Today I celebrate my second fifth wedding anniversary, by which I mean the fifth year of my second marriage. It seems a good time to reflect on a few things, and I’ve been trying to sort out and identify my feelings about “the institution of marriage”.
We hear a lot that the “institution” is threatened by the behavior or actions of one group or another; whether it is the LBGTQ community and same-sex couples, or hetero couples that change spouses as casually as trading in a car for a newer model, so many things are threatening the “institution” these days.
I have trouble grasping this argument, and I think it is because for me marriage is not about an institution, or any external action. It is about a connection between human beings.
For example, I said that today we celebrate our anniversary, but that is not exactly the case. More to the point, today we acknowledge that it has been five years since we appeared in a small courthouse in Cambridge, Maryland (pictured above) to make a statement before witnesses and sign a document. In our hearts and minds, we were married years before that.
It was similar in my first marriage. Carolyn and I had made a connection, and we were together in spite of the confusion of most everyone around us – me included, really. You see, Carolyn was ten years older than me, and had a Ph.D. from Cornell. When we met, I was a college drop-out, cheerfully unemployed and living off the teat of Maryland Unemployment insurance.
We were happy living together, and may never have performed the “sacred rite” of marriage, but for a clever strategy of mine – I knocked her up real good. Just kidding of course – we were taking precautions at the time, and even so, we kept telling ourselves we were modern, now, a-go-go people, this is the 80’s for goodness sake, there’s no need for a silly piece of paper.
However, as the time for birth grew nearer, we found ourselves in (you guessed it) a small courthouse in Annapolis, Maryland reciting vows and signing documents.
Carolyn and I were married for three weeks short of 20 years before her passing, but it really had nothing to do with that sheet of paper. We were connected through our selves, and through our children. Certainly we had our ups and downs, and it was not all sunshine and lollipops. But that bond was never in danger. It is hard for me to see how any same-sex couple or serial divorcee could have any effect on that bond either.
When Carolyn died of cancer I was devastated. It felt like I had lost a part of myself. I was alone, 50-years old, morbidly obese, and naturally assumed that I would be alone for the rest of my life. I also told myself there was no way in hell I was ever going to put myself in a position where I could be hurt like that again.
But then, just three months after Carolyn’s death, I met Rita through a chance encounter while I was looking for a rental property to invest in, and desperately trying to keep myself occupied. We had a strictly business relationship leading up to closing, and stayed in contact after that only because I was looking for one more investment property.
As I’ve written before, I was not even thinking about dating. Months later, when Rita invited me over to take a walk with her and have dinner, I still never imagined she would be interested in me. I assumed she was checking me out before introducing me to one of her (possibly desperate) friends.
But soon, there it was again – that connection was growing between us. For reasons I still cannot fathom, she felt the same way towards me that I was feeling towards her. Rita and I took a short vacation to Ocean City, MD together in June of 2009, and I think by the time we returned, as far as our hearts were concerned we were married.
That’s why today is not so much of a celebration for us of a particular day. We feel we had been married for almost four years before that day in the Cambridge courthouse.
So my point is, I don’t believe marriage is an institution, a rite, a sacrament, or a holy vow. It is when people who love each other understand that they are now one person. It is when you know that whatever hurts your mate, hurts you even more – and what makes your mate happy, makes you happy too. It is a deep and profound state of being, not something that can be touched by documents and ceremonies, or damaged by protests and the behavior of others.
I am awed and humbled that I have been touched by this magic twice in my life. It has made me a much better person, and has brought me much more joy and happiness than I probably deserve. Thanks again to my lovely wife Rita, for catching me when I was falling, for bringing so much love into my life, and for giving me hope in an even better tomorrow.