I’m pretty good at beating myself up.
If they awarded fighting championship belts for kicking one’s own ass, I’d be a top contender.
And I’m a bruised, bloodied mess after this past week—about 13 months after my marriage detonated.
Because I’ve been having inconvenient feelings about my ex-wife for the past week or so.
It’s because getting over anger is one of the things I’m best at.
It’s because she’s my son’s mother and seeing them together is like watching the sun set into the ocean, or watching a meteor shower from the top of a mountain. Seeing them together combines two of the most beautiful things I know of.
Mega-beauty. Beauty on steroids. And it affects me down deep where almost nothing can reach.
Removing from the conversation the special love a father has for his son which all parents and perhaps many non-parents understand, I can say with absolute certainty that I have never loved anything the way I loved his mother.
Not even my parents, who I adore. You’re sort of born into loving your parents, and if they love you back, you just always have that mutual love. The same is true in reverse of your own children, except you’d quite literally do anything for them.
But your spouse is a different animal entirely. You choose them. You love them the same as your parents and children, except there’s no genetics tying you to them.
The bond is something more powerful than genealogy. Supernatural, really.
The souls melt together in a spiritual cauldron.
I think that’s why you die a little when that bond is forcibly torn apart.
I know there are a lot of people who don’t like it and have been destroyed by it and want no part of it.
Maybe I’ll never do it again. I don’t know.
There are a lot of people who believe monogamy is against our very nature as human beings.
I get it. I really do.
The anti-marriage crowd exists because almost everyone gets married, and statistically half crash and burn, and then a bunch of things suck afterward.
It cripples individuals across all four key areas of life: Mental, Physical, Emotional, Spiritual. Families break. Friends are lost. Homes are abandoned. The cost is high. Financially and within the fabric of our lives. On the inside.
People look at marriage and say: “It’s bullshit! It fails HALF the time, and a large percentage of married people are miserable!”
Hard to argue with them.
But marriage does make sense to me. It’s the optimum way to raise well-rounded human beings.
And I don’t think “marriage” is broken. I think people are broken. And I think, viewed through the right prism, the appropriate conclusion is that, yes, marriage sucks—but it doesn’t have to.
Here’s a five-point, scaled-down excerpt from something I wrote in August 2013 on the subject:
In Defense of Marriage
1. A life partner
I don’t really like being alone. I think most people feel that way. I think we inherently crave human connection. There are many ways to achieve it. Marriage is one of those ways. I know what you’re thinking Person Who Hates Marriage. I don’t want some ball and chain tying me down! My friends, my family and my dog keep me company! Yeah, I get it. But, guess what? Someday you’re going to be old. OLD. And I don’t want you dying alone at the local Bingo game reeking of Ben Gay while suffering from gout and fibromyalgia.
2. A sexual partner
Having sex is important. It’s good for you. It keeps you sane. And it chemically and spiritually enhances your relationship with your partner. Sure, you can have sex with a bunch of randoms, if that’s your thing. But if you do that too much, you’ll just end up with bastard children and gonorrhea. And then you’ll die alone. With herpes on your mouth. It’s better to do it with just one person. More boring? Probably. But that’s why you practice often. So you get really good at it. So good that all other people in the world could never do it as well as you guys can.
3. An emotional partner
Everyone has a different childhood experience. But for the most part, we’re raised by parents in some form or fashion. They are the people who love us, and teach us, and provide for us, and care for us, and fill a million different roles as we mature through our youth. And then one day, maybe when you least expect it, they’ll be gone. It’s a hard time. And having a strong, loving, emotional connection with someone—someone you can count on to carry you when you’re too weak to walk, to hold you when you need to cry, to sit patiently when you need to scream—is a valuable thing. We almost all leave the nest. And there is wisdom in building a new nest. Otherwise, you might just end up flying from one tree to the next, shitting on freshly washed cars and singing for a mate who never comes.
4. A spiritual partner
I understand not everyone makes faith or spirituality part of their lives. But I do aspire to Christian principles, which I’d break down into a super-basic philosophy: Love people. Give more than you take. Don’t be a dick. I’m almost decent at two out of three. No matter what faith or philosophy you practice, some days are harder than others. Life gets in the way. We question things. We have doubts. We search for meaning. Having someone around to help you walk your walk is a helpful life tool. More importantly, if there are children, having mom and dad on the same page really helps establish whatever foundation you want your kids to have.
5. A parenting partner
Science supports the notion that having both a mother and father at home is a wonderful thing. Children are better off when they receive the daily benefits of both. And it’s invaluable for them to have their male and female role models show them what unconditional love in a family is supposed to look and feel like. Ever notice how kids who grow up with mothers or fathers who do something great, seem to make following in their footsteps look so easy? Happens in sports all the time. Great football player has kid that goes on to be a great football player. Successful attorney has kid that goes on to be a successful attorney. Famous politician has kid that goes on to succeed in politics. The list goes on and on. Genetics have a little to do with it. But mostly, it’s the example. The football player’s son knows nothing but how to succeed in athletics. The attorney’s daughter never dreams of doing anything but going to law school. The politician’s child never considers any career but public service. They have the blueprint. They follow it. Because they don’t know how to fail at those things. The same can be true of marriage. The same SHOULD be true of marriage.
Love Never Fails
“If you had to get just one right – say the universe wouldn’t let you have two, no matter what – would you choose love or marriage?”
I’m not sure why it even took 10 seconds to decide. I guess I was just being careful.
You choose love every time.
Jennie’s question doesn’t alter any facts about my life. The truth is the truth.
I failed my wife. I was a subpar husband. And she eventually fell out of love with me and moved on.
I didn’t take it well. (You’re allowed to laugh at that.)
In the final analysis, I was bad at marriage. And I have the self-flagellation cuts and scars to prove it.
But I’ve never been bad at love. In fact, I’m kind of awesome at it.
If you’ll indulge me a Forrest Gump quote: I’m not a smart man. But I know what love is.
A simple question, really. But a profound one.
Love or marriage? If you had to choose.
If we’re ever going to heal. If we’re ever going to love or be loved again. Then we MUST (it’s a legit prerequisite to a functional life) forgive ourselves.
I’m not very good at it. So much of that hinges on failing my wife and son. Failing my friends and extended family. Failing myself.
I was a bad husband. And a bunch of people paid the price for that. Including my two favorites.
How do we forgive ourselves?
Maybe with some perspective. Maybe it starts right there.
Love or marriage? If you could only have one.
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
It keeps no record of wrongs.
Love always hopes.
Love never fails.
We shouldn’t forget it.
The marriage is gone. A memory. An old ring in my dresser drawer. An old photo album. An empty spot on the wall where a frame once hung.
But the love doesn’t have to be gone.
And we get to sleep at night because we love. We get to hold our heads up high because we love. We get to draw others to us because we love.
We get to forgive ourselves because we love.
And then, I think, we get to find out what we’re made of.