At this point, Joel and I have been together longer than either of us were ever with anyone else. We have seen each other reaching for our best, and we have seen each other mired in the mud of our limitations. We have been tender, and we have yelled expletives in anger, and we have fallen silent when no words seemed to fit. I believe that people change and grow over the course of their lifetimes, but that this growth is not infinite in width; there are parameters and constraints. I feel confident that at this point, I know the shape of Joel’s parameters, and I bet if you were to ask him, he would probably say the same thing about me.
We rarely surprise each other anymore. For Joel, this is a good thing. Joel thrives on the sensation of safety. The way he put it once was, “I do best when I’m coasting.” He hates risk, and when he’s placed in situations that are chaotic and irregular – like a boisterous crowd of people at a festival, excited to see fireworks on the Fourth of July – he gets panicked, and he locks up. This can be frustrating to me, but he never tried to hide this about himself. I knew it when we dated. He didn’t try to puff himself up; there was no false advertising on the tin. Knowing this about him, I chose him, and whenever I get frustrated, in time I get over it and choose him again. Because it’s the right choice.
There have been a couple of times in the past year that I have questioned that choice more deeply, and both of those times were when I discovered he had deceived me about something intimate. I guess one thing I have learned about myself and my parameters in the second year of marriage is how much I loathe deception. Out of respect for Joel’s privacy I’m not going to get specific about what he tried to hide. Both times, I realized that the lies by omission hurt me far worse than the actual transgression. Joel understands now that the next time I catch him in a lie about this transgressive act, we will have to at the least separate for a time. It is my darkest fear that by being clear about this with him, all I have done is spur him on to be more careful in his deception. But I choose to trust. He has reassured me that he values our relationship dearly and will not risk it again.
Countering the shadow of deception is the shining sun of commitment. It’s true that I do not feel the same level of passion that I did when we were first together. The wood has been burnt; what remains are glowing embers. But I actually find this to be a relief. The level of desire that I experienced in my shorter relationships was all-consuming and ultimately exhausting. There’s stuff that I do on a regular basis now – work on my novel, make sure the bills get paid on time, etc. – that I never did when I felt the pressure to find a mate. The confidence I have in my marriage and the level of commitment I feel for Joel take a lot of stress off my mind. Now, when I watch a movie about people who are dating or who end up just starting a relationship at the end of the film, you know, typical romantic comedy fare, the thought that always runs through my mind is “Phew! Am I glad that’s over with!” And I remember the conclusions of the psychological community, which Joel told me about when we were still dating, the idea of love having three axes: passion, intimacy, commitment. He said that it’s been demonstrated that after 2 years the passion value decreases but the commitment value increases. At the time, I thought that sounded like an awful prophecy of doom and gloom, and I wondered whether there was some way to beat the system. If only I could go back in time to that day, and reassure myself that, at least in my case, the commitment value has gone up more than the passion value has gone down… so the total area of love has definitely increased. There was nothing to fear, and I like it better this way. To use a Buddhist metaphor, the years of my life before finding this peace were like time spent wandering around in a dark cave in which I found something that I thought was a stick to lean on and to tap against rocks. But when the cave opened up and the sun of commitment shone down, I discovered that what I thought was a stick was actually a poisonous snake. Thankfully, the passion snake has slithered back into the cave without any more bites. If I could warn fellow sojourners without going back into the cave myself, I would; but the goal of my pilgrimage lies ahead. Under the sunlight, I see a mountain, its top wreathed in clouds. The quest for Spiderbee beckons.