So first, you have to read this. You really do. So here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/08/fashion/08love.html (just copy and paste the link; I can't get the hyperlink to work today for some reason...)
It's an essay from the Modern Love column in today's New York Times. As I read it this morning with a hot cup of tea, two weeks before my wedding to Ian--my second marriage, after everything I had hoped for once before fell apart in my first--I thought of something my grandmother has said more than once:
"It's not every man who is willing to love so selflessly."
She spoke those words in reference to a cousin of ours who was caring so lovingly for his wife who had Alzheimer's. But it was all I could think of while reading today's essay from a man whose active, athletic, and very able-bodied wife was crippled in a car accident that left her a paraplegic.
What first struck me about this essay was that the author makes little distinction between himself and his wife when recounting the learning curve they've had to ride in the wake of her accident 15 years ago. Her initial fear that she couldn't "do this for the rest of my life," was assuaged by his "We'll do it together."
This man carries his wife wherever the wheelchair can't go. He helps her get into the ocean and float. He has loved her unconditionally and supported her completely. They have traveled and lived fuller lives than most couples, and she has rolled three 26-plus miles marathons in a racing wheelchair. "We know to say 'Yes' to nearly everything because there is probably a way to do it. We know there is happiness available every day, most of it requiring more effort than money. And effort seems like a small price to pay for a day at the beach, a trip to New York or dinner up eight steps to a friends' home."
I choked back tears as the kids ran around with light sabers and Ian cleaned up after breakfast. I can only hope to be that selfless in my marriage. And I am so lucky, because I know I am marrying a man much like the author of this essay.
Cynics question why on earth I would want to get married again. Their questions are valid: It didn't work out the first time; divorce rates for second marriages are even higher; and, well, I have my "freedom" now--why on earth would I want to give that up? they wonder.
Their points are well-taken. And I've definitely had a couple of freak-out moments in which I've wondered, "Crap! What am I doing? What if this doesn't work out!?" If all you're out for is a good time with no strings attached, then marriage might not be for you. But the thing is, I'm not interested in that. Nor am I getting married just to be married. I'm getting married to a man who is perhaps one of the most selfless, caring people I have ever met. He gives and gives, and he still keeps his sense of self, his love of motorcycles, and his general dude-ness (sans machismo). It will work out, because we both WANT to be there for each other. And we have no delusions. We know that there will be dry spells, lame times, and moments when we're disappointed and frustrated. We also know that as long as we're honest with each other about everything, we're going to be okay.
Marriage is not just about sex, romance, and satisfaction. Those things are really important, yes, but they'll vaporize quickly if they're all that's important. If you find the right person--and Ian and I have--marriage will be an adventure through life together, through really good and really bad moments. If you have each other's backs, like the couple in the essay, you'll have everything.
Ian has had my back since day one. We met in 1992, and we were loose friends for much of that time. He served me beers at Rudy's and would wave to me at the park while I played with my kids and he walked his dogs. We always made small talk, and we loved to swap opinions of movies and albums. There was always something so solid and appealing about him. He's a guy who has nothing to prove to anyone. He's secure and confident without being cocky. It's almost like a fluke of nature.
The real test of our friendship, however, came during one our breakups about a year into our relationship. I called for some time out between us, since he didn't know if he ever wanted to get married to anyone ever, and I knew I couldn't go any further with him if he didn't know that--as the mother of two boys who were growing increasingly close to him, I couldn't risk them getting hurt again. I also didn't want him to feel "pressured" into getting married. So a temporary hiatus was taken (the first of two), and I stupidly accepted a couple of dates--one from a New Haven cop (it went badly), and one from some scumbag who MySpaced me. What a mistake.
First of all, I wasn't really interested in anyone but Ian. But I thought I really should just accept the dates and "see what's out there". For the record, I don't like much of what's out there. The cop talked incessantly about his hatred for his ex-wife (some date!), and the other guy... I had three glasses of wine (not a huge amount, especially for me at the time when I could really throw them back), and I found myself passed out and vomiting at this guy's house, where I didn't even remember going. I blacked out on many moments of the night.
For all the millions of times I've gone out drinking in my life, I've never blacked out like that--especially when I've only had three glasses of malbec. Was I rufied? I don't know. The jury's out on that. But something was very wrong. And so I reached for my phone, called Ian, demanded the guy give Ian directions to pick me up, and waited. I must have passed out again, because all of a sudden, Ian was picking me up over his shoulders and carrying me to his car. The guy tried to shake Ian's hand, but Ian refused. So many guys might have chosen that opportunity to start a fight with that jerk. Ian's too cool-headed for that. His primary concern was getting me out of there, no questions asked, except: "Are you done dating assholes?"
Dating assholes? More like I was one.
We got back together after that. When cooling-off period number two came around, it seemed more final, until Ian suddenly decided he'd rather rethink the idea of marriage than lose me.
Ian is not just some guy who walked in when I was available. Ian is a friend who became much, much more. He encourages me to have as much of my "own" life as possible, and he loves and cares for my two boys as if they were his own. (Seriously. It's uncanny. And Nolan, my youngest, doesn't even have memories of life without him.) He works his butt off at two jobs for all of us, and he is perhaps one of the most selfless sons I have ever known, caring for his mother who has not always been well. I know that if I found myself in a wheelchair, Ian would be there to carry me up the stairs, find a car outfitted with mechanisms for me to drive, get me a good seat on a plane to India, and bring me into the ocean to let me float, letting me feel the private bliss of being buoyed by the water, but never leaving me to sink alone.