THERE’S NO I IN MARRIAGE.
OH, WAIT.
(Then Comes Marriage, Part 6)

 

“I’m afraid sometimes,

you’ll play lonely games too —

Games you can’t win,

‘cause you’ll play against you.”

– Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

I don’t enjoy the thinness of my skin.

But I don’t enjoy the luxury of choosing it, either.

I am who I am.

For better, or worse.

 

Loneliness creeps in subtly.

Like slow and steady drips from an IV bag.

Pangs of uneasiness invade the heart.

Before long, I feel completely unanchored.

Directionless. Adrift in a shoreless sea.

 

But — you’re married.

But — you have a family.

But — you have supportive friends.

 

Yes. Yes. And yes.

But, no.

 

They say that alcohol drowns problems.

Until those problems learn to swim.

I tried to drown my loneliness in marriage.

But it eventually learned to swim.

Wherever I go, there it is.

 

Clinging to my wife only drowned us both.

I needed my own life vest.

In fact, I needed my own life.

 

This is a story about staying afloat.

Without sinking the boat.

~

I’ll be honest.

Penning a series on marriage is hardly a testament to the quality of my own. It’s a soul-searching excavation more than a pretentious shrine of self-glorification.

But a funny thing happened over the course of this journey. My marriage has actually improved— not as a premeditated impetus to justify this series, but as an unintended byproduct of my immersion in it.

The how and why of this pleasant surprise is what we’re here to explore…

~

Erich Fromm wasn’t your typical love guru.

His counterintuitive insight warrants closer examination:

“In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one — and yet, remain two…

Our ability to be alone is the condition for our ability to love.

– Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving

This sounds strangely antithetical to conventional conceptions of love.

In fact, Biblical formulations (to which Fromm, himself, unapologetically subscribed) seem to paint an opposite portrait— describing aloneness as the enemy, and marriage as its remedy! We’re taught to flee our self-contained cocoons of loneliness, and merge via matrimony into one flesh.”

So why does Fromm consider aloneness a required ingredient for the recipe of togetherness?

And why does he insist that we remain two, even after we become one?

~

It’s a well known spiritual maxim:

“If I neglect myself,

who will tend to me?

And if I’m self-absorbed,

What good am I?”

– Avos, 1:14

It’s so well known that we assume it makes sense.

But the two rhetorical questions seem contradictory.

 

The first insists on self-reliance.

My fate is entirely in my own hands.

No one else will pick up my pieces.

 

The second insists on self-transcendence.

We are tribal creatures.

I need you. You need me.

Without the other, we’re both in bad shape.

 

So which one is it?

Is this a declaration of independence?

Or a declaration of interdependence?

Are we mutually indifferent or mutually enmeshed?

~

Males are macho.

Females are fragile.

Two myths that couldn’t be more asinine.

 

I browse through the gallery of marriages.

One after the next, with few exceptions —

Husband is emotionally needier than wife.

I’m not trying to stereotype or generalize.

But those who are should recheck their facts.

 

Inclinations and dispositions are normal.

Every marriage has its default roles.

The good cop and the bad cop.

The bashful loner and the social butterfly.

The needy mush-ball and the stable anchor.

 

There’s nothing wrong with leaning on each other to balance out the boat.

The problem is when things get lopsided.

When one spouse is forced to carry the other.

This is where the balance begins to tilt.

And the ship begins to sink.

~

“A boy may cover his shyness — with nonchalance, bravado, or secrecy.

And once a boy has suffered rejection, he’ll find rejection – even where it doesn’t exist.

– John Steinbeck, East of Eden

 

I found rejection where it didn’t exist:

My wife’s ability to enjoy a life of her own.

I resented it because I lacked one myself.

Her sufficiency felt like my deficiency.

 

I’d swing from attachment to detachment.

From clingy smothering to icy isolation.

I couldn’t flourish in our marriage.

Because I couldn’t flourish beyond it.

 

Something had to change.

And that something was deep within me.

I needed to revisit my passions.

To build a life beyond our marriage.

So I could better function within it.

 

For years my creative juices were dammed up.

Locked in a crawl space.

Collecting dust in a web of self-doubt.

Who even reads this crap, anyway?

What exactly am I accomplishing?

Peers are closing billion dollar deals.

And I’m scribbling an amateur ode to the malnourished libido!

Get. A. Life.

 

But the result was precisely the opposite.

I didn’t gain a life. I lost the one I had.

I pretended to be someone I wasn’t.

An experiment which never fails to flop —

Time and time again.

 

Nature abhors a vacuum.

And so does human nature.

I needed to start writing again.

It grants my soul a tiny window of respite.

The words pulsate through my blood.

Defying repression.

Demanding expression.

And as I reacquaint with this abandoned art, the creative process keeps me afloat.

 

Indeed, this series has immensely enhanced my own marital experience— not because the content is so divinely inspired, but because its composer has rediscovered a long lost sense of dignity.

My marriage no longer bears the weight of a load it was never meant to carry. Because I finally stopped posing questions it couldn’t answer.

(For today, at least.)

 

So, if my words make you gag with nausea— I totally get that.

You really don’t need to read them.

But I sure as hell need to write them.

~

“If I neglect myself,

who will tend to me?

And if I’m self-absorbed,

What good am I?”

It’s not a contradictory conscription.

It’s a sequential prescription.

 

Before we self-transcend, we must first self-accept, self-develop, and self-sustain.

Tending to another without stabilizing ourselves is a recipe for codependence, enmeshment, and unhealthy attachment. We need a functional life beyond the marriage to lead a flourishing life within it.

 

This was Fromm’s counterintuitive insight:

“In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one — and yet, remain two…

Our ability to be alone is the condition for our ability to love.

The whole is only greater than the sum of its parts when the individual parts are whole, themselves.

~

They say parents can only be as happy as their least happy child.

And the same could be said about marriage –

it‘s only as stable as its least stable spouse.

 

It takes two stable oars to row the raft.

Two stable wheels to balance the bike.

Two stable legs to travel the journey.

 

Of course, stability is not perfection.

It’s emotionally self-sufficiency.

To mesh without enmeshment.

To need without neediness.

To depend without dependency.

To cling without clinginess.

 

I don’t believe we need to be married in order to be happy.

But I do believe we need to discover our own reservoirs of happiness to enjoy a healthy marriage.

 

So, yes, there’s an “I” in “marriage.”

And it’s there for a reason.

Because without the “I,” there is no “we.”

~

Drowning in the void,

We try to stay afloat.

But leaning on the anchor,

We undermine the boat.

But when we learn to kindle,

The fuel of our own flames,

We forge a common artwork,

From two exquisite frames.