Disoriented by Married Life

The most useful thing that has been said to me in the aftermath of my Solstice wedding came from a friend in a tightly Christian congregation: “When people get married, we expect them to take a year off from their ministry to settle into married life.” By ministry, she means, as do Unitarian Universalists and many others, not necessarily a professional ministry, but the service outside your own family and neighborhood to which you are called.

Nothing prepared me for the intensely domestic focus that emanates from this tiny gold band and the beautiful woman who placed it on my finger. My eyes want to look at her, my hands love the duties of caring for her. The respite care workers go nuts because we do not want to be apart for any significant amount of time, even when the back-up team is here to get me out. “Out” to me means yard work. Work on the house. Grocery shopping for something that will taste special for both of us.

That’s all as it should be. But more disturbing has been the lessening of my passion for old friends and even my family of origin. Likewise, the ministry that meant so much of me has fallen aside, doomed by its insistence that I follow it to places she cannot physically go. My mind reverts to an earlier stage of life that was dominated by public and international events, enough to have diverted my reading and writing.

The question I ask myself is this: where are those covenants of yore? Did I make too many to keep? Everyone does, of course, and some must be sacrificed to time and distance. But my fiber rebels against such apostasy. What I hope is that my friend’s words are accurate and as married life becomes more familiar, once again it will have space for the family and friends that were my greatest joy until a few years ago.

But notice where this wisdom came from: another religious community. Perhaps Unitarian Universalism will be more attractive to young adults if we expand our explicit expectations to include the roller coaster/whipsaw changes that follow the act of saying, “I do” and honor the obsession with nesting that paves the way for the young families we hope will populate our Religious Education programs. This summer my wife and I not only got married but also turned sixty, so we’re not planning to have any human children or grandchildren. Our congregational life — unlike my former denominational passion — remains intact and, in my case, even a bit renewed. But if we were young adults now, desperately trying to earn more money to buy and fix out a house, to fund offspring, and pay off our student loans, I’m not sure I’d appreciate the lack of respect for private ambition our leaders tend to imply. And if we were people of color, watching our family lose its brief opportunities at success (“last hired and first fired” means there isn’t much of a savings account, much less a cushion), I’m not sure I’d find meaning in a congregation which is wrestling with “our legacy of privilege.”

So if my marriage has done one thing, it’s up-ended my sense of place in the world. It has freed me from some old assumptions, and I’d like to see my religious community experience the same unimaginable buoyancy.

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