Or, I Tried to Verbalize What This Feels Like and Christmas Was the Best Analogy I Came Up With
This is what I mean about the whole Christmas thing. When I was a young child, Christmas Eve and Christmas morning were times of deliciously excruciating anticipation. My younger sisters would come wake me up and we'd run downstairs around 4:30am to gawk at the presents, and then we'd take our stuffed stockings back upstairs, dump our loot on the bed, and start eating whatever chocolate we found inside. Occasionally we bartered.
As I have gotten older, the electric, palpable thrust of Christmastime has mellowed and deepened into something much more substantive and joyful. I now look forward to the holiday in what I think is a much more adult way: less magical, more satisfying; less charged, more restful; less overwhelmingly exciting, and more gently anticipatory. I don't think so much about how many presents are under the tree; I think much more about seeing the familiar lines in my mother's smile, and hearing my dad sing along to his ipod while he cleans up after dinner, and laughing with my sisters.
When I was younger and more stupid than I am now, marriage was a lightning-filled, sexually-defined, eschatological horizon at some far end of my adult life. It was juicy and mysterious all at once. This had the effect of making me terrified of vaginal intercourse while simultaneously keeping me fascinated enough with sexuality that I didn't have good boundaries. I had no idea what real marriage was and I was not in any way mature enough to have thought well about things like "sacrifice," "commitment," "hardship," or even "love." I was selfish and arrogant, and if I had married the girl I thought I was going to marry in college I would have made her profoundly miserable.
One month out, I now look forward to marriage with a sort of deep-seated, joyful anticipation. (This shift in perspective, you see, is how marriage is like Christmas.) As I type this, I am sitting on the couch next to my fiancee, Heather, also typing away on a laptop. I will never be man enough to fully deserve the woman that she is, but when I was younger I could not even have imagined the maturity required to desire and appreciate all that she is. I think that I can now at least approach it.
Sex, too, is obviously extremely exciting, but I now look forward to sex because it is a part of intimacy, which is a broader, more important, more fundamental category. I am now beginning to understand that sex can stifle as much as reinforce intimacy. In short, I have learned to look forward to all the quiet in-between moments of married life that are not (necessarily) as electric but are more satisfyingly real.
You Always Marry the Wrong Person
My favorite piece of marriage advice so far comes from Stanley Hauerwas. It has actually been dubbed "Hauerwas's Law":
You always marry the wrong person.
In other words, many people believe that marriage will work because they marry the right person--meaning the person they are in love with--but this presupposes a mistaken view of what marriage actually is. Marriage is meant to sustain, foster, and safeguard love, and not the other way round. Hauerwas:
"I suspect that part of the reason the church has always assumed that marriage is a reality that is prior to love is that genuine love is so capable of destruction that we need a structure to sustain us through the pain and the joy of it."
Elsewhere he says that this is why marriage vows are spoken in front of witnesses. The witnesses are meant to hold you accountable to, and help you fulfill, promises you made when you did not and could not have known what you were doing.
It is oddly comforting to me to be affirmed in my dim awareness that I am walking into something I could never possibly hope to fully understand.
And that's how I feel one month away from marriage.