On the spaces.
When I got married last year, I received a lot of advice.
“Make sure he learns how to say yes dear.”
“Compromise is the name of the game”
“The key to a long, successful marriage is separate bathrooms” (that one came from Nick’s grandmother, whose long, successful marriage is 63 years strong.)
Some advice was tongue-in-cheek, some played off gender stereotypes, and most had something to do with sharing, compromise, and sacrifice. Some advice came from folks with lots of experience in marriage (as in, they spent many years married to the same person), others with lots of experiences in marriages (as in, they’d personally been a part of various marriages to different people), others with lots of experience marrying (as in, ordained priests or pastors who had “married” many others, but had never been married themselves), and still others with no marital experience whatsoever.
But the advice that struck me the most came from a little book given to me by a dear friend and mentor who threw my bridal shower. The book is The Prophet by the Lebanese poet/philosopher Kahlil Gibran:
I had long admired Gibran’s work, and my own well-worn copy of this book had already earned a semi-permanent space on my nightstand. However, the chapter she bookmarked in the fresh wedding gift copy was one I had largely skipped over in my many readings of his poems. As I opened gifts, she read to me from his thoughts on marriage:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
I don’t think I had realized how much marriage scared me until the sense of peace I felt when she read me those words. As someone who is fiercely independent (admittedly to a fault) the idea that I now had to share everything with another person was overwhelming. The idea that marriage involves “two becoming one” was terrifying. As much as I trusted the person I was to join my life with, and as much as I looked forward to all that I was to gain…there was a hidden part of me that desperately feared what I would lose.
In that moment, the peace that washed over me was an assurance that I had permission to still be “me” – indeed, I was being implored to guard my “me”-ness whilst learning to blend my life harmoniously with another’s: “even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.” For me, this imagery of being two separate strings making music together was powerful and liberating. Suddenly, the weight of what was about to happen shifted – it started to feel more exciting than intimidating. It feels silly to say this now, because of course I did not really think that my husband-to-be (or anyone else for that matter) expected me to become someone else when I got married. My trepidation was born of self-imposed expectations and a bit of an identity crisis as I prepared to become a wife. I am so grateful to have had someone placed in my path to tell me the words that I needed to hear (even though they’d been waiting on my nightstand, largely ignored, for years) so that I could enter what turned out to be the best day of my life with the right outlook.
So why am I writing this now? Well, I recently returned home to my empty house after my husband of one year had moved out to begin medical school in a city 800 miles from here. The first week was shockingly easy, and the second week was shockingly hard. The moment of transition from easy to hard happened the other night as I sat reading in my big empty bed by myself. I was enjoying myself – I love to read and my husband loves to talk, which means I haven’t been able to indulge my bookworm tendencies much in the last year. But suddenly, the silence became oppresive, and I was struck by the uncomfortable feeling that a part of me was missing.
I sat there for a moment, looking around trying to figure out what to do with my sudden awareness of the silence in my room. My eyes fell on my bookshelf, and without thinking, I picked up The Prophet and flipped to the page on marriage. Let there be spaces in your togetherness. Those “spaces” that were so comforting to me a year ago felt too big now. I couldn’t help but resent them in that moment of unexpected loneliness. But as I read the poem several times and reflected, I was surprised to find that this time, I took something very different away from what it said.
A year ago, I felt like Gibran was telling me to guard my “me”-ness, but now, I realized that as a wife, I have the equal responsibility of guarding my husband’s “him”-ness. This too, feels silly to say, because of course I did not actually think that marriage meant I got to be myself while my husband catered to my every whim and desire (he might tell you otherwise, but don’t listen to him, it’s not true!) But reading it again was a reminder that I need to treasure his passions as much as I do my own. I’ve known Nick since he was 13, and the only thing as constant as his goofiness has been his desire to study medicine. It is essential to who he is, and it is my privilege to support that (even if it has to be from 800 miles away) lest our marriage become that “bond of love” that scared me so much a year ago. That doesn’t necessarily make it easy, but my struggles are not misgivings, and I am beyond confident that what we are doing right now is the “right” thing for us both.
Everybody has been asking me how we’re doing with all this.
Let there be spaces in your togetherness.
I think my answer from now on will be that it is the hardest and the best thing that we have done (together) yet.