Weddings and marriages are both projects but probably not something we should compare.

I have a friend who’s in the God business (he’s a pastor) and at every wedding he tells the bride and groom to take a moment and look closely, really closely at their soon-to-be-official spouse. Take a good long look, he says, because that person will never look as good as they do today. This always gets a laugh.

The people who aren’t married laugh most likely because they think he’s making fun of all the effort and preparation to make this event, the wedding, as beautiful as possible including their appearance. The people who are married laugh because they know it’s true. They know what’s ahead for the couple. They know there will be days, oh there will be days, when you’d like to just pick up a big rock and sneak up behind them and…. Sorry, too graphic for you?

The fact of the matter is that for many of us we see the wedding day as the pinnacle of our relationships. We see the beginning of the official “us” as the high point of our marriage. And when things get tough later on down the line we wonder “What in the hell happened?” We wonder how that person who looked so good to us back then looks like the biggest mistake of our lives.

I had an old married guy tell me once “I left a thousand times in my mind.” He’s still married and a lot of us do stick things out and things do get better. There are seasons of every marriage where we get back or at least closer to the bliss we felt on our wedding day. For some of us these seasons come mostly by chance. They come because we’re on the same page with respect to our careers, our families, our kids (if we’ve had them) and a raft of other potential attachment points. These points, if they don’t line up for a long period of time, can also be the reasons we cite if we end this whole thing. They’re what we mention when people ask us “What went wrong?” The thing is those people (and us probably) are looking at our now ended relationship and saying “But we (you) were so happy?” and we might just have the whole thing wrong.

I think for a lot of us we set our wedding day up as a standard. What I mean is that it becomes the point on our measuring stick that we always aspire to. It’s what we measure all the things that happen later against. We eyeball them next to it and decide how close they come to the happiness we felt on that day. Everything that comes later winds up getting graded or assigned a percentage of our feelings that day. I don’t think that’s particularly fair as a measuring tool for the rest of our lives with that person. In fact it sounds a little ludicrous.

Why would we use this contrived event that so many people poured time and effort and money into in order to create “the perfect wedding” as a benchmark? Why would we try and make our everyday, normal lives measure up to this event, arguably the most special event of our lives? No, the wedding is a one-time (hopefully) event that has about as much to do with the rest of our lives as a fish has to do with a bicycle. Like that fish with his bicycle, maybe we need to view our coming marriage as something we know almost nothing about (except what we’ve seen on movies or television like that’s reality). Maybe we need to look at our wedding in a completely different way.

Maybe we have this whole marriage thing backwards. Maybe we start out with something that isn’t perfect like we think it is and then we move on to something that is perfect (or at least closer). Maybe after many, many years of hard work we’re actually able to create something like our wedding. Maybe rather than those times of bliss being a product of chance or luck, they’re the result of effort. Like our wedding they are the product of a lot of time and planning and effort and sometimes money. Unlike our wedding our marriage isn’t a single event frozen in time on some video, in “the cloud” or on YouTube though. It’s an experience that goes on and on for us with ebbs and flows. There will be progress and digression. There will be success and failure. There will be moments when our spouse looks better than we’ve ever thought they could look and times when we’re eyeing that rock. I’m convinced the key is our continued attempts to make that wedding euphoria a beginning rather than a destination.

As for the people that don’t move on and make it better? Well, sometimes they’re the ones who divorce. Now please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the responsibility for the end of this thing always lies equally on the shoulders of both parties. We’re all fallible; we’re all broken to varying degrees. Heck I’ve got more cracks and fissures in me than you can count. There’s so many of them I’ve stopped trying to spackle them over. There are things that exist in people that make them unfit (at the time) to be married. Not that they can’t heal up (I’m a big believer that with help anyone can be cured) but at certain moments in time we’re probably all not spouse material. It’s in those times that our mate, our partner in this whole thing has to lift more than their fair share. If they soldier on they’ll have to view us not so much as having fallen far down from how we looked to them on our wedding day but more (like our marriage) as a work in progress. Because we all understand how projects go in other areas of our lives. We all understand learning curves.

We understand all too well the “one step forward, two steps back” dance. Even those like me that have no rhythm get this. This is where it really counts that we see each other as not less-than-perfect as my pastor friend jokes but as the beginning, raw materials for a mate. We’re building something here, not from the top down but from the bottom up because if we start from the top we have nothing to support it and as William Butler Yeats wrote, “the centre cannot hold.” (This is from his poem “The Second Coming.” Read it if you’d like a cheery pick-me-up)

Weddings, far from being the high water mark of our relationships, are only the beginning. Marriages, a little like weddings, don’t just happen. They’re not easy but they’re worth it. So I urge you; pick up your tools, go to work and start building.

So what do you think? Am I all wet here? Have a sullied the image of a wedding or painted marriage as more work than I should have? I’d appreciate your feedback if you’re willing.

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