Dear Future Son-in-Law,
I’ve considered this conversation for months now; no, actually since the day I watched the woman you want to marry walk down the aisle in her first communion dress. Any you’d think I’d have the words by now. But they’re fleeting, and I only get to have this talk with you once. Oh, I’m sure we’ll have lots of talks, some of them even important ones, as the months and years roll along, but this is the one I think you’ll remember.
Perhaps I should begin with the most basic of questions. You want to marry my daughter, but Why?
Let’s back up and start with this. Why do you love my daughter? Because she makes you happy? Because she “completes” you? Because she has so many things in common with you? You have so much fun when you’re with her? Because you get that really cool, funny feeling deep down in your inner being anytime you’re with her, or even think about her? Because you think she’s so beautiful? I would certainly hope all of these are true. But they simply can not be the reason to marry my princess.
First of all, they’re all about you, not her. And they describe a “feeling.” Of course being “in love” implies that happy feeling that you certainly (hopefully) have together – that feeling that “nothing else matters.” Because of course, everything else does matter. And that feeling will pass, probably on the way home from your honeymoon, or that first morning when you wake up muttering, “Forever, really?” and wonder what the hell you were thinking.
By now, I’m pretty sure you two have disagreed over things, and know just where the other’s jugular vein is, their Achilles’s heel, that weak spot you know would be really hurtful. That “feeling” is in serious jeopardy during your first big fight over something “really important.” Or after the hundredth of them, when you’re still angry and maybe out with the boys, and see an old girlfriend, or someone in some foreign town, or someone who suddenly starts thinking you’re pretty incredible looks at you the way my daughter “used to.” This is not something that might happen, or a prediction. It’s something that will happen. Maybe once, maybe 10 times. Maybe a week after you get married, or even seven years. Why am I so confident? Every male I’ve shared my adult life with has only nodded their head in agreement when we look back over our years. Some crossed the line, some didn’t. But any of us could have. I could have. Your guard drops at a weak moment, especially after a few drinks, and nothing will ever be the same.
That’s why its not about a feeling. Love is not a feeling. Because there will be times, lots of times, weeks of them, when she will not make you happy. She will not complete you, you’ll grow up and realize that in fact, you are incomplete, but my daughter can not and should not and must not fill that void. You’ll be sure that you have many more things not in common than you ever agree on. And that really cool feeling that nothing else matters will be long gone. Because everything else does matter. One of you will be immature. And irresponsible. Make stupid mistakes. Make financial mistakes. Has a selfish side. One of you? Both of you have all of these traits. We all have all of these traits. And you both have dirty closets – both physically and metaphorically.
Again, this is why love can not be a feeling. Because all of these things will change. One of you will get cancer and lose a breast, or the ability to make love. Or be in an accident and become disabled, or disfigured. Or just get fat. And you will no longer be so attractive – to each other, or even more likely to yourself. And you’ll stop loving yourself, and feel unloved, and feel unlovable. And so you’ll make yourself unlovable. And one of you will lose a job through no fault of your own, or through every fault of your own. Or you’ll be unable to get another job, or keep another job. You’ll also feel pretty worthless, and make yourself also unlovable. And you’ll be very hard to love. In fact, unlovable. Rather, you’ll be unlovable if your relationship, your marriage, your “love” is a feeling.
But it’s not. And this is not rocket-science. But here’s the tricky part – if in fact you suspected I was going to say that instead of a feeling, love is “an agreement,” you’d be right. But only partially right.
I worked for a guy one time who had separate bank accounts for himself and his wife. It had nothing to do with his pre-nup, or family wealth, or anything at all about protecting their precious material things, or inheritance, or whatever. No, it was simply “an agreement.” They had separate jobs, and they each paid for half of all the bills out of their own accounts. He argued eloquently that it kept the romance in their marriage, because they would “treat” each other to a dinner, or the theater, or a gift. And it was truly a gift from them individually, because if it had been paid for out of a joint account, then no gift was involved, they just bought something together. And he added a bow to the package, when he proudly explained, with a wink and a nod, besides, some things were just “none of her business!” Then he clicked his mouse to open the computer screen displaying this “hilarious” video I’d surely enjoy, and he resumed the porn session he had been halfway through when I had walked into his office. This went a long way to describe how much respect he had for her. She surely reciprocated.
No, so love is not just an “agreement.” I’ve heard ministers officiating the ceremony describe it as a “contract.” Surely, this is just as dangerous, maybe more so, because a contract is a trade of one thing for another. A “quid-pro-quo.” It’s more dangerous because, again, there will be times, perhaps even years when one of you isn’t holding up “your end of the bargain.” Trust me, this is inevitable. We human beings are screw-ups, and we are wired to fall, and fail. Such a breech of contract then allows the other party license to violate the contract because, in fact, no contract exists anymore. If she’s not doing such and such any more, neither will you!
Yes, love is an agreement, but not a contract. It’s a “covenant.” The difference is in the magic words we use when referring to the ceremony that almost no-one really takes seriously – our “vows.” We “vow” to do these things, with a swear to almighty God, until death do us part. The fact that we’re vowing to do them in front of all the “witnesses” is, in fact, pretty meaningless. Most of them are simply there for the really expensive party afterwards anyway. Close your eyes and imagine looking out over those you’ve invited, and consider whether or not they’ll hold you accountable to your vows, this promise, this covenant. Or will they “high five” over cheating, because he’s such an asshole, or she’s turned into such a bitch?
You’re not “exchanging” rings as part of this contract. It’s a sign of a covenant. You know what observant Jews did (and do) as a sign of their covenant with God! Would you do such a thing as a sign of this covenant? They didn’t cut off skin so God would do “something.” They did it as a sign of their fidelity, a physical statement, an affirmation that they were “all in.” Are you? Are you all in? Will you be true to this covenant if she’s fat and ugly, frigid and hateful, clinically depressed? Or what if she’s addicted to something to numb some pain? What if she’s an alcoholic?
I realize I should be having this conversation with her as well, but that’s a conversation your parents should have with her. And I’ve had 29 years to do my best with her; this conversation is with you. About you.
And how do you see your role in her life? Let’s assume you really do understand, and agree with marriage as a covenant, or at least that you’ll think about it long and deep. What will you be to her? And to your children? A provider? What exactly does that mean? Will you have a job that requires such long hours that your wife is lonesome, and lonely? You’ve told me that you want children – is that a pet child? or several children? Have you seriously made plans together? Will you be there for birthday parties, recitals, and parent-teacher meetings? What is important to you? What makes life worth living? Will you live every day as if it’s your last one, and be happy with the importance you gave people and things?
Do you love people and use things? Or do you love things and use people?
Don’t answer “correctly,” answer honestly.
And what does make life worth living? Why are we here? Why are you here? Nobody really has any of this figured out, but do you try? Do you think about these things? Are they important to you? What could be more important to you?
I know you both were “raised” Christian, but what does that mean? How important is your faith to you? Will it have a role in your marriage? Does it now? Surely you know “a three-ply cord is not easily broken.” Honestly, if your Christian faith is not an active part of your life right now, what will ever change? Why do people pray? Do you? What does that look like? Is it so private that you can’t really talk about it? If you believe in “life after this,” I mean really, then isn’t it the most important thing in life? Then why is God, and faith, and prayer private, and hard to talk about? Wouldn’t it be important to help the woman you love get to heaven also?
So, anyway, that’s the “love” thing. You say you want my blessings? Tell me again, “Why do you want to marry her?