I want to get married so badly it hurts. No, more than that, I want to be married. I had my chance, long ago, but I lost it when he changed his mind. I’ve written before about how I wish I’d had my chance, even if it had ended badly.
Of course I fantasize about my wedding day. I know how I want my bachelorette party to go, exactly what my wedding dress will look and feel like, the jewelry I’ll wear, my entrance music, what key songs need to be played at the reception, and on and on. I suspect I won’t feel much on my wedding day because my anxiety level will be so high, so it wouldn’t surprise me if my spouse and I handfasted sometime before the wedding and held the Great Rite on our own in the sight of the Gods so we can do some real energy work.
But what I crave is far more than the hyper quality of young love. I want the seasoned quality of a long-standing love—the kind of love you feel when you’re angry or even bored. The kind of love that offers renewal.
In Irish tradition, there is a well surrounded by nine hazel trees. The hazels, signifying wisdom, fall into the water where they are eaten by salmon (also a symbol of wisdom). Visitors to the Well of Segais eat the salmon, which gives wisdom and inspiration. “I am the hare which leaps for thee beneath the Moon.”
One of the proudest moments of my life was when I was standing behind the altar in Beck Chapel, watching a bride come down the aisle. I was there to priestess a wedding between two people who were Pagan but who didn’t feel safe coming out to their families. They’d written the whole coded ritual themselves. I stood in that place behind the altar, a place I’d been denied growing up as a Catholic, and thought about my spiritual ancestors who would have been burned at the stake for such blasphemy. I felt a great healing in my soul and in theirs that we had finally come full circle.
The ceremony was memorable for other reasons as well. In the beautiful vows they’d written, the couple defined marriage as representing “the endless promise of renewal.” I’ve never forgotten that. When the anger comes, when the tedium sets in, when the irritation is just humming there beneath the surface, marriage gives us a reason to stop, breathe into the emotion, feel it fully, and then reach beneath it. Find the Well beneath and dive deep.
One December 9th my love and I had a terrible disagreement. I won’t say “fight” because I was the only one who raised my voice. We were at an impasse in our relationship and he said the only option he saw was to “break apart.” Break apart, not break up. So apt. But he agreed to sleep on it.
I did not sleep. I stared at the ceiling for the next seven hours, turning over what he’d told me. He wanted me to change. He needed different things from me. I was too demanding, too high-maintenance. And as I considered the picture of my self which he had sketched, I realized I wanted it, too. And I didn’t just want it because he asked it of me. I wanted it for me. I wanted to be that woman with many interests and many relationships who could meet him as an equal instead of as a drain. My biggest question mark was whether or not I could do it. Could I change that much?
As I pondered intensely, I calmed down enough to examine my feelings. And I found that the surface love I felt for him was like the clarion call of trumpets—loud and sure but somewhat shrill. But for the first time, I became aware of a deeper love, one I’d never suspected. It was low and filled with bass, all cello and bowed bass and Scottish worn-down mountains instead of the jarring peaks of Colorado. As I sank into the sensation, I became aware that love for him permeated every atom of my being. There was no part of me that did not love him. And, terrifyingly, I was only experiencing the tip of the iceberg. This love was an entire symphony and I was only just now hearing the beginnings of the bass line.
When he woke up I told him I was sorry for raising my voice (he never raised his voiced at me; he considered us a team and any disagreement should be faced as a couple, not as adversaries). I told him I was ready. I would change. Not because he wanted it, but because I did. I would do the work. And I did.
Over the next several months I became more of the person I wanted to be. It changed my relationship with him. While he never said he loved me again, I could tell him I loved him and not be attached to the outcome. I became a more well-rounded person and got more of my needs met outside of the relationship instead of demanding that he fill them all. I found the Well of Segais. I drank from it regularly. And everything I did was informed by this bass line of love for him, and the more encompassing love I had for my self.
I knew I didn’t want the uneven nature of the relationship to go on indefinitely but I was fine with it for the time being. And eventually he decided that he didn’t want to change the way that I had. But for those months I had a glimpse of marriage, the endless promise of renewal.
I want to say “I’m sorry” and have it mean something. If I say it now, it’s because I’ve almost run into someone with my grocery cart at Marsh. I want to say it because I’ve inadvertently hurt the person I love the most and I want to make things right again. I want to doubt. I want to say “I trust you” and mean it with every cell. I want to feel my body relax into my spouse’s as we spoon. With my love, even that dreadful night of December 9th, we always kept contact while we slept, even if it was just our feet wrapped together. I want that animal comfort. I want to hog the sheets. I want to make love with every iota of soul I can dredge up. I want to fear losing my teammate. I want to be pissy. I want to argue over whether Scarlett O’Hara is a ninny or a chthonic force of nature. I want to be frustrated that we can never agree on what to eat besides pizza. I want to cry that we will never have children. I want to be a shield for his or her back, a pillow for his or her tears. I want to dig deeper, try harder, and have it mean something. I want to start again. And then again. And again.
Over the years I’ve heard many people speak enviously of the life I’ve built for myself, with its unbelievable freedom. What they don’t see is the loneliness. I’m so lonely I don’t even feel it most of the time. I’ve moved on to a place where loneliness is so ingrained that I just find ways to fill the time. Tap dancing towards the grave. These people with their spouses and their children and their friends and their colleagues and their maxxed-out lives and their built-in intimacy—I feel so alienated from them. They have no clue what it’s like to be me. They can’t conceive of it. I think of my sister and how she watches Netflix on her laptop while her 17-year-old daughter sets next to her and watches Netflix on her Kindle. That’s the kind of intimacy coupled people take for granted. And I am so jealous I want to screech down the phone at her and demand that I get this life, that I get this meaning, that I get this shot at creating something of value that will last.
It is so hard to be a better person when you don’t have a mirror. When you’re coupled, there’s always some edge you’re bumping up against. You’re insensitive, you’re rude, you’re unthinking—and The Other says, “Ow.” That gives you the opportunity to say you’re sorry and make amends and, most importantly, change yourself for the better. When you’re alone as I am alone, you don’t have anyone asking you for anything, so you just get stuck. You don’t even realize how your life is shrinking until it’s too late. In ritual I dig deep and find my truest self, but it’s very difficult to manifest that in an environment where the most taxing situation is presenting a new website design. I live with integrity but am I improving as a person? Am I growing? Or am I ossifying?
Love makes you supple. It intensifies everything and later mellows everything. It makes the stakes that much higher. And I love a challenge. I want the opportunity to be more than who I am. I want to be pushed to the limits of my self and then go beyond, like The Fool who walks off the cliff only to find that he can fly. I want to taste that symphony again, and even if I can’t maintain my connection to it every moment in my heart, I want my intellectual understanding of it to inform my everyday choices. I want to be married. I want more.