Two Shall Be One. Or Maybe Two.
Ten years ago, my wedding photographer made sure that we had all of the usual snapshots—including the traditional close-up of the couple’s hands, showing off their new wedding rings.
I look at that photo today and have to admit that it looks pretty stupid. The couples with nice hand photos show off the complementary rings they bought together. They are made of the same metal; they may have even been sold together as a set. It never even occurred to us to buy rings as a set. We were more focused on what each of us, individually, wanted from a piece of jewelry we would wear almost all the time.
Our preference for individuality in wedding rings echoed the respect for individuality we maintained during our courtship. I was a serious graduate student and my future husband was respectful of my need for several daily hours of un-boyfriend-accompanied study time. We were not one of those couples that were attached at the hip. We did not see each other every day. We had both married off several friends who had become downright impossible to be around during their courtship because of their obsession with each other and disregard for everyone else in the world. Our goal was to avoid such obsession. (Various observers have differing opinions of how well we succeeded at this—but at least we tried.)
In spite of our individualistic natures, I did have high hopes for marital unity. For the inscription on my husbands ring, I chose the phrase, “Two shall be one” in reference to the scripture, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
My husband interpreted the phrase and its accompanying scripture as a reference to sex, not unity. Apparently, that’s just one more way that we are different from each other. (Fortunately, this alternative interpretation did not reduce the appeal of the message to him—quite the contrary.)
While I hoped for unity, my definition of unity was vague. Unity certainly would not include dangerous arguments in which spouses throw kitchen cutlery at each other, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what unity actually would include, exactly. I had seen some apparently united couples who enjoyed the same hobbies, shared the same opinions, dressed the same, and even looked alike. This kind of unity didn’t seem likely for my marriage. Other couples seemed to unite when one spouse, usually the wife, dedicated herself to serving as an assistant to the other in achieving his personal goals and dreams. I never desired this kind of unity, and to his credit, my husband didn’t, either. Our marriage is a lot like our rings. We’re two individuals, not one matched set.
Although I hadn’t figured out marital unity before I married, at the least, I believed I had pretty much figured out the keys to marital compatibility:
- Don’t get married as soon as you’re legally of age.
- Don’t marry someone you just met.
I still like these guidelines, but after ten years of marriage, I have to admit that my logic for them was faulty. I thought it was important to really know the person you would marry in order to best predict your potential for lifelong compatibility. That would not be possible if you married someone with whom you had only recently become acquainted. Likewise, I believed that if you married young, you didn’t really know who you were marrying either, because personalities are so likely to change as people mature past the barely post-teen years.
Today, I am more inclined to believe that no one can really predict anyone’s future personality and values under any circumstances—not even their own. People change. Even grown-up people.
When my husband and I were dating, I fretted about whether I could marry someone who was so extremely shy. Recently, I mentioned this to a friend who didn’t know us back then and she was surprised to hear that—because he isn’t shy. Not anymore. But at the not-so-young age of 28, shyness was one of his defining characteristics.
That hasn’t been the only change. Only a few months after our wedding, my husband became very sick. He is doing better now, but understandably, he will never be exactly the same. My personal changes are a little less explicable. How did I get to be such a crazy liberal (at least, in comparison to the über-conservative culture that surrounds me)? In some ways, we have changed together. Neither of us were parents before we married; we have embarked on this life-altering project as a team.
Now, we are celebrating our tenth anniversary. After ten years of marriage, we are still two unique individuals, but we are not exactly the same individuals as we were ten years ago. Are we united? Well, we don’t throw knives at each other, so that’s a good sign. But we disagree with each other at least as frequently as we agree. Much of the time, we can’t even understand each other, in spite of ten years of marriage practice.
I still like the abstract notion of unity, but I still can’t define it. I don’t know if we are united. Here’s what I do know: we are committed to each other and to this marriage. We care about each other and we care about our marriage. That is what got us through the first ten years. I am excited for the next ten. Who knows how our individual personalities will have evolved again by that time? I am glad I have a caring partner who is committed to walking beside me through whatever changes are coming. We’re not the same, but we are a team. Maybe that is unity. Even if not, it’s enough for me.