As Long As We Both Shall Live

Earlier this week, a bit of a discussion broke out in the comments about wedding vows. A reader said:

Has anyone else wondered whether the statistics on divorce mean that it simply doesn’t make sense to use the bloodcurdling bits of marriage vows, like ’til death do us part’ or ‘as long as we both shall live’? If one only has a 60% chance of making it,* it seems almost like perjuring yourself from the beginning.

And let’s just say it’s been the kind of week that has made me think about this comment. A lot.

Now, I’m not very traditional on most things wedding related, but I am traditional on a few. I’ll encourage you to take a honeymoon of some sort right after the wedding (you’ll need it!), try to get laid on your wedding night (you deserve it!), and not get married until you are 110% sure that you want to stay with this person till the day you die. Now, that doesn’t mean that I think divorce should never be an option; as my Rabbi pointed out in our pre-marital counseling, “Sometimes divorce is a mitzvah.” But I think that if you’re not sure that this is the person you want to grow old with – well, you should slow down until you are sure. Which is part of the reason that I have so much respect for women who called off their weddings, and were brave enough to tell the tale.

To me, the part of the wedding where you promise to stay with this person until you die – that is the most beautiful part. It’s not shiny and fun, and no matter how many rose petals you dump on it, it’s not pretty. But it is beautiful, in a gut wrenching and real kind of way. It’s why I think so many of us end up feeling wrecked and overwhelmed as we walk back down the asile. It’s why the wedding ceremony is so damn huge.

Which brings me back to this week. This week friends of ours had a baby. This week, I talked to a bunch of other friends about pregnancy, new motherhood, and conception – about being wives and women and mothers – the big stuff. This week, I found out the husband of a friend was battling Leukemia. No, let me correct that, the husband of a smart, wise, strong, funny, amazing friend was battling Leukemia. Which makes you want to throw things at walls and scream. Or pray. Or both, alternating. They are young, they have been married only a few years, and now this? F*CK.

And all that reminded me of what all of this is about. It’s about promising to be each others family. It’s about being there through all the births, the infertility, the parenthood. Being there through all the illnesses, the hospitalisations, the tests, the fear, and the pain. It’s about being there until we die. It’s about putting each other into the ground.

It’s that simple and it’s that difficult, and it’s that huge. This week reminded me of that, hard and fast. It reminded me that it’s not all pretty and happy, that it’s much more than that. And that’s the whole point.

*As Sarah noted, this statstic isn’t really accurate, “The divorce rate isn’t 60%, it’s closer to 40-50 percent for the general population, but even this statistic is not particularly accurate. The book, “For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage,” by Tara Parker-Pope, examines the statistic and really breaks it down. You might want to check it out (or at least the first chapter, which gives a good overview).”

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  • The posts here are always great, but this week especially has been reaching out to me. It’s a good wake up call and a nice kick in the pants since the last couple of weeks have been shitastic.

    I’ve been thinking more and more about the whole “til death do us part” thing. And those words hold more meaning to me now than ever. My fiance and I watched his grandmother pass away and we watched his parents mourn. I did my best to be supportive and respectful, but ultimately I’m not yet part of their family. So as an outsider and I had to watch my fiance and his family go through this. That’s when it hit me- this is what I was signing up for. It scared me a little- watching your husband, children and mother go through something like that is not easy. But I know that it’s all worth it because I love the person I’m going to marry and although I’m not necessarily ready for death and sickness and babies, I know that it will be less scary going through it with him.

  • Carbon Girl

    I love how this relates back to the last post on readings and the Craig Arnold poem, which I love and wish we had used. It is in this “til death do we part” bit that marriage becomes about death. It becomes about facing the worst with each other whatever that may be. Marriage is not all wonderful stuff like vacations and cooking together–if it were, we may not have to get married in the first place. Perhaps, we get married so we know we have someone to back us up during the difficult stuff–the deaths, the unemployments, the taking care of young kids. It easy to stand by someone during the good times, it is the promising to stand by someone in the bad times that really makes the vows and the ceremony meaningful and so emotionally intense.

