Love, Marriage, and Character Development
I honestly think that the above may be the most profound love song ever written.
Some time back, a girl with green eyes and I debated the merits of God and the belief in a single, completing person out there for us. I believed in the former and she did not, while she believed in the latter while I did not. The debates felt like we were going around in circles. I would be over here, and then she would be over here, then I would be over there and then she would, depending on what we were talking about.
What she didn’t understand was how love could be real if it was actually replaceable? If there are hundreds that you could successfully partner with, were any of the partnerships really successful? Or were they just tolerable. I didn’t have great answers at the time. It was just something that was. I wasn’t looking for a prosaic partner. I was looking for a life partner. A soulmate, in a way, but a soulmate chosen and cultivated rather than one ordained by the God I believed in and she did not.
Minchin focuses on the shared experiences of love, which is a perspective that I agree with a great deal. A life with a Portuguese skier who brews her own beer is entirely theoretical. And while he can come up with a million other possibilities, in joke form or in earnest, it is his wife who he married, had a child with, and so on. It’s not inertia that keeps people together (when they stay together) but a bond that really does grow over time. The thought of dropping everything to start over with someone else seems… silly.
The larger element, however, is not about the person who made the decision to get married at all. It’s about who that person becomes.
I didn’t marry the girl with the green eyes. I married the girl with the brown ones. Without getting into too many of the details, there was a choice involved. There was a moment, and a crossroads. I knew at the time that I would be stuck with a ghost in my mind imagining how things would be going on the other road. A lifemap that the girl with the green eyes herself had me draw out, once upon a time.
As things moved along, though, the conflict in my mind faded. It faded because of time and because of distance, but also because of something else: With each passing year, I was growing into somebody different from who I was at that crossroads. As my life changed, I changed. My wife was a big part of that change because I had to step up in some places and back off in others. I had to learn to control my temper and I had to learn to be the easygoing one without sacrificing my own wants and desires. She, too, had to make changes and had to learn things about herself that she wouldn’t have if I weren’t in her life. Her priorities had to start becoming mine, and mine had to start becoming hers.
The question I wish I had been asking myself – or asking myself more directly – is whether or not I liked the person that she brought out in me and whether or not I wanted to be that person. Had I done that, the answer would have been obvious. The girl with the brown eyes inspires in me a greater degree of honesty, integrity, and patience. The girl with the green eyes fed in to my temper, insecurities, and overall anxiety. It’s not fair to mention the positives on one side and the negatives on the other as neither are the sum of how they influenced me, but they are indicative of what would have lead me to the right conclusion. I made the right choice anyway, of course, but not exactly for the right reasons.
At Leaguefest in 2012, the group of us sat in a hotel-casino and chatted. It took me a few minutes to realize something: A few years earlier, the girl with the green eyes was married in that very building. The idea of getting married in Las Vegas was never something that had great appeal to me, though had things turned out differently I could see myself coming around to it. There are a lot of things I would be doing on that other road that I haven’t done on this one. It no longer matters whether or not I would be happy on that road or not, as the guy on that road wouldn’t be me. It is cliche to say that when you love someone, and are with them long enough, that they become a part of you. But on a fundamental level, it’s true because “me” is a construct influenced by the girl with the brown eyes more with each passing day.
She isn’t unique in this regard. There was a time when the girl with the green eyes was playing a role in my formation. The girl with the hazel eyes before that. They came and went, however, while my marriage to my wife is – I hope – indefinite. While the person I would be had I chose differently is a nice-enough bloke, full of intensity, passion, and moral certitude, and though we otherwise would have a remarkable number of things in common, I have a life and self that I look forward to.