Happy Anniversary, Baby: Thoughts on Myths and Marriage

Camp Tilikum, the site of our marriage. (Photo
taken from George Fox University web page.)
My husband and I are celebrating our fifteenth wedding anniversary today. And by celebrating, I mean teaching classes, grading papers, and having a quick dinner with our boys before Ron heads off to a Dundee Planning Commission meeting. Hopefully, in a weekend or two or three, we’ll go out and celebrate “for real,” though having a thrown-together dinner with two fifth graders is about it as real as it gets.
September 19, 1997 was much as today: warm, sunny, the best kind of Oregon days. We got married in a small ceremony at Tilikum, a church camp and retreat center near Newberg. After the ceremony, we had a barbeque, then Ron and I rowed a canoe across the lake to our waiting truck and our honeymoon. (Then, like now, Ron was a little bossy about how I was supposed to row.)
I don’t know if I would do our wedding any differently: it was cheap enough to delight the heart of this frugal Mennonite, but meaningful, with my dad officiating, and a reading from my favorite hippy poet, and a reluctant ring girl, my three-year-old niece (now a National Merit Scholar finalist!). My only regret is not having much of a community here in Newberg at the time, so most of the small crowd belonged to Ron. I’d have more of my friends at the ceremony, if I had a chance to do it all again.
On that day, I felt a good bit of relief. I’d skulked through my twenties sure I’d be an “old maid” forever, my ears and heart well attuned to the Christian message that marriage is the highest calling a woman can have, and that God particularly blesses those who find a spouse. Or, rather, God guides The One to women who are especially blessed.
A decade of church attendance had reminded me, too, that single people are often seen as second class citizens in the kingdom of God. It didn’t seem to matter what church I attended, either, from a progressive urban church to a much more conservative one in the heart of Oklahoma. Church events were built with the family in mind, so that I always felt like a third wheel. Me, and a few others, all of us singles circling each other, trying to figure out if we were The One, and finding out fairly quickly that we were not. (Which made the singles tables at such gatherings even more awkward.)
If I had my druthers, I would have done my twenties in an entirely different way, not feeling so much panic and dread about being single, not feeling the gun-to-my-head anxiety about finding The One, not feeling I was a failure because the schmuck sitting by me in church wasn’t going to ask me on a second date. When I meet with college students now, their ring fingers naked in springtime, I tell them to embrace the freedom the 20s can bring you, the opportunity to meet lots of people without pressure of finding The One who will make you complete.
Because, despite what Evangelical culture tells us, The One doesn’t exist. I say that not as a jaded married woman, fifteen years into this enterprise, but because I recognize the many problems inherent in believing you have a soul mate somewhere out there, waiting to be shoved at you with God’s almighty hand.
 
Such idealism complicates our understanding of God and God’s nature, returning us to the sense that God cares less for those who don’t find The One. It complicates our relationships with very real and very broken people, who will not ever meet all our conditions for Perfect Mate. Believing in a soul mate who makes us whole complicates our ability to be married and complete, on our own terms, recognizing that another person can never complete us.  
And, it makes people—women especially—forget to live in the moment, always looking forward to the day The One will make her whole. A blog post circulating my friends’ Facebook pages last week, “I Don’t Wait Anymore,”captures this waiting, this longing, well (though the masculine language there for God troubles me; another post, another time).
I wish I had read the post when I was 25, and certain that God loved my pals more than God loved me.  And when I was sniffing out any young guy within a 20-yard radius, hoping he would be The One for me. And going on uncomfortable dates with men who had nervous ticks and strange habits and toupees, just because I was searching desperately for a sign that God loved me too. Not that there’s anything wrong with toupees. Maybe.
From the perspective of fifteen years together, it’s easier for me to see how relationships might be broken, sometimes beyond repair, because Christians have been fed the persistent mythology that marriage alone can make someone happy and whole. I discovered early in my own marriage—like, maybe in the first week—that this was a mythology. Not because Ron was evil or vile (he’s not), but because he was human. And he wasn’t 100 percent like me.
On our first weekend as a married couple, I had a particular vision of how our Saturday would proceed. We would do chores together early in the morning, cleaning the entire house, then do something fun in the afternoon with Ron’s adolescent son, with us for the weekend, before having a nice dinner together in the evening. Instead, Ron and Ryan got up late, lounged in their pajamas playing Nintendo until mid-afternoon. By then I was seething, having long finished my chores and theirs as well. Around dinnertime, Ron seemed to look up, suggesting that maybe we could grab a bite from a fast food joint in town. By that point, I was in tears, my vision of the perfect weekend ruined. And Ron was perplexed—by his standards, hanging out with his son, doing nothing much, was perfect indeed.
Fifteen years later, our definition of a perfect weekend remains different, I’m sure, and while I still try to force our family to do some chores on Saturdays, I’m more at peace with who Ron is, apart from who I wanted him to be. It’s also taken me a long time of battling through the mythologies about happily-ever-after marriages I’d embraced in my twenties to recognize that marrying Ron on the banks of the Tilikum Pond did not complete me nor would it automatically make me forever filled with joy. 
 
I remain a work in progress, and so does my husband. And on most days, I’m grateful we get to figure out, together, what it means to be broken, and what it means to be made whole.