    • CarMar

      I had to do more than hit the exactly button on this one! Carbon Girl, you summed it up perfectly.

    • Morgan

      I knew we were ready to be married after we got through 8 months of unemployment and the death of my father. I knew that after we got through all, we would be okay.

    • Aine

      This reminds me of a bit in Committed (its kind of a sequel to Eat, Pray, Love) where the author talks about her grandfather digging the hole for his wife’s ashes- someday, one of you will have to wield the shovel for the other one.

  • CarMar

    My husband’s favorite (and only) aunt has been battling pancreatic cancer for the last 2 years, and a week before our wedding we heard the news that they had decided to stop her treatment and consider hospice options. His aunt and uncle just celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary. The trials they have gone through these past two years, and the impending heartbreak of the reality of “’til death do us part” they are facing really made an impression on us in the week before the wedding of the seriousness of our vows. Talk about perspective!

    • j

      Carmar – as granddaughter & niece of family who have gone through hospice – a soon-to-be daughter in law of a hospice nurse & a hospice volunteer – as hard as that decision is to come to, hospice care is a beautiful process. Your family will get the opportunity to not have to stress about care taking and focus on quality of life and quality time. I got to see my grandparents (married 64 years) be together in my grandfather’s final weeks in a way not possible without hospice care. Talk about witnessing true love and the BIG meaning of from death till us part.

      • Anna

        Hospice care allowed my mom to die peacefully at home five years ago after fighting ovarian cancer for three years. All the nurses we met were amazing people who weren’t afraid to look at death–as so many people are. I learned through watching them (and my amazing mom) that death can be graceful and dignified. Being there for my dad throughout my mom’s sickness and after, I learned too about the importance of the grittier vows. I love the Craig Arnold poem, and think it speaks beautifully to the duration of marriage. My dad remarried two years ago and is now moving through another life journey with my wonderful stepmom.

        I look forward to being married to my boyfriend someday soon and having that read at our wedding. I know my experience of being a bride will be impacted in a big (make that humongous) way by the loss of my mom–and I’m learning a bit about what that will be like by reading APW. Thank you, Meg, for being unafraid of the inclusion of death in your lovely blog. The wedding graduate stories you’ve posted about loss and heartache (along with the joyful ones) have helped me look at the journey ahead of me and feel more ready for it.

  • In the moment it is so easy to forget that big things will happen to change life (when you’re worrying about school deadlines, and weekend plans) and that sometimes the big things happen outside of your two-person unit.

    Thanks for the reminder! Thanks for everything you think and write about!

  • “It’s about promising to be each others family.” This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot as we approach the last week before the wedding. The traditional vows are exactly what I want to say because David is becoming my family, not my boyfriend or my friend. I love him like I love my brother and my mother and my sisters (and I love him in a whole lot of other ways too but ya know) and my mother will always be my mother, my sister will always be my sister, no matter what kind of nutcase she is, so too David will always be my husband. That’s how family works.

    • Hannah, I LOVE this. For me, using the word “family” to describe the man I am committing myself to (in less than 4 weeks!) makes it all the more powerful, and strangely, less frightening.

      My fiance and I have already come up with a sort of protocol for handling marital infidelity if it were ever to happen. We’ve also talked (to a much lesser extent) about how we *think* we’d respond and want to be treated if we were seriously ill or in the caretaker role. And we talk about what it would be like if I died first, or he died first, or how it would be if one of us died and we had kids, or what to do if we separated — who would get our 2 cats? Lots of scary and sometimes morbid talk. But I guess it’s all part of being a family.

  • Jessie

    This is the most true and beautiful post I’ve read on marriage. I’m crying at my desk right now. My fiance and I have already been through a lot in the two years we’ve been together, and we know that there will be more struggles on the horizon. But, as I plan to say in my vows, empathy is a miracle, and I will work as hard as I have to to keep that miracle alive.

