Wedding days: tiaras, princes, romance, diamonds, ornate dresses. Kate Middleton isn’t the only one who dreamed it up like that. Well, my wedding was tiara-less, my hair was down, and my feet were bare under my simple dress. I’m a no-frills girl. Still, the hopes and dreams, the desire to be beautiful and to be claimed by a man in front of the people dearest to me—all of that was present. And four years ago on the 15th of June, I stood in front of the one who had chosen me and embarked on the marriage journey with him.
I didn’t go into it expecting a fairy tale. I knew the wedding itself would bear little resemblance to the life that would follow. After all, I am a sinful, imperfect person, and so is my husband. Regardless of what algebraic function we employ, two sinful, imperfect people will never equal a unit of perfect domestic bliss. No matter how beautiful the bride, how dashing the groom, how vivid the flowers, or how joyful the congregation, there will be troubling times.
Yesterday my counselor said to me one of the most honest things about romantic commitment that I’ve ever heard: “Relationships are a great gamble. When two people enter a committed relationship, they should be aware that things could go terribly wrong. Their love could die. Another could attract the attention of one of the partners. They could grow apart. I think the best thing two people can do is admit the reality of those possibilities from the outset. Is the love they have now worth the potential hurt later? Will they decide how to combat these dangers before they arise? Relationships are a gamble, always a gamble, but a good one.” Certainly, that is a far less romantic way of looking at love than what’s in the movies. It’s more fun to think of love as something that hits you when you see her lovely face laughing at a joke right before she notices you for the first time. It’s easier to think of love as an emotion that arises from attraction and compatibility and that, when it comes to you, lasts forever. Thinking of love as a risk with a potentially painful end is just depressing.
On the other hand, if we treat love this way, aren’t we actually elevating its status to something even more precious? If we’re willing to admit that sometimes things get broken, won’t it make us more determined to hold onto love when we find it? It seems to me that if two people can look at each other honestly and say, “I see your selfishness,” “I see your paranoia,” or “I see your fear,” knowing that those qualities left unchecked could destroy the relationship, and still be willing to take the risk, that is the miracle of love. To see another’s most ingrained faults and be willing to love him or her even if those traits never change, to be willing not to berate him or her for being imperfect, that is the hard work demanded by commitment. Perhaps making the decision to choose love over destruction each individual day is a more honest way of approaching a relationship than making a rash, often infatuation-driven, promise of eternal bliss early on and spinning the roulette wheel, betting on romantic fantasies.
I don’t believe committed love is left entirely to chance, of course. Unromantic, un-glorious grit and determination have their place. But it is equally true that we cannot know the future. In the limited scope of human wisdom, the enormity of our imperfection, and the frightening fickleness of attraction, “forever” cannot be certain. Even the Bible claims, There is…a time to kill and a time to heal…a time to embrace and a time to turn away…a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend (vv. Ecclesiastes 3:3a, :5b, :6b, :7a). Therefore, there are times committed love should be worked at and times it should be let go. Knowing this, admitting (but not dwelling on) the possibility of not-happily-ever-after, can paralyze us into an inability to love or can challenge us to hold love in the highest esteem, fighting for it however we can, even without knowing the outcome.
I believe there is magic in love, despite the reality of the risk. To find someone whose presence makes you feel peaceful, cherished, and deeply happy is not something to trivialize. To find someone who wakes you up from the inside out, who makes you feel special just by being who he or she is and allowing you to do the same, whose laugh delights you, who looks your faults in the eye and says, “I can work around that”…it’s a gift. Certainly one worth both the gamble, however scary, and the hard work, however frustrating. It reminds me of a quote of Benjamin Disraeli’s that Elizabeth Gilbert quotes in Committed: “There is no greater risk than matrimony. But there is nothing happier than a happy marriage” (1870). Today I wish you a successful roll of the dice.