, terrified horror. I thought I loved that man? Honestly? I had a mild case of the flu for him compared to the way I feel about R, my best friend and boyfriend.
I never trusted the ex-husband, never felt able to tell him the things I can tell R. I never did … so many things for him or with him…that I do all the time for and with R. Other than making me feel horrible, the ex-husband had no power over me. R has the power to look at me, and melt me, or make me feel ashamed over something I’ve done or said. He has the power to breathe on the back of my neck, and make me melt. We’ve been together, as a couple, for nearly a year now. It has been a very intense year for both of us. We have no doubts about our relationship…and if any crop up, we talk about them. We never let anything fester, at least not for long.
I don’t honestly know how to explain it. So, his first marriage (while he was in college) and my first marriage technically do fall under the category of ‘starter marriages’, but both of us at the time thought we were doing the right thing. As scary as it sounds, R found himself about to enter into another starter marriage, knowing full well the relationship would not last, because getting married was easier than breaking up…but thankfully for all concerned, the woman’s behavior at the time he was deciding if he should ask or not made the answer far too easy for him. He dropped all thought of marrying her, immediately, even though it took awhile longer for him to reach that point where he had no choice but to admit he had done everything he could to salvage the relationship and that she, despite her words to the contrary, continued to behave as if she didn’t have the time to be bothered with the relationship at all. Even after he broke up with her, despite her own claims that she broke up with him at least three or four months prior to his breaking up with her, she refused to act as if they were broken up, until she came to his house one day while he was gone (they had a dog in common whose ownership had never been discussed, even though said dog lived at R’s house and he took care of the dog, etc) and hacked into his email account…to find that he was dating…and dating me no less (please note: this woman hated/was jealous of any and every other woman in his life, no matter what the relationship between the other female and R, so that particular woman had hated me all along, without reserve or reservation…finding out he was dating me made her feel better, because she could now say that I was the ruin of that relationship –in spite of the fact that she herself told R things had been tanking over a year before I re-entered the picture after having lived across country for at least two years prior—and she has the satisfaction of now acting as if she is a queen wronged by a serf, even though that could not be farther from the truth…). Only after she found out he was dating me did she decide, in a huge fit of violent temper, that she was done with him and it was over. Yes, that is well after he broke up with her, but you can’t tell her that, because nothing is over until she says it is over…and she never really says it’s over. She uses you (as in, several past boyfriends, from what we have gleaned from her and from friends of hers) moving on to another woman as justification that she has been wronged and she can now cut you out of her life without an issue.
R and I are moving in together officially this month. We’ve been unofficially living together since November? Maybe December? There is nothing we haven’t talked about already. Children. Mine and ours, when we do have ours. Religion. Communication skills. Keeping house. Money management. Homeschooling. Home birthing. Television shows. Movies. Restaurants. What sort of wine we like. Any and everything…
All of that is very important…that we talk and we work hard to make sure our styles mesh, especially when it comes to the care and raising of my two children, now his two step-children. The real importance that we have found is simply that we do love each other, we are in love, truly in love, with one another, and because of that love, because of the strength and the depth of that love, we are willing to work together, willing to compromise, willing to hash things out, willing to argue, willing to cry, willing to talk, willing to give each other space.
R often questions why I am with him. I have to ask, isn’t loving (you) enough? He shakes his head. With all the past relationships he’s had, no one has ever cared for or about him, about what he likes, about what he cares about, about what he does, about what he feels, the way I do. This is a man who when we first started dating would call to talk to me on his way home from somewhere and nearly be in tears because I took his call and was willing to talk to him—a year later, he is still amazed he can call just to chat and for no other reason. The ex-girlfriend had told him early on in the relationship, point blank, his work bored her, golf bored her, just about everything that interested him bored her, and she did not ever want to hear about anything. Literally, she told him his stuff bored her and she wasn’t about to waste her time listening to his garbage. If it didn’t pertain to her in any way, he was not permitted to talk about it in front of her.
Which brings us to: what is a relationship? Why are you in the relationship you are in? Does this relationship, even though the ups and downs that are normal, make you feel happy, or good? Are you proud to be with this person, to show that person off as your significant other?
