My routines are a bit thrown off these days while J is off canoeing in Canada - an annual event now, and one of the few times he gets to hang out with a bunch of guys. Though I will admit that it's nice to be able to let the alarm ring longer, stay in bed for stretching in the morning, and let the dogs make noise, I wouldn't appreciate those little bonuses for long.
I had two separate conversations over the past year with men in their 50's who questioned the human cultural contract of mating for life. What do men and women join together for? they mused. They get together to procreate and raise their young. After the young have grown and gone off on their own, how is there any evolutionary advantage to staying together?
As the average lifetime of human beings has expanded, they argued, we have started to live beyond the usefulness of the custom of mating for life.
Interesting theory, but missing something.
My three older children are all in long term relationships right now. Finding someone to spend your life with is a big deal, and they may not be there yet - but you never know. Sometimes I wonder if a lot of people choose a partner without putting a lot of thought into the long term, but I am grateful that my children seem to be extraordinarily thoughtful in the process that they are in.
Some of the best relationship advice I read was in a book by Madeline L'Engel, called "Circle of Quiet." Some relationships pull you away from your family, away from your studies or your work, away from your friends and interests. Those are not the good ones. Of course there will be change when you invest time into a relationships - no one has unlimited time to give to everyone and everything. But in the broad scheme of things, a good relationship enriches and enhances everything else that you value in your life - it doesn't force you away from them.
I add some of my own thoughts:
Do you laugh together? Do you enjoy spending time both alone together and out in the world together? Can you be happy spending time by yourself for a while, knowing you'll be together again before long? Do you encourage each other to grow and develop and be the best that each of you can be? Are you both willing to make some changes in your lives in order to make them work together?
Love and respect are essential. Essential.
But notice that I add them at the end of my list.
That is just relationship advice. Before marriage there is a lot more to consider. Do you share values? history? family aspirations? Will you work well together as a team (owning a home, running a household, raising children)? Can you work out differences? Usually one or the other is the more adaptable - do you know which one you are? Are you willing to accept your role in the give and take of this relationship? Are you sexually compatible (important - not to be underestimated)? Do you look forward to middle age, old age together? Are you happy to take on this person's history/family/background as a part of your own and your children's for life?
I am not someone who believes that a marriage should be preserved at all costs for the sake of family. Some marriages start off well, but life's unpredictable vicissitudes can make two lives veer so far apart that they can no longer enrich each other. A marriage that has become negative or destructive does no one any good, and can do a lot of people harm. It should end.
On the other hand, I think a lot of marriages that break up could be fortified and rebuilt to become even stronger if the two parties are willing to put the necessary work into them. And that work is essential from the very outset.
Relationship = Work. period. Too many people forget that. They also forget that the rewards of working your very hardest for something and succeeding are supreme.
The years of raising children in a marriage are distinct. It is an entirely different undertaking than simply working on the marriage itself. But it is not the sole purpose of marriage by a long shot.
Marriage leads to better health and longer life - studies have pointed to this finding for years, though a conclusive explanation is still elusive. In my frivolous wisdom I will submit that security, companionship, consistency, and love are all key ingredients to good health - good mental, physical and spiritual health.
The rules all change when the kids grow and fly the nest; I can already see it evolving. The marriage goes through a dramatic transition, much more so than the gradual evolution of first pregnancy, growing baby, etc. Suddenly, you are on your own again. But only sort of.
Your offspring continue to be an enormous part of your life both on the sidelines and your shared heart of hearts. You still carry that same torch together; the torch just sits in its bracket on the wall more often. Meanwhile you can recreate a two person life - remind yourself of what fun you have with each other, maybe put some of that time and energy that you've devoted to supporting your children's lives all those years into supporting your spouse's life. Remember?
I think I'm going to have a blast with more time on my own - and a blast with more time with my funny, clever, game, and often off-the-wall husband. He might make me crazy from time to time, but one thing I know for certain -- he will never be boring.
My own children have plenty of time to keep exploring the challenges of relationships. When it comes time to consider something in the long term, however, I hope that they will aim to mate for life.