Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Seventeen Years of Marriage


As I start this post, it's still our wedding anniversary, June 30. Perhaps I should grant myself another full three hours of leeway, since we were after all married in the pacific time zone. But honestly, it seems more in keeping with the overall ethic of our marriage that a post commemorating it be started right before a deadline and finished late at night.

Looking back has been a frequent mode of ours of late. We turn forty in a few months. The oldest child will be getting her drivers license shortly. It's a time for looking forward and looking back.

Several things I know to be true, after seventeen years and seven children.

I was very lucky to meet MrsDarwin. We're so well suited to each other in mind and temperament. As we so often find ourselves saying to each other at moments of mild frustration such as come often in a large house full of rambunctious mammals (many of them descended from us): I wouldn't want to do this with anyone but you.

There's a genre of advice piece in which the author opines that people (usually women are singled out) are too picky when it comes to spouses, and as a result they never get married. The solution, it is suggested, is to settle. Realize you're not going to find someone perfect, and settle for someone you can live with comfortably enough. This, of course, assumes that when people go unmarried it must be because they've been ignoring the presence of many perfectly suitable partners around them out of misplaced idealism. Perhaps there are people who do 'refuse to commit' to a perfectly marriageable prospect right in front of them. But being married to someone who seems to well suited to me, and I to her, it's easy for me to imagine that had I for some reason not met MrsDarwin, I would simply not have found someone right for me to marry, or not done so so quickly.

And yet, something which I perhaps didn't realize seventeen years ago when we got married is that even for people as well suited as we -- and people with a temperament which leans against the drama of fighting or even arguing -- successful marriage does not just take the great luck of meeting the right person, it also takes the choices, each minute, hour, and day, to act rightly. Just the two of us with lots of free time (at college, in other words) never really need to exert any work to get along. But throw in the frictions of a half dozen or more children, a house and yard always in need of work, business trips, play rehearsals and kid activities and parish obligations, and there are plenty of times when one needs to bite back the frustrated word, or push down the feeling of self pity or resentment.

These little choices to not selfishly take out one's frustration on another are not so different from the choices we have to make elsewhere in life in order to get along with others. In this sense, getting along with MrsDarwin is not so very different from getting along with anyone else. Thinking about marital virtue in this regard, one can think: Love is a choice. It doesn't have to be just one person.

There's truth in that too. Yet, it's so much easier to make those choices with someone to whom I'd so much rather be married.

I wouldn't want to do this with anyone but you.

The other thing that comes to mind looking back over years of marriage is how much has happened since then. When we picked June 30th as our wedding date, we did so by deciding arbitrarily that since we were going to get married in Los Angeles (where my family lived) after graduating college, we'd give ourselves six weeks after graduation to find a job, place to live, etc. The date was put on the calendar, the parish reserved it for us, and we were on a crash course with finding a way to support the little family we would stand before God and the Church and vow to become.

The mere fact of deciding to get married, and thus to support ourselves and any children that might come, made certain decisions for us. I'd thought and talked through college about going into some kind of artistic work. I'd looked at film schools. I'd talked of writing.

With those looming six weeks between graduation and marriage, I took some spare days during my last exam week to fly out to Los Angeles and interview at a couple jobs and placement agencies. I took the first job that came along: office work at a chemical distribution company. It was the sort of thing no one lists as a dream job, but it would pay our rent -- no mean feat in the LA area, even then.

I never did return to the road of pursuing a creative job as my means of support. 'Follow your passion,' goes the clarion call these days. But my deeper passion was having a family with MrsDarwin, not pursuing a particular kind of job. Instead I went after what I was good at and paid well. Now I lead a team that does pricing analytics. It's work that stimulated my intellectual curiosity. I'm glad of that. But it's not what I'd choose to do if I were landed gentry free to pursue my personal interests.

The twists and turns that brought me there were things I could not have predicted seventeen years ago. But what we did know back then was that maintaining the household would be the central priority for us, with jobs a means to that end. That means that MrsDarwin's work at home with the children is part of the same project as my work outside the home. Together, we're both working to provide for the family: provide money, shelter, and food; provide education, nurturing, and affection.

And of course: I wouldn't want to do this with anyone but you.


Go not to the Elves for counsel, they say, and in that spirit I offer not marriage advice, but our own experience. By their fruits you shall know them, they also say.

Our abiding rule — more than a rule, a bedrock principle — is: Never speak in anger. Never. Better to bite out my tongue than lash out with angry words. Darwin and I have the same temperament, the kind that remembers what was said. And angry words, spoken from despair or pain or weariness, often have that grain of truth that lodges far more deeply than any hyperbole or fabrication. You can never really take something back. Better by far never to say it in the first place.

Fortunately, we’re rarely angry at each other. Sometimes we’re both angry at something external, in which case we can beef together. Occasionally one of us will be in a deep blue funk or a foul mood, and the other does what they can to ameliorate it, even if that’s just staying out of the way. It does happen that one of us is angry at the other irrationally (because it’s easiest to blame someone who won’t reject you) and knowing that the irritation is irrational is even more irritating. In that case we opt for silence. Silence can speak volumes. It can be oppressive. It can also provide time to heal and calm. It is a buffer between the thought and the other, a buffer in which angry thoughts can fade away before they’re expressed.

Fortunately, this hasn’t been a lesson we’ve had to learn through our own painful experience. The marriages of our own parents provided a vivid witness to us — positive, in Darwin’s case; negative in mine. From the very start of our relationship we’ve lived by this principle. That’s 21 years of feelings, moods, whims, irritations, hurts, snarks, snipes, unreasonable urges, crankiness, and straight-up ugliness that haven’t been allowed to set up and harden into concrete spoken form.

I’m not talking here of feeling powerless to speak out against abuse, which is outside the purview of our relationship anyway. Nor do I advocate allowing wounds to fester. But two people — especially two people bolstered by the graces of marriage — can have awkward, painful, or intense discussions without lashing out at each other. My spouse is not a whipping post for my moods.

This is not pure virtue. We both play a long game, and being reasonable and patient is a good way to win. It’s tempting sometimes to be the one who’s putting up with more, who’s being less demanding. But those are separate scores, and in marriage, if you’re not winning together, you’re not winning at all. And sometimes Darwin and I are gracious because we know that we’ll need the same concession from the other soon. I bear up through his play rehearsals because I know I’ll need him to support me through mine. He puts up with my writing time because he needs me to put up with his. Even this is a lesser effort, though. The best of all is when I love him because he is, literally, God’s gift to me: the unique spark of God’s creative love through whom, by the graces of marriage, I find my path to heaven. The path may be dark sometimes, or rough, or busy, or blissful, but it’s never solitary. Through the sacrament of marriage, we walk it together, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

From our fifteenth anniversary post:

O Jesus, I ask you to grant my love every good gift. Give him grace, strength, and wisdom; give him fortitude and prudence and charity. Give him riches, spiritual riches that will last into eternity. Give him peace and purity and patience. Give him rest.

And choose me, Jesus. Choose me to be the one through whom he receives these gifts. Allow me to be your way of loving him on earth. Keep us always united in your love.

May our marriage on earth be a sign of the perfect love of heaven, and may we come, with our children, into eternal life with you.



mandamum said...

Congrats, Darwins! Your marriage, and your writings about it, are an inspiration.

Ladyhobbit said...

Congratulations and happy anniversary!

Elizabeth B. said...

Happy Anniversary!

Bob the Ape said...

Happy anniversary!

Julia said...

May the Lord continue to bless you, individually and as a couple.

Catherine A. McClarey said...

Congrats newly weds!

Anonymous said...

It was hard to read this because our marriage has been so not what you two have and strive for, but it still inspires me to try and not give up (after 50 years). Thank you. Peg