Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Unexpected Consequences

6 years ago I decided I wanted to marry Wendy.  At the time we had been dating a year and a half or so and while I had no doubts she wasn't at all certain she wanted to marry again due to her first marriage ending in divorce.  I wasn't in a particular rush though and figured that I would just wait a little while for her to come around.  I never had any doubt whatsoever that she would change her mind, which will come as no surprise to those who know me as I tend to posses absolute, unshakable confidence in my ability to do whatever I set my mind to.  I waited another year or so for Wendy's mind to slowly change and occasionally brought up the topic of wedding rings and ceremonies and such to see what her thoughts were.  I ended up getting some pretty interesting information.

1.  Wendy does NOT like big raised gems.  Bad bad no no.  She especially does not like diamonds.

Hooray!  Big raised gems are expensive, (particularly diamonds) so this means I can avoid 'two months salary' type of rings.

2.  Wendy is not necessarily stuck on a ring in particular.

Cool.  I can look at bracelets, earrings, or maybe even further afield for some kind of marriage proposal symbol.  I liked the idea of such a symbol and the idea of a nontraditional type had appeal.

I set out on my quest and began secretly visiting jewelry stores.  Over the course of about 3 months I visited about 16 different places looking at just about everything they had to offer.  Since I didn't even know what kind of item I was looking at there was a lot to consider, but finally I found a tiny little shop that had a really nice gold bracelet done with 3 different colours of gold that I quite liked and thought Wendy would enjoy.  I haggled them down as hard as I could, bought the bracelet and took it home and hid it to await just the right time to propose.  I would have been willing to pay much more than the asking price for the bracelet, but I certainly am not going to put my haggling lessons from selling beds to waste!

I waited a week or so looking for the perfect time and place to pop the question, and then one night Wendy says, "I think I would really like a ring if we were to get engaged.  I don't think bracelets or earrings or whatever would work."  Argh!  Could you not have told me that 3 months ago, or perhaps waited until after I presented this bracelet to you and it was too late?!?  Now I have a bracelet I can't return and an order for a different item, which is not the situation I was hoping for.  So I go back to shopping, spending another 6 weeks or so scouring shops for the perfect thing.  This time at least I know exactly what I want though:  A gold ring with amethysts (purple being her favourite colour) that does not have the amethysts raised up, but rather inlaid.  This is a pretty specific and not particularly common request so it took quite a bit of shopping to find.  Find it I did though, and bought it and brought it home.

This time however, I was paranoid.  I decided to give her the ring that night to avoid her randomly changing her mind again.  I am not a big fan of shopping at the best of times, so buying a third engagement decoration would have been ... unpleasant.  Of course this particular night is not a great, romantic setting so I ended up just walking up to Wendy while she was playing video games and snapping open a ring box.  Thankfully I got the answer I wanted and everything was great.  It turns out she had been getting a 'going to propose to you soon' vibe from me for months and was getting a little upset that I hadn't gone ahead and done anything about it... twice accursed timing.

My state of mind in going ahead and getting married was perhaps different than most men.  I think a lot of people (men in particular, but we have no monopoly on this) really are concerned by the whole monogamy portion of marriage.  They wonder about finding another person that might be better, they think about sleeping with only one person for the rest of their lives.  I never had that issue.  I am really a one woman man, and the idea of infidelity to me is less about "that seems like a bad idea, what if she finds out?" and more about "it would be a deep personal failing for me to go back on my commitment."   It wouldn't make a big difference to the equation if she found out or not, because no matter what *I* would know, and that would make it unthinkable.  I have had at least one "Wow, if I wasn't committed I know where I would be spending the night" moment in the last 4 years, but although it is certainly exciting the temptation to actually go there just didn't exist.

There is more to a marriage commitment than just sexual and emotional fidelity though, and I did not truly understand the the sum of that commitment at the time, and probably still don't.  Through aging and making life decisions together with my wife I have come to a greater understanding of both the sacrifice I made in getting married and the associated benefits I reap.  The most important part of the marriage bond that I really failed to completely understand when I got married was this:

I must place the needs and desires of my spouse above the needs and desires of all other people.

Whether or not you choose to place your own desires slightly above or on the same plateau as your spouses' is a matter of preference and individual choice.   In real decision making I expect that virtually everyone places their own desires first, and just places great importance on their spouse's desires, above that of most other people.

