Before my first marriage, I liked this phrase couched in the Wiccan handfasting ceremonies I’d read. “So long as our love shall last.” It delighted me with its realism…with its implication of freedom. Before I read that statement, I never associated marriage with freedom or happiness. I saw it as duty, something to do for the sake of stability but ultimately one of many culturally expected choices that stand between you and life’s possibilities. I don’t remember what age I developed a distaste for marriage – certainly I still held a taste for romance. I just remember observing that the interesting, happy people, in relationships or not, were not the married people.
Of course, as I write this I’m in my second marriage. There is certainly love there, along with duty, promises made and the straightforward pragmatic appreciation of the stability we give each other. Marriage itself isn’t just a romantic proposition: you can’t actually live on the oxytocin high being in love gives you, and you couldn’t sustain that over years and still be alive. ((Or you wouldn’t be in very good shape if you were.)) Marriage, like it or not, is also a business arrangement. You’re partnering up your life and resources with another person’s life and resources. Ideally you pick well: someone you have fun and good sex with, who shares your perspective on child bearing and rearing and who finds your friendship just as enriching as your romance. In many ways, marriage isn’t romantic at all. It’s the reason that so many arranged marriages still actually work.
I married my first husband riding the high for a surprisingly long time, and when I came down I realized what huge mistakes we’d made in choosing each other. Ultimately, it was a total failure, but because I loved him I stayed for years after I realized how badly we’d erred in choosing each other. Then, one day, after almost a year of my ex husband barely touching me and rarely interacting with me, I woke up beside him one morning and realized that I no longer loved him.
It was a terrible moment, and while my self-loathing has passed, I hope never to revisit that blank feeling ever again. While I tend to suppress my emotions, I can feel at least some affection for the people around me, but in that moment on that morning I felt absolutely nothing for him, not annoyance, not welcome, not hate. Nothing.
The love no longer lasted. On my end, the marriage was done.
Unfortunately, my ex still loved me, or at least appeared to. And in our wedding vows, he declared his love to last “forever” whereas I had added “so long as it shall last.”
I had no idea how to navigate “what happens when it’s no longer mutual.” As a longtime carrier of unrequited love (happened to me a lot, possibly because of high anxiety levels) I felt powerful empathy for my ex’s situation, and I tried to make myself feel for him again and just couldn’t do it. So it left me with a moral dilemma: since he made the vow of forever, was I therefore required to stay forever? Certainly that’s how he intended it. But since I didn’t, and I didn’t love him anymore, was I obligated to leave?
As you can probably tell from my recent remarriage, I left. Right or wrong, there are limits to doing the right thing, and Wicca doesn’t promote the idea that martyrs receive their rewards in heaven for choosing to live miserably in the present. I left, and I had to trust karma to let me know if the decision was right or wrong – but certainly karma could not reverse that decision anymore than my ex could.
This leads to another concept: happiness as a moral value. Wicca/some neopaganism are among the only faiths that place a moral, if sometimes unconscious, value on happiness. But for now I’m sharing my experience and the dilemma of a lopsided “love lasting” scenario.