Carol and I once spontaneously enacted a classic scene. For two summers during college, I toured with a singing group performing in state parks. Whenever we were close enough, Carol drove to meet me. Anticipating seeing her again at one particular park, I plastered my face against the van’s windows as we arrived, and—from across a large grassy field—our longing eyes latched and locked once again. The van screeched to a halt—and with the enthusiastic encouragement of the female members of the troupe—I bolted across the field as Carol did the same from the other side. For the benefit of our cheering audience, we ran with outstretched arms until we swirled in a slo-mo loving embrace in the middle of the flowering meadow.
[MUSIC SWELLS.] And They Lived Happily Ever After. [FIREWORKS.] The End. [FADE TO BLACK.]
Except, of course, courtship was only the beginning…
(above: cozy on the couch December 21, 1974)
With blood money I earned from selling my plasma, I bought a small ring for $200 (well—she has small fingers!) and planned to present it to her on Christmas Day. I made sure I talked with her Dad, although I technically didn’t ask him for permission; I just told him that I would be giving her an engagement ring. (His complete response: “Oh! … Oh! …Oh!”) Ah, but I couldn’t just hand it over. Knowing her fondness for crossword puzzles, I found the toughest, meanest, orneriest one I could, and consulting the answers, circled certain squares beforehand. So when she unwrapped her gift of the puzzle, she needed to first solve it, then unscramble the circled letters to find a clue—not the answer—to where I had hidden the ring she was expecting. It was a glorious, squirming, hour-long discovery process. Here’s her photo of the moment she opened the case and met the ring for the first time. She’s got a warm, frustrated-happy-relieved-kind of glow about her. Quite charming!
(We have friends who survived a similar test of their early love. He promised her a gift that was round and would fit on her finger. She got a bowling ball. He nearly got the boot.)
With the contract thus secured, we selected the wedding date by mental lottery. Without consulting either a calendar or each other, we both thought of two possible dates. Carol had selected October 12 or 7, and I had picked October 4 or 7. The calendar then revealed that the seventh was indeed a Saturday that year, and the date set.
“…for as long as you both shall live?”
[VOICE-OVER.] Offer Good for a Lifetime; Limit One Spouse per Person per Lifetime; Not to be Construed as a Guarantee of Lifetime Happiness; Prize Package Includes each Individual’s Past Baggage, Present Conditions, and Potential Futures; All Expenses Not Included; All Participants Should Read and Understand the Prospectus Before Investing.
With Courtship completed, The Happy Couple settled down to Ever After.
Convenience or Commitment
As The Married Couple (formerly known as The Happy Couple), we descended into everyday life, with all its deadlines, responsibilities, mundane chores, 4 kids in 4½ years, and, always and forever, still: Each Other.
Our marriage has succeeded because it’s more than a mere agreement of convenience and mutual attraction; it’s a commitment in which we choose and practice our love toward each other in real-life choices and tangible actions. It means that when I broke my ankle and was confined to the house all winter and my temper grew short, Carol understood my frustration and forgave me and drove me around and loved me anyway. It means that when she got sick and suffered with hyperthyroidism and became easily fatigued with the least bit of effort, I changed my expectations of her role in the household and in our business together and cared for her in her mental and physical exhaustion and loved her anyway. She indulges my over-enthusiasm for new projects; I try to overlook her consuming passion for online crossword puzzles.
This is not to say that we haven’t had some tremendous arguments. There have times when some of those courtship splendors have not DARED show themselves! Bliss has been sent packing! But the important thing is that we know, even while we’re strenuously and vehemently disagreeing, we’ll get over it. We’ll smooth it out. How do we know that? Because we’ve already made the conscious choice to remain committed to loving each other in all circumstances, including mere fierce disagreements.
And although the troubles in our life together have been relatively tame by many standards, we’ve friends who have endured much worse, yet have not only stayed together, but grew closer in the midst of problems: Business reversals. Children in trouble with the law. Clinical depression. Huge medical issues. Professional stalls and setbacks. Disabled children or those with terminal conditions. Murdered or killed family members. Financial loss. Constant physical pain. Mental anguish. Heartbreak.
Their collective experiences prove that a marriage – any marriage – can thrive, if it is founded on a solid base of committed, dedicated love which places the welfare and happiness of the partner before that of his or her own. And as this is practiced in daily living, those oh-so-bright courtship splendors, metamorphosed by the trials of life, settle into deep, unbreakable, and preciously special bonds of Abiding True Love.
Externally, Bliss may never show its face again, but inside, where it really counts, it has taken up permanent residency, “until death do us part.”