Day by day, the wedding grows closer, and I feel ready and even eager, not nervous. I don’t remember what I felt during the weeks before my first wedding; I can’t remember whether I felt anxious or fearful. I probably didn’t know what to think: what did I possibly know then? I had no idea what kind of life–what kind of challenges–faced me.
J and I have settled into our own compromises; we’ve figured out, more or less, how not to step on one another’s toes during these summer months when we’re both around the house. It’s a constant dance; you never quite capture the permanent poise you long for. Instead, you have to keep moving, perpetually on your toes, reacting and responding as your partner moves, correcting and compensating for missteps, both your own and your partner’s.
Being married is the most challenging practice I’ve ever done, more difficult than getting a PhD or sitting a long Zen retreat or climbing a mountain. It’s challenging because you agree to do it for the rest of your life whether you want to or not–whether you think your spouse deserves it or not–whether at the moment you even like your spouse or not. Being married isn’t about the happy times you share (as I’m sure I thought when I was looking forward to my first marriage). Being married is about sticking around and giving it another try when you no longer want to.
I had no idea how difficult marriage is the first time I got married: how could I have? All we hear when it comes to marriage are the extremes at either end of the spectrum: on the one side, the happily-ever-after of wedded bliss, and other the other, the tragedy and turmoil of failed unions. Given these two options, it’s natural to think those are the only two choices, that your marriage will be either happy or miserable. When you’re young, optimistic, and engaged, no one mentions the plain and simple truth: any marriage will be both happy and miserable, the tenuous balance of intimacy being poised between those two ever-present extremes.
Balance is not a static thing, and neither is intimacy. If you’ve ever watched a circus tightrope performance, you know tightrope walkers are always in motion, leaning slightly one way then the other. Only in a frozen snapshot does a tightrope walker ever stand still; instead, at every moment, a tightrope walker is tottering between extremes, calculating and recalibrating the precise position of every extremity–every living cell and corpuscle, it seems–with an attention that can only be called electric.
Marriage is like that, but in slow motion: it takes your entire lifetime, ’til death do you part, to cross from here to there on the thin thread called “I do.” At any given moment, you might lean heavily toward bliss; at the next moment, you might dip dangerously toward despair. Your vow is your lifeline, the central balanced point you return to time and again. But balance is never static. The second you settle on a comfortable balanced point you wish could last forever, you’ve already fallen, your body freezing into a fixed rigidity that stymies its natural flexibility.
It takes a master to walk a tightrope, and it takes a master to weather the woes and wobbles of being in relationship. This is a truth I didn’t know (and nobody told me) the first time I got married. This time around, I’m walking into marriage with eyes wide open.