Tuesday, June 16, 2009

13th Anniversary

[Photo: Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo as Romeo and Juliet, photographed by Tristram Kenton. From The Guardian.]

No piece in the performing arts captures young love like the Balcony Scene from the ballet Romeo and Juliet as choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan, with music by Prokofiev. All the over-the-top ecstasy, passion, can't-get-you-out-of-my-head delirium is there, as well as some of the innocent joy and tenderness of genuine affection, the kind that hints at a gentler, steadier love that could blossom once the intitial blaze quiets down.

Today is my 13th wedding anniversary. As I watch this rhapsodic pas de deux I still find myself getting goose bumps and getting a little teary-eyed, familiar as it is to me. Sometimes I still daydream about ballet, and whenever I imagine myself in the role of Juliet, it's my husband's face I see across the balcony, his arms tossing off the romantic cape and opening to embrace me. The music still expresses today what I felt about him when we were first married - more so, actually, now than ever.

"Why is it still like that for us?" he once brought up in conversation.

"I know!" I agreed. Then, "I don't know - we're totally hooked."

We took a leap of faith and got lucky, I guess. This is the kind of love I want my kids to have when it's their turn. What's our secret? How can we maximize their chances of finding it? I have no idea. A patient once told me your partner should supply the parts of your brain that are missing.  There's something to that! I don't subscribe to the idea, or the magical thinking implicit in the idea, of soulmatess; that's too easy. I think human beings are (or should be) versatile enough to find magic with any number of other individuals. I prefer the idea of soul partnerships, and I think those take real, taxing, committed WORK - 1% magic, 99% sweat! - so easily forgotten or brushed aside in the concept of soulmates. 

In some ways partnership in life is a little like partnership in dance. I was just watching a clip of Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope in rehearsal, and I found myself thinking, "They're like an old married couple!" There was such an ease and comfort about them - the way they knew each other's bodies and minds so well, the trust they had that each would be there for the other, would help the other. They had a kind of chemistry - not romantic; they have their own spouses - but an ineffable connection nevertheless: a spark. They clearly had a strong friendship, too. They knew each other and were open to each other and trusted each other. That trust was built on a lot of hard work, work they had to continue to do to make the partnership functional. They could be honest, they could laugh together - they were just very, very comfortable, but also able to bring out some exciting energy and push beyond their limits.

Sometimes I wonder what I might say to my own daughter if she were to ask me how to cultivate such a partnership. Her next birthday will be the last one before official teenage-hood. It's bittersweet for her father and me: we've so loved her childhood and will miss its relative simplicity and joy, yet we're so full of wonder at the young woman she's just starting to become. She's grown three full inches since last summer and is now big enough to wear some of my shoes and clothes; yet we can still enjoy stuffed animals and cartoons together.

A couple of years ago she announced, to no one in particular, "Marriage is life's great happiness." When I asked where she got that idea, she answered, "You two," meaning her dad and me. I was so happy to know we've given her a view of marriage that's full of love, happiness, and respect. I do have the kind of marriage right now that I would wish for her and her brother. What suggestions would I have if she were to ask me how to find such a match?

I'd encourage her to look beyond love. What I mean is, it takes much more than being in love to be ready for marriage. Love's the easy part, in a way. There are many people with whom one might find an irresistible "chemistry" as well as the ability to be "best friends." This is just the baseline. But to make a marriage work, she'll need a partner with whom she can build a real future - one made with common dreams and priorities, with shared values and vision.

I'd be asking,

  • Does he care about her dreams and want them to come true for her, and vice versa?
  • Is he threatened by her dreams or gifts at all, in any way, or rather is he excited about and supportive of them?
  • Can they have a real conversation on the same level about anything she might want to have a conversation about, be it a current event, a scientific theory, a piece of literature or history, a silly movie, a way to fold laundry, a flash of insight in the middle of doing groceries?
  • Do they have the same priorities?
  • Is he secure enough about himself to let her be herself, and in fact love that self?
  • Does he bring out the best in her?
  • Is he humble enough to admire her, caring enough to admonish her, courageous enough to stand by her?
  • Can he open up to her, and she to him?
  • Will he be affectionate with her each day, as she deserves?
  • Are they mature and humble enough to admit their own faults and failings, and not resolve conflicts by assigning blame, or deal with stress by hiding from it in some way?
  • Will he continue to speak to her politely, with common courtesy, even after they've known each other a long time?Express delight when she comes home from work? Show small signs of appreciation daily? - in other words, KEEP WORKING ON THEIR RELATIONSHIP moment to moment, even when it's going well, so as not to slip into taking her for granted?
  • Is he mature enough to love her wholeheartedly even when she starts to get wrinkles and saggy parts?
  • When she fractures a hip, will he love her enough to help her on and off the commode, with kindness, and compassion, and affection?
  • Is he the one she's completely comfortable with?
  • Can they laugh together?
  • Cry together?
  • Enjoy a sense of wonder together?
  • Is he willing to truly know her?
  • Can she trust him?
This last question is, I think, the one to which all other questions point. Trust. There's something deeply intimate about it, and this profound intimacy is really what she was referring to as "life's great happiness." It's Darcey knowing Jonathan will catch her when she leaps, will focus his attention on their work together, will know her movements and needs and respond by being there for her. And all these things I hope and dream a partner will provide for my daughter someday, my daughter should also have the capacity and willingness to provide for him.

Marriage takes virtue. It takes patience, generosity, acceptance of imperfection, a well-formed sense of self, kindness, and mutual respect. If these aren't present at the beginning of marriage - and I admit with all sheepishness that I certainly had much growing to do in many of these areas thirteen years ago, and still do - there should at least be the potential and intention to develop them.

To my daughter and son, I want to say, I hope you find partners who appreciate and love how special you are and support you wholeheartedly in your journey toward being your best self.

To my husband, I say, Thank you for being the kind of partner who makes me feel truly known and truly loved, and for letting me be me, and helping me be a better '"me."


K. said...

Aw, congratulations! You guys sound like you were made for each other...

Hey, I tagged you in my latest post...you may have already done this but I thought you'd have some good stuff to share...

Lawprof said...

Thanks for giving me a list of questions to print out and hand to every boy who ever wants to date my daughter!

Seriously, congratulations to you both... I wish you many years of continued happiness.

rlbates said...

Happy Anniversary, T!

Lisa Johnson said...

Happy Anniversary T! And to ah, well, I guess that would be Mr. T! You know what I mean! : )

Michael Leddy said...

Congratulations, T. and Mr. T.

Homer had a word that covers your (excellent) questions — homophrosunê, like-mindedness, sharing some deep sense of things. Odysseus speaks of it in relation to marriage, and the later episodes of the Odyssey show Odysseus and Penelope's homophrosunê.

T. said...

What a great tidbit, Michael! Thanks!

I took a semester of Ancient Greek in high school (for fun, would you believe) and wish i had learned about homophrosunê.

I chuckle to myself because while the word does apply in general, on this night we are not quite of like mind: he wants to watch the U.S. v. Italy soccer match, while I want to wallow in my newly acquired DVD of "Chess" in concert. So my daughter and I watched the musical for a while, then he got to finish up the game. :)

Dragonfly said...

Happy anniversary!

ShrinkingDoc said...

I don't know how I missed this when you first wrote it. It's beautiful. Happy anniversary.

I really needed this right now.

Hilda said...


Lovely post.

Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...

What a beautiful post. Thank you.