The smartest thing I've ever read about marriage is in Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, a terrific sci-fi novel that you should read right now.
Background: The Sparrow is about a mission to a nearby star that proves to have life structured in civilizations that are, effectively, similar to where we were around the time of Columbus. (It's basically an elaborate retelling of the first contact between Europeans and Native Americans -- and everything that followed -- in a sci-fi prism, but to call it that feels too limiting.) The science in the novel is... fine, more or less, but what's really interesting to me is the way Russell conflates notions of galactic time -- and especially the time differentials that would exist between humans at near-light speeds of travel and those back on Earth -- with the more mundane notions of time we all live within.
This leads to one of the novel's best monologues, in which someone who's been married for a long time describes their marriage not as one relationship, but as many. There was the marriage the two shared in their 30s, in their 40s, etc. When they first married, the question wasn't if they could make it all the way until death, but if they had picked someone whose evolution would both support and parallel their own.
This idea made me think about marriage in a lot of new ways. My own parents' marriage had been a happy one, but I'd known many miserable ones in my time, and just as many that had ended with quiet whispers of horror and shock at what had happened. But my parents' marriage being a good one didn't negate the times when they had thought it might fall apart, just as marriages that ended in divorce weren't retroactively made disasters all the way through. Everybody felt the same anticipation at the wedding.
I've been married for 13 years, as of today. My wife and I got married in our VERY early 20s, which wasn't the world's best idea, and we hit a point in our late 20s where it seemed like everything might unravel. But it hasn't, not yet. We're stronger than ever, and the people we were in the first five years and the next five years and the current five years -- they've all worked really well together.
I try to hold all of those ideas up next to each other, all of the time. The happiness we have now, hard won as it is, is no more "real" than the exuberance we felt as stupid kids when we didn't know any better. Nor is it any more real than the tumult that nearly tore us apart. I try to hold all of those selves in the same place in my head, and understand that we're where we are BECAUSE of who we were.
But I also know that what's always carried this forward is that she's the first person I want to tell anything, the second person I want to tell anything, and the third person I want to tell anything. I told her tonight about how Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez, even after their divorce, regularly talked on the phone. And sure, they shared children and a business, but some part of us understood that when you have something like that at any point in your life, it doesn't suddenly dissipate. It's still there, even if it's an echo of itself.
That's where I find our relationship as we head into another year -- both an echo and a shout. I can never say what will happen next, but we've made it this far. Evidence suggests we'll make it even further. I can't wait.
I am on vacation for the rest of the week. Maybe I will write more newsletters? Maybe I won't?
Episodes is published three-ish times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.
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