I got myself into some social hot water recently, upon hearing of a friend’s impending marriage. A passionate soul with a specific career in the making, her husband-to-be told her that he viewed her career as the other man in their relationship. I was outraged by such petty love, and wrote an email that I’m sure still reverberates badly on my reputation for tact and decency.
But alas, when one protests too much, the fault lies often within the heart. And I have been realising lately that I, too, can be a jealous and possessive spouse.
My husband found a job last week, after nine months of searching. It’s not a glamourous return to the world of computers, but rather a friendly face in a board game store. Working again is a wonderful thing for him – although it means he’ll home late most evenings, and our paths will cross much less often.
I should be thrilled, but having enjoyed our lazy days and honeymoon cocoon, I’m a little perturbed.
Being married to a good man whom is loved by his friends and family is a popular ideal. But such likeablity means there are many other people who want to spend time with him, or involve him in projects, or get his advice.
I first began to wrestle with sharing this man of mine when we were just beginning to fall in love. My life was full, and rich, and I expected that my love would fit seamlessly into it, leaving his friends and interests behind. My insecurity complicated matters – if he had fun without me or had other things drawing his heart, than perhaps he didn’t love me most, or even enough. I, on the other hand, trotted him around to all of my favorite haunts, activities and social events, expecting him to blend quietly into my life as the latest ornament in my collection of cool friends and accomplishments.
I know such thinking is childish and petulant, but I felt it. I even said as much one day, after fighting my own melancholy and pushing past my social insecurities to attend yet another event with him – we sat at tea afterwards, and I told him I wanted him solely for myself. He laughed, pretended to be a cocker spaniel, and asked me where he could chauffeur me too next. Requiring such devotion of another is dangerous – asking them to choose between the good things in their life and your happiness is never a just question. Pitting their love for you against the people or passions of their life is a fight that will end in resentment and bitterness.
To love with an open hand, as a dear friend of mine wisely counselled me to do during my courtship, means to be thrilled when your lover is happy, to support them in their holy and true passions, and to be encouraged when their friends and family are able to enjoy them and bless them. I cannot be everything to my husband, just as he cannot be everything to me.
I was reminded again of the dangers of holding on too tightly on our recent trip to Vernon – my husband’s hometown. We had planned a romantic getaway, where the only company would be the birds and the bees, and some burning trees. I made a small concession to attend church with him before we’d disappear, and that’s where my selfish plans began to crumble.
Lo and behold, most of his childhood friends and family just happened to be in town the same day – from far flung places like Ontario, they all converged that Sunday, and our planned getaway became a big happy reunion.
How could I pout when I saw the joy that carried the next few days – the in-jokes, the reconnections, the lively conversations, the memories. I could see the warming, uplifting effect it had on my husband, who had spent a lonely year battling depression as he looked for work and found none. To insist that we escape would have been unthinkable. So I laughed along with him, and let myself be social with those that knew my husband well, knew sides of him I have yet to see.
Secretly though, I chafed a little, and hoarded our last day together. I loaded Tuesday down with plans: a picnic, some good wine, a secluded spot. I was thrilled when we finally said goodbye to all and curled up in bed, the fresh morning without any people awaiting us.
Waking up, then, without being able to move my neck, was a painful irony – instead of spending the day gazing at each other (I think my plans had over-ripened into something melodramatic), we spent the day in search of medicine, chiropractors, and ice. I was crushed – but finally gave up the ghost of my sacred plan, and let the circumstances be as they were. After all, my sweet man ended up tending to me and driving me around all day. What more could I ask for?
Right before we were engaged, I was considering a move to Montreal, the promised land of journalism and adventure for me. My now-husband didn’t say a word – let me come to my own conclusion, although he desperately wanted me to stick around. He maintained then, and maintains now, that my writing, the things that make me hum inside, and the friends who I need to spend more time with, are no threat to our relationship. Instead, he spurs me on to do those things more often, to pursue what makes me feel alive, and in doing, so, draws my thankfulness and love back towards him in the end.
Even the language of love is peppered with possession – “my man,” “I want you,” and “be mine,” but although true moments of wanting and loving involve such desires, I am hoping and praying that my love grows larger and more welcoming the longer we are married – letting the things (like board games and youth group and old friends and family) that make my husband who he is become a welcome addition rather than a personal threat.
As John Donne put it so long ago in his Valediction: Forbidding Mourning:
(my rough translation follows in italics)
Dull sublunary lovers’ love
—Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, ’cause it doth remove 15
The thing which elemented it.
But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss. 20
Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.
If they be two, they are two so 25
As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do.
And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam, 30
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.
Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run ;
Thy firmness makes my circle just, 35
And makes me end where I begun.
(Donne’s language can be a thicket at times – but the basic gist is that his love does not fade when he is away from his lover, instead, their love is stronger and more expansive, allowing, like a drafting compass that draws a circle, the distance to be great between them, all the while they are fixed together deeply at the centre joint. The most easily accessible picture in the poem is that of “gold to airy thinness beat” – as gold doesn’t lose it’s value or integrity, even when it’s shaped and pounded out into thin sheets.)