Anniversary celebrations, particularly at this stage of the game, traditionally include a “renewal of vows” –but if you’ve been following this blog, you already know that I don’t believe in them; which raises the question–What do I believe in?
Dissing vows or admitting that I don’t put much stock in: “till death do us part,” probably doesn’t give a full enough picture of how important this relationship is to me–nor does it reveal how hard I work to protect it. As a lifelong educator, the least I could do is to offer whatever wisdom I’ve gleaned from a relationship that’s been allowed to thrive for 25 years.
I touched on this with a fellow American, as we walked through the streets of Santiago last month. Noah talked about open relationships–and swapping, and I talked about fidelity.
“It’s not that I think that there is something inherently wrong with the way you see it,” I say, to my young American friend. In fact, I appreciate the transparency of Noah’s generation. “Back in my day, we just cheated on each other, while pretending that we were ready for commitment.”
“When you have kids, the cost is greater,” I explain, referencing friends whose marriages fell apart after swapping; or whose relationship survived, but suffered root-deep damage.
A sobering silence follows. Noah and I both share the history of a “broken” family.
We pause at a playground on the hillside of Saint Lucia. I explain to Noah that Casey and I don’t stay together for the kids, but that we are extra careful because of them. He climbs atop an intricate metal structure, as I talk about the preciousness and weight of parental responsibility–while considering that this playground would be an insurance nightmare in the States.
Noah motions to me to join him on a long, wooden seesaw.
“That doesn’t mean our world revolves around the kids or that we don’t take risks,” I tell him, as he raises me precariously into the air. “Casey and I are committed to having lives that are alive,” I say, “He took off for a month last summer to study yoga, and I did something similar a few years before that.”
It was after the birth of our second son that Casey and I realized that we were both holding back in some subconscious attempt to maintain the stability of “equal deprivation.” We decided then and there that we wouldn’t survive this way–so we gave each other permission to act on behalf of our selves–even if left the “other” behind for a bit. There was a great deal of vulnerability in that decision, but ultimately it brought new life to the relationship.
When you spend an entire day with a man you hardly know, these are the kind of conversations you have as you walk along the river in a foreign city past lovers lying in the grass.
The topic returns to sex.
“One surprise is that it keeps getting better,” I say. The same is true for another friend of mine from school who has been married longer than me, and who was just as much a “player” as I was back in the day.
“There’s a gift that comes from commitment, from fidelity, that draws lovemaking from an even deeper source,” I tell Noah. “It’s not something than can be artificially stimulated by the titillating experience of swapping–or by pornography.”
I launch into my organic sex soapbox; and Noah politely listens. College students “living life” suffer enough lectures from middle-aged professors “about” life, without having to endure another from a friend of their mother’s; but I’m on a roll…
It’s really hard to capture how loosely and how carefully Casey and I hold this gift of our relationship. We certainly don’t pretend we aren’t attracted to others. We’ve always known that each of us is susceptible to falling in love–or lust–with someone else. We’re pretty honest about the close calls. We’re in this together, and we remind each other of that.
After 25 years, I think Casey would be really happy with a long-legged brunette with silky hair who rides horses and has a barn and who challenges him–on the outside.
Instead, he’s got this curvy, curly-haired petite woman who regularly has him traversing the inner landscape of just about everything, whether he wants to or not.
Today, it’s Noah who’s traversing, and he redirects the strength of current with a “Terre Mote,” a famous Chilean drink, appropriately named, “Earthquake.” A third of the way down, Noah’s voice gets louder, and mine softens into the sweet memory of the youthful abandon I see everywhere around me in this outdoor bar. By the time night falls in Santiago, and Noah and I return to Nunoa to eat Egyptian food with our hands. I am too tired to talk, and my thoughts turn inward.
The love my husband and I share is so strong that it increasingly has us placing each other’s happiness above our own comfort–even 5,000 miles away, when I’m sleeping in another man’s apartment–a Chilean colleague who I described via email to my husband as “gorgeous.” Granted “Pablo” is away for the weekend, which is why he lent me his place, but that doesn’t stop Casey from slipping into a well of self-doubt on the opposite continent. Casey didn’t realy his angst, however, because he appreciated how VITAL it was for me to find myself “free” in the world again.
When I return home to the States two weeks later, I laugh when he shares what he put himself through, and then exhale, as he wraps his arms around me and reclaims me as his own.
There was a time when I would have loved to have “collected” another experience–a swarthy Chilean man, for example; but that fleeting pleasure has become “too” sweet for my taste, which has grown much finer.
Kelly Salasin, May 19, 2011
On my 21st Wedding Anniversary