  • liz

    i was impatiently waiting for this post when i read that comment. however, i think it may be being misread to an extent- by saying we “only have a 60% chance of making it” she is, in fact, insinuating that there’s a 40% chance of divorce. (shutting off my teacher-brain now)

    we “til death do us part” ed. very happily, and contemplatively. it’s a simultaneously scary and inspiring idea- a personal weight and responsibility, but also freeing that there’s someone who is willing to take on that weight for you in return.

    and that’s why we’re marrying one another. because, even if you’re not married, shit hits the fan. i’m so lucky to have someone who will be there to help during those times, and who promises to do so for as long as he possibly can.

    • Carreg

      Er, yeah, that’s what I meant. It wasn’t an insinuation, it was just me being a bit vague! Don’t turn off your teacher brain — I think I need someone to scribble ‘write more clearly’ in the margin for me. :-)

      Anyway, as Sarah and others pointed out, if 40% of people who get married get divorced, then that doesn’t mean that any given married individual has a 40% chance of getting divorced, because there are so many difference factors. I know how statistics work, honest…

  • Wow….yet another amazingly thought provoking post Meg – they just keep on coming at the moment.

    I agree with your Rabbi meg. I feel that divorce is an option only when you’ve exhausted every other route. But sometimes it is the right thing to do. And sometimes it’s even a good thing to do. My man has been divorced, and if he and his ex wife hadn’t had the courage to say ‘hey, we’ve tried everything, and this still isn’t working’ he and I wouldn’t be about to start our own baby family, and they would both still be unhappy.

    Because this is how I see the vows. They are the MOST important point of the day. And when I make them, I intend to keep them. For richer for poorer, for better or worse, I will do everything in my power to do the right thing by my husband. And I hope with every single part of my being that that means being together forever, growing old togehter, and going through the really bad bits together. But I also have divorced parents. So I know that sometimes, the best thing you can do for the other person and your baby family, is to let the other go. I don’t believe that my parents broke their vows when they divorced. They still care for one another, and still have love for one another. But they both knew, that for the other person, life would be better if they weren’t together any more. In my eyes, that’s keeping their vows because they are still putting the other one above everything else. If they stayed together even though they were making one another unhappy, just because they’d made that vow all those years ago, I don’t think that they’d be doing the right thing, either for themselves, or me as their child.

    • ElfPuddle

      It’s because of divorce that I get to be with my man, too.

      That doesn’t mean I like the way some people throw away the families they’ve made, but I do see how it is a good thing to end a bad thing. (I hope that’s clear.)

      As I’ve told the fiance many times, I don’t like the way she treated her husband or their kids, but I’m glad she divorced him…because now I can treat them the way they deserve to be treated…forever.

    • AussieAndy

      Fliss I cannot thank you enough for your perspective. My family comes from a small (very Catholic) island where divorce is still very much taboo, so I’m still working on sorting out my thinking on this and realising that divorce in many circumstances is absolutely the right thing to do.

      I love what you had to say about honouring your vows by doing absolutely everything in your power to make your marriage work but it also being part of your vows to have the strength, love and respect for your partner to walk away if that’s what would make them happier. Incredible stuff Fliss – been thinking about it all day!

  • Erin

    “[It’s] Being there through all the illnesses, the hospitalisations, the tests, the fear, and the pain. It’s about being there until we die. It’s about putting each other into the ground.”

    Where would we all be if we couldn’t hold out hope that someone beloved will walk with us through these life moments?

    Wow. A heavy reminder of how lucky I am. I’m so glad I found him.

  • What a beautiful and true thing to read this morning. I wish I could exactly this whole post.

    This reminds me of one of my favorite songs by Iron & Wine, Naked as We Came, which contains the line “One of us will die inside these arms”. It seemed a little morbid for a first dance, but at the same time, so exactly what I hope marriage will be. Long and loving and wonderful until the very end of one of our lives.

    • Oooh, I love Iron and Wine, but I just have the Shepherds Dog album, so I hadn’t heard that song. Just listened to it, so lovely.

    • Mollie

      For our wedding gift to