I watched R walk towards the truck, coming out of a store, the other day. I was walking behind, with my son, pushing the cart, and I was suddenly struck, completely breathless about how proud of R I am, how proud I am to be with him. The other thing that struck me is that I have never been proud of anyone else I have dated. I have never looked, in all the years I’ve been dating, at the man or woman I was with and thought, yes, let the whole world know he/she and I are together.
I often tell R that so much of what we do together would not mean half as much as it does if we didn’t love each other the way we do.
I have also begun to realize, and to stop blaming myself for all my insipid choices in my life, that sometimes you need those not so good, those bad, those absolutely terrible relationships, in order to see how good the really good relationships are.
I don’t care who tells you what. If you don’t have a marriage certificate, it does not lessen the value of the relationship. Can you think of Goldie Hawn without Kurt Russell? Although even long term relationships sometimes do meet their demise as both parties change.
I deal with same sex couples more often than you think. I have been known to offer a marriage ceremony or a hand-fasting for free to some same sex couples. We as a country here in the US have been taught that in order for a relationship to ‘mean something’, to ‘have value’, you must have a piece of paper from the government, or that ‘God’ must hear your vows.
I know of an amazing and wonderful couple who said their vows themselves, together, with no one at all in attendance. No one will ever be able to take that powerful love and connection they have away from them.
Perhaps, some of our forebears across the ocean had a better way of dealing with things, before outside sources intervened. Hand-fasting originally meant a couple was married for one year and one day, to see if they were meant to stay together. It was a test marriage.
I am lucky enough to have friends, and to know many people, who still hold to the tradition of arranged marriages. They give me hope and offer perspectives into relationships I might never have thought of without their influence. Are these marriages of more or of less value since neither party is in love with the other in the beginning? Do they stand a better chance, coming together in marriage, without all the preconceived notions that many of the rest of us have?
Again, I don’t think it has to do with marriage itself. It has to do with the people involved in the marriage. Any marriage can be a good marriage. Any marriage can be a successful marriage. No marriage needs to be a hostile environment. No one ever needs to stay for the sake of the children. I know most people do not like to hear about this, but there are shelters, for the homeless, for abused women, there are people and associations out there who are willing to help you get back on your feet, no matter what your circumstances.
Every person is different. Every relationship is different.
Some marriages are built to last; others are not. Some people make excellent partners for others, but not everyone does.
I don’t think any court anywhere has the right to tell people their love is meaningless. I also don’t think God or religion is required at any point, having attended enough weddings at the court house in front of a justice of the peace, and having been married by a justice of the peace myself.
The gods know where I stand in regards to R, and vice versa. And, for the record, even though the man I plan to have officiate at our wedding is very spiritual, he too is a Non-denominational Minister. It is not his religion or his spirituality that leads me to him for our wedding; it is the simple fact that this man is a friend and both R and I deeply respect him. I haven’t informed Jack of his part in the wedding yet, simply because we do not as yet have a date, although R and I have discussed getting married.
When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter to me if R and I ever actually get married. We have no plans to split up. Our plans involve the rest of our futures as one together. We can both see us together, growing old together, and living all our days together. Neither of us has ever been able to see that in any other partner before, not even the ones we married.
I can’t tell you what real love is for you. It’s different for every person. I have enough trouble trying to convince my 9yo that we do not love her 6yo brother more than we love her (jealousy issues does not even begin to cover that situation). I cannot tell you how you should approach a relationship, or a marriage. You have to do what is right for you in that very moment, even if later on you realize that it was mistake.
The thing about mistakes is you have to learn from them, even if that means you have to make them again and again until you get the message across to yourself.
You have to find your bet happiness in yourself, before you can start branching out to find happiness with another person. That’s when the real blooming begins. You can take a person along with you for the ride. R was my best friend and watched me go through hell and evolve through it all. He stood by me, as a friend, even when he thought I was nuts. Some relationships really benefit from all the ups and downs and turbulence. Don’t count yourself out of the game if things go sour. Get up and try again. You never know what you’re going to find.