There is a lot of talk these days about the definition of marriage. Even Supreme Court justices have been confused as to its meaning. Perhaps, like light, it can never be fully defined. Is it a wave or is it a particle? Is it an institution or is it a space to grow. Do we pass through it or is it eternally binding? Who owns it, the church or the state? Is it simply a piece of paper and a way to file taxes? Are there two marriages– Marriage with a capital “M”—signed, sealed, delivered and registered at the courthouse, ritually recognized and contractually binding, and then another marriage—with a little “m”… the one set apart with a possessive pronoun…my marriage, our marriage, their marriage that involves the laughs, the tears, the shared bedrooms and dented fenders. This marriage, with a little m, is the wave, the word that SCOTUS will never define, the one that only poets have been able to capture with a pen. This is the marriage that I have been thinking about quite a bit lately.
They were married young by today’s millennial standards. It was an arranged marriage of sorts. Arranged by a culture that places the utmost importance on couples being bound together for all eternity and having lots of babies along the way. He said, “I noticed her when she came to our door working for a Right to Life campaign—she was articulate and ambitious—and cute.” He asked her to dance at the first church dance of the new semester. She said, “I noticed his car, a baby blue Corvette Stingray—he must be going places.” And so they danced and dated and she quit wearing high heels so they were equal in height and six weeks later they were engaged. And six months later they were married by a slightly senile farmer in Sanpete County, in a temple on a hill while their parents sat outside on a park bench and waited. Married with a capital M in the eyes of God and in the eyes of the State of Utah. They were madly in love, hormonally anyway, and so they began their adventure in marriage with a small “m”, young and naïve, which is probably best in cases like this.
“And they twain shall be one” …or so all the Sunday School lessons on marriage seemed to espouse. Is that what marriage is really about? Two separate people with different personalities, interests and views becoming one amalgamation. Is oneness and sameness the goal? What if he likes life in the fast lane and she likes to stop and smell the roses or at least to take pictures of them? What if he likes living on the edge and she likes staying securely behind the yellow line? What happens when he is a night owl and she is a morning person or he prefers his food hot and spicy and she…well you are starting to get the picture. There is no way two different people become one. That is biblical baloney, just like the rules about not wearing an outfit made out of two different types of fabric or eating a tuna fish sandwich with a glass of milk. It’s passé. It’s metaphor. That is not what marriage is, marriage with a small “m,” the marriage that poets sing about. Two people don’t become one person, except for those couples on FaceBook who think it is ok to share an account. No, marriage does not mean becoming one. I have been “M”arried long enough to know that.
So what is marriage? I think I have a definition that even SCOTUS can get behind. Marriage is about sharing. Marriage is sharing your life or even part of your life with another person. Sharing everything. Sharing your home, sharing raising your children, sharing your heart, sharing your joys, sharing your pain, sharing your name, sharing your fears, sharing your money, sharing your bed, sharing it all, whatever your orientation. It is having one person in your life that you can share the sickness and the health, the richer or poorer, the triumphs and the failures, “til death do you part or for time and all eternity—I guess we will see.
They have been married for a long time now, especially by millennial standards. He still thinks she is beautiful and she still is attracted to guys who drive in the fast lane. They know each other now and they aren’t as young or naïve as they once were. She knows how important his work is and he knows how important her art and books are. And they both have learned how to share and they have shared almost everything. They have shared the birth of children and the deaths of parents. They have shared the joy of toddlers and the angst of teenagers. They have shared a small window to a delivery room watching their twin granddaughters being born, grasping onto their mother’s hand and then taking their last breath and they shared the hot tears that followed. They have shared the accolades of successful business ventures and the closing of doors on those not meant to be. They have shared the flu, hotel rooms stuffed full of children, broken down cars and first-class flights. They have shared child rearing and in-laws. They have shared the stares of people counting the kids on flights to Disneyland and in crowded restaurants. They have watched ballet recitals and Broadway plays together. They have listened together to late night phone calls from the police and excited phone announcements of “It’s a boy” and “It’s a Girl.” They have shared sitting up all night in hospital emergency rooms and the anxiety of surgical waiting rooms. They have shared the sweet letters from grateful employees and the bitter gossip of neighbors. They share the title to houses and cars and the stock in companies and the stress of jointly filed tax returns. And they have shared the bills and the paychecks and the dings on credit reports and car doors. And now they share the fruits of their labors. They have shared the care and shaving and driving of an adult son who also shares their bathroom and date nights and heartspace. And late at night, they have shared their bodies, their love, their dreams and fears and somehow they have made a marriage—with a small” m”—the marriage that the poets write about.