This may seem obvious to everyone, but there is a difference between agreeing with a statement as printed (which I surely would have) and having a deep, visceral understanding of the cost involved (which I surely did not).  There are a couple recent events that brought me to a better understanding of what exactly I agreed to and how much it changes my life, in particular regarding three friends of mine.  I have said it before and will say it again, my friends are exceedingly important to me.  This is true because we speak a language that the vast majority of the populace simply does not.  It isn't just common experiences like SoJ farming, THAC0, moving during Flame Wreath or the Blake and Bung show, (Bung is the straight man!) it is also about mathematics, science and game theory.  It is a rare thing to find a person who can really understand all of the interests I have and as such I place high importance on the people who can.

The first two friends who gave me an understanding of this are The Philosopher and Hobo.  Hobo lived here in Toronto for quite some time and then moved away to the far east.  (Not actually the Far East, just far east of here)  It made me sad for many reasons.  When I play roleplaying games, Hobo is the Romeo to my Juliet, the Catelyn to my Eddard, the Lan to my Nynaeve.  He is also close enough to me in look that we can swap clothes for Hallowe'en and completely bamboozle our respective girlfriends, much to our shared enjoyment.  Hobo moved away for very good reasons, but it struck me that he had made a choice to follow family instead of stay with friends.  The Philosopher was a similar, though drastically less serious situation.  We lived near each other for quite some time and could visit back and forth easily.  Recently The Philosopher had the option to move into my very building but chose instead to go to a more distant part of Toronto.  Again, his priorities were not what I wished they were.

Of course, this is reasonable.  People don't place much importance on where I want them to live.  I really shocked me into thinking about marriage differently though.  For example, if I wanted to move to stay near Hobo, I could not.  I have made commitments that preclude doing that.  If The Philosopher did move near me, I could offer no guarantee that I would not just pack up and go somewhere else, and these restrictions are due to marriage.  If Wendy needs to go somewhere else for her work or education I need to follow her.  I cannot offer my friends guarantees because I have placed someone else above them, and setting all of those people who I value so much on a distinctly lower pedestal is the thing I didn't really understand when I married.  My friends cannot reasonably place their relationship with me in a place of extreme importance because I have already publicly declared that one relationship among all is ascendant.  I made a choice to live my life as part of a pair and in doing so excluded living any other way.  This may be the norm for our society but it isn't by any means the only way to organize and it certainly isn't the only way that I could be happy.

There is an upside, thankfully, which is of course that Wendy made the same commitment.  I really only understood this when I talked to Gnome a short while ago.  He was complaining about how his work sucked and I was jokingly telling him about how great being unemployed is and suggesting he try it.  Thing is though, this lifestyle I have of sitting at home writing on the internet is only possible through the bond of marriage.  There are exceptions, but by and large the average single person cannot choose the life I live.  Through marriage I have the choice to work on my projects, write my stories and do my mathematics while my wife earns our keep.  Wendy has chosen to honour my desire to be a creative slacker (someday my creations may make me money, but it isn't going to be soon) in a way that I would not have had access to otherwise.

These realizations are obvious.  You can't move across the country to live beside a friend when you are married.  It is possible to have one person work and support the other.  It is very different though to parse and accept them when written down and to have that real example in front of you.  Knowing that in future you will have to make sacrifices is not good preparation for actually having to make them.  I suppose when I got married I thought I understood it all and that it was clear what the rules were.  Like almost everything though, there is a learning curve and it turns out that this particular subject can take a long time to master.

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting parallel to my feelings about death. I remember reading that children usually don't acquire a concept of death until about age six, but it struck me that in reality we acquire a concept of death much later in our lives; basically when someone who was very important to us dies. Until that happens death is a laundry list of obvious things, the meaning of which really doesn't hit you, "If I call their phone, I will just get their voicemail," and so on.

    On the topic of marriage there is a certain someone who I didn't marry, and I think it was around a time that I realized it would make more sense to me to follow a large-haired friend of ours across the country to live with him than it would for me to follow that certain someone to be with her that I was sure marrying her would never be a real option. But then, I totally would have married that large-haired friend if only we had been blessed with the homosexuality that the two of us needed to be happy together.

    Unfortunately for us, however, women are just so damn hot... wow they're hot. I mean, have you seen women? I have no idea what gay guys are thinking - or straight women for that matter, I'm just glad their thinking it. On that note, maybe you never truly understand what it means to be heterosexual until...