I’m getting married tomorrow.
# # #
For a variety of reasons, I was a very private child. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up and those few, I didn’t make easily. Like a lot of people without strong social networks (in the era prior to the Internet), I immersed myself in art instead: I read a lot, I watched TV, I played video games, I watched movies. The social cues that I had, I drew from fiction.
As a boy in the West, if you draw most of your social cues from popular fiction – Ender’s Game, Dune, The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Atlas Shrugged – it’s easy to get the impression that strength comes from solitude. “The strong must learn to be lonely,” wrote Arthur Miller in his adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, and I nodded and underlined it. If you were going to succeed, it was going to be in spite of, not because of, the madding crowd. And if you were a villain or an anti-hero – if you held some anger or secret in your soul – your best bet was to withdraw from society so as not to inflict your suffering on anyone else. As an adult, I mocked teens for following the soap opera stylings of vampires and girls who held each other at bay. As a teen, I watched an aged Michael Corleone, sitting alone on his vast lawn, and thought: how tragic. Implied in there, of course, how heroic: only heroes get to have tragedies.
It took years and the patience of a lot of people to undo that complex. I fell in love a few times. I moved in with someone I thought I might marry and we split up a few weeks later. I broke some hearts and had my heart broken in turn. But eventually, and at great effort, I allowed someone into my life. I didn’t merely reach out to her and then drive her away when she didn’t meet my standards (or I hers). Instead, I changed; and when I couldn’t change, I asked for her patience; and when I still couldn’t change, I asked for her help.
A thirty-three year old man on the cusp of marriage is either the best or worst source of relationship advice. I’m ignorant about child-rearing, can barely manage my own finances much less a household’s accounts, and am maybe kind of good in bed. I learned about forgiveness, vulnerability, and humility fairly late in life. But if I know anything about relationships that work, it’s this: find someone whom you enjoy making stronger, and who strengthens you in turn. Those are the bonds that last.