Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Spousal Connection & Singles

Caveats first. I have no answer for single people. This is not a preachment for people to get married. This is a feeble attempt to respond to a good friend's valid questions (and after consulting with her):
What I wish the Church would do is address the peculiar needs of singles in a practical, doctrinal way. Rather than telling us to bake cookies for the neighborhood kids as a substitute for motherhood – or, in the case of a current Ensign article, as a substitute for real integration into the ward – I wish the Church would get specific about why marriage and family are so great. I am told all the time that marriage is awesome. I want to know why it is awesome.
If we could tick off a few points about what eternal principles married people are enabled to learn and practice by virtue of their being married, and tick off a few other points about how learning such things enables a soul to progress on its eternal journey, then we could go on to the next step of thinking about how singles could, in part at least, work on those same principles, make that same progress, despite our singleness. It’s got to be about more than sex, right? But I have yet to have it made clear to me what marriage teaches that I will have to learn after I die when suddenly everything is supposed to get all better for me.
From Keepapitchinin: Being a 50-Something Single in the Church.
This pains me terribly because I don't have good answers. And I agree that I wish the church would. I could still find myself single at any moment through accident or whatever and I don't know how I could face that.

I think about this more than maybe I should. It comes to focus when I am required to travel without my wife or she without me as is the case this weekend. It is much more than the physical intimacy [my preferred term as it is much more than the sex act - whatever that is].

I reread the "50-Something" posting without reading all the comments again. I'm even in there with a comment and I tried to be as sympathetic as I could. I mean, I consider the author a good friend. We've actually made an intellectual and spiritual connection in my opinion and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We've shared our blogging and had lunch together a few times, and on rare occasion, we run into each other as we both work in downtown Salt Lake City. And all that is great fun.

But when I am physically apart from my wife, I notice the loss of something significant. She has become a part of me and I of her. This is in the same way it works with friendship but in a less all-encompassing way. I truly believe the scriptures that talk about a husband and wife "becoming one." But the household of Christ's Disciples also has the same charge. This may be where the imperfections of the earthly church come in as we humans of the "Kingdom of God" on earth may be failing each other. We are not yet one in the church.

Occasionally we do make those "becoming one" connections individually or in groups. There are missionary companionships or good friends that can become this way. I have one with a dear friend, my brother-in-law (technically my wife's sister's husband - aka "Anonymous D"). Our relationship connection is through two marriages. I have no idea if we would have had a chance to meet in any other circumstance. There is a true intellectual, emotional, spiritual intimacy. Physical - is to be in each other's presence (it certainly does not involve sex - but there is the odd connection that we are married to sisters - and I'd better stop there as our friendship does before this gets really weird).

So, what do I mean about becoming one in the all-encompassing way with a spouse? This is so difficult without lapsing into schmaltzy sentimentalism of a Hallmark greeting card. But here we go.

My wife and I understand each other better than any other person in the world. We are to the point now (coming to 33 years of marriage), that we can finish each other's sentences or thoughts or can understand each other without even speaking - not always. We are not completely one. We don't always agree. But we have learned where the principle differences are and we have found the common ground to carry on.

We operate in different spheres. I don't mean male and female roles. Generally, we are fairly mainstream and conservative on "roles." But my wife now works for wages and has in the past. I do laundry, iron (occasionally), clean anything (I actually am an expert on bathrooms having done custodial work while in high school), and I clean windows (and seem to be the only one who does.) My wife does home repair and shovels snow on occasion. She is more outgoing in the community and the world. I won't list all her engagements and accomplishments but it's quite impressive. I've done well enough with my career and financial support for the family. She went back to teaching because of our discussions that she has always loved it and is so good at it, she needs to be prepared in case something happens to me, and she is helping us get ready for retirement so we can go on missions - part of that is to pay for all her local and national activities because we "as one" joked that it seemed my salary was going to support her volunteerism (and our itemized deductions don't even come close to covering all of that).

What is making us one is common interest. And that's a bit of an odd statement. I spent the early years of our marriage often wondering and sometimes (unfortunately) expressing my questions as to why we were together because our personal and private interests are so different from each other. Even our personalities are in some ways directly opposite. Opposites attract they say and we balance each other. Yes, we have more than common ground from fairly similar family and economic backgrounds and certainly in a shared religious faith, giving us enough grounding to learn to respect, appreciate, and even share the differences. The actual common interest that I eventually discovered was simply us. The kids don't even come into it that strongly (no offense to our wonderful and well-beloved children, their spouses, and our grandchildren).

It has always struck me as odd that the most important family relationship in LDS culture and I think generally in world-wide, cross-cultural, family structure is between the two people who are not physically related. There are obvious biological reasons for that, I guess. But still, the commission is that we rely on our covenant made to each other and with God to make us "one."

So, marriage is an opportunity to work on being "one." A successful marriage means that it works, or at least is heading in the right direction. A failed marriage is when two individuals are not heading in the direction of becoming "one."

When I was a new bishop shocked by the realization of how few marriages in the ward reflected the process of becoming "one," I asked a friend with impressive academic training in family relations if he could recommend a good book on marriage. His answer, "Anna Karenina." I've read it a couple of times. And I see that he was right. Forget the main story-line as the example of how it can go wrong in so many ways. It's the fleshing out of all the other characters that makes the book, particularly the direct contrast with Anna and her "dashing" officer with the love of Levin and Kitty.

Check out a few random quotes like this:
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” [opening lines]
“I've always loved you, and when you love someone, you love the whole person, just as he or she is, and not as you would like them to be.” 
“But the law of loving others could not be discovered by reason, because it is unreasonable.”
“And those who only know the non-platonic love have no need to talk of tragedy. In such love there can be no sort of tragedy.”
“Kitty got up to fetch a table, and, as she passed, her eyes met Levin's. She felt for him with her whole heart, the more because she was pitying him for a suffering of which she was herself the cause. "If you can forgive me, forgive me," said her eyes, "I am so happy."
And Tolstoy takes us out with my favorite quote:
"Levin had been married three months. He was happy, but not at all in the way he had expected to be. At every step he found his former dreams disappointed, and new, unexpected surprises of happiness. He was happy; but on entering upon family life he saw at every step that it was utterly different from what he had imagined. At every step he experienced what a man would experience who, after admiring the smooth, happy course of a little boat on a lake, should get himself into that little boat. He saw that it was not all sitting still, floating smoothly; that one had to think too, not for an instant to forget where one was floating; and that there was water under one, and that one must row; and that his unaccustomed hands would be sore; and that it was only to look at it that was easy; but that doing it, though very delightful, was very difficult.
As a bachelor, when he had watched other people's married life, seen the petty cares, the squabbles, the jealousy, he had only smiled contemptuously in his heart. In his future married life there could be, he was convinced, nothing of that sort; even the external forms, indeed, he fancied, must be utterly unlike the life of others in everything. And all of a sudden, instead of his life with his wife being made on an individual pattern, it was, on the contrary, entirely made up of the pettiest details, which he had so despised before, but which now, by no will of his own, had gained an extraordinary importance that it was useless to contend against. And Levin saw that the organization of all these details was by no means so easy as he had fancied before."
I don't know that Tolstoy has any answers for Singles either. Except that the small boat Levin entered in marriage, is the same boat we climb into with any human interaction, even the most casual contact. How do we stay afloat? How hard is it to keep moving towards becoming "one" and connecting with that person? And married people in entering the boat with anyone single need to do a little better at the oars - maybe let the single person take a turn with them once in a while.

When will we be one with the household of Faith as our Father in Heaven and Jesus are One?

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