It’s been a busy month, with a week-long gig at a glorious old grand hotel as artist-in-residence (and marriage counselor); our son moving into his own digs (it’s time, it was expected, but Oh God, it was still hard….) and my daughter Robin announcing her engagement to a very nice young man named….Rob. (He told me earnestly last week, “Mrs. Udell, when you say ‘Rob’, I can almost always tell which one of us you’re talking to!”
So marriage, and committment is on my mind today. Mine, my daughter’s, and the delightful woman I spoke with at length during little artist workshops I gave at The Balsams.
How on earth did I end up advising a perfect stranger about marriage?? It started when the woman corrected me when I referred to her partner as her husband. “We’re not married, but we’ve been together 10 years,” she said. I asked why they hadn’t married. It was a sad story of a difficult first marriage, and fear about making that kind of commitment again.
We talked over several days. It was obvious they were both good people and cared deeply for each other. She said she had no doubts about him–“He’s a good man.” But still she was afraid of history repeating itself.
I finally said to her, “Don’t make decisions out of fear.”
How long does it take for a man to prove to his beloved that he is the real deal? That his love is real, and their relationship is based on respect and love?
It’s like saying, “When I have a lot of money, then I’ll feel safe.” Then you have a million dollars, but it’s still not enough. “When I have TWO million dollars, then I’ll feel safe.” True story, from Martha Beck.
If 10 years is not enough for someone to prove their intentions, what will another 5 years mean? Another 10? A lifetime?
And you’ve essentially said to this person you love, “Actually, ‘never’ is good. Is ‘never’ good for you?”
Of course, I immediately felt I’d overstepped myself and apologized.
But the day I left for home, she told me she was starting to change her mind.
Later that same day, my baby girl told me Rob had proposed to her, and she had accepted.
My only concern was they hadn’t known each other for years and years, and began dating each other only recently. Did they have enough evidence to make this decision? What if it didn’t work out?
Then I realized I’d decided about Jon in just about as much time.
And I realized there is no way to be absolutely sure about love. We make our best guess, based on the evidence that matters to us.
And we take that magical leap of trust, and hope.
She posted her relationship status change on Facebook, and my husband had this to say:
It has been a wonderful thing to behold. Rob and Robin are highly self-aware people who are smart enough to know the right thing when they see it, and strong enough to work through a process that will take some time and adjustment. I was quite unprepared for how happy this has made me!
My post? “Plus he’s funny & SAYS he thinks we’re nice!”
What does this have to do with art? Plenty. Why am I writing about marriage here today?
Because so many of the things that really matter in the world are based on this leap of faith.
Pursuing your passion. Making art. Getting married. Having kids.
Even pursuing success, when I deconstructed my desires for it, came from a need to show my love and commitment for my art; to hope people love it–and me!; to create a teensy bit more love and hope in the world with the work of my hands and my words.
Whether we mean it or not, whether we sought it or not, or found it or not, love has been by our side every step of the way.
Sometimes we are surrounded by people who cannot show their love very well, or even by some who can’t love very well.
Sometimes we have to create for ourselves the love we can only imagine.
But it’s there. And if we are lucky, and if we are open to it…
When we find it in some small measure, it is a treasure.
And when we find it in abundance, it is a blessing.
The more times I sit by a hospice bedside, holding someone’s hand as they they go out on the tide of their life, the more I know the truth of these hauntingly beautiful words…
…Time has transfigures them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
by Phillip Larkin, from “An Arundel Tomb”
In all that you do, in all that you make with your whole heart, may love find you there.