The two scrapbooks stacked on my dining room table don’t belong to me. I need to return them to their owner, but I’m not sure if she’ll want them. I know I need to contact her and ask her. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.
It’s a bit complicated.
Twenty-one years ago, when I was almost half the age I am now, I was anticipating the Wedding of the Decade.
My two best friends from college, let’s call them Chuck and Elisabeth, had gotten engaged just before we graduated, a year earlier. They were the golden couple, they were meant to be, they were MFEO. (You know, “made for each other,” a la Sleepless in Seattle? OK, so that movie hadn’t even come out yet. It still applies.)
Their July wedding was a celebration to end all celebrations. The ceremony itself was more worship service than spectacle, and there was much language, from the bride and groom themselves, about the covenant they were making, and our responsibility as their friends and family to participate with them in that covenant. We were invited—no, charged—to hold them up in prayer, to hold them accountable to the vows they were making, to each other and before God. It wasn’t just about them. It was about the community surrounding them.
Today, Chuck and Elisabeth are still married. To different people.
I cried when my best friends married each other. I sobbed when they divorced. During the year or two of separation that preceded the legal split, I stood by the one who didn’t want the divorce, and I challenged and argued with the one who did.
I remembered the words engraved on the gifts they gave to their wedding party: “accountable for what I have seen and heard.”
Let me pause here for a bit of disclosure: I am not married, nor have I ever been. This used to be a source of great sorrow in my life. Today, it’s just a fact, and I’m mostly fine with it. I’m 43 years old, and I like my life. Sure, I have become Middle-Aged Woman who Lives with her Cat, but can I be candid? I love my house and my cat and my friends, my family, my work and my solitude. It’s all good.
Why this contentment?
Part of it’s temperamental, I’m sure. I’m an introvert by nature, and I’m not 22 anymore.
But a big part of why I’m mostly OK with my singleness is the cumulative effect of having bought the bridesmaid dresses, cross-stitched the wedding samplers, held the babies, then watched the pain.
A wife realizes she isn’t who she was when she first got married—and she can’t be who she’s becoming if she stays married to this person.
A husband needs more from a sexual partner than his wife could or would offer, so he goes somewhere else to find it. While his wife is carrying their child.
Or the things that seemed negotiable when the marriage proposal was first laid on the table—“she says she doesn’t want children—I can make her change her mind in time”—turns out to actually be deal-breaker when she won’t change her mind.
You may have figured out that Chuck and Elisabeth aren’t the only of my friends to choose divorce after marriage. Of the nine weddings in which I have participated, as a bridesmaid or a Scripture reader or both—weddings where both the bride and groom were getting married for the first time—only three couples are still together.
I don’t like to say I’m hardened to the reality of divorce, because I don’t think I am. But I am less romantic about the nature of marriage and more in awe of those who make it work over the long haul.
Chuck and Elisabeth divorced after 11 years of marriage. They did not have children. They both do now, but with different spouses.
Which brings me back to the scrapbooks on my dining room table.
They belong to Elisabeth, but they have been mixed in with Chuck’s things for the last decade or so, and as Chuck has moved several times, so have the boxes where the photo albums were stored.
Chuck and I have remained close, both in our friendship and in geographical proximity. I have also stayed in touch with Elisabeth, although that took more effort—both because of geography and because she is the one who initiated the separation. But we have stayed connected, and our friendship has healed considerably. There’s much more to that story, which I’ll save for another time.
Chuck and Elisabeth have both moved on, and without children to tie them to each other, they find it easier to just not be in contact. Partly because it’s painful for them, and partly because their current spouses are a bit threatened by the ghosts of the first spouses.
Which is why, I suspect, Chuck asked me if I’d take care of returning the scrapbooks to Elisabeth. Chuck and I met for lunch about a week ago, and he delivered the books to me. Until last night, they remained in the trunk of my car.
Last night, I brought them inside and looked through them. One was full of memorabilia—newspaper clippings, shower invitations, wedding programs, and photos from that summer 21 years ago. The other predated the wedding album, full of photos from college, and a few from high school and earlier.
I wonder if Elisabeth remembers that they exist. I wonder how painful it might be for her to peruse them again.
Did I mention it’s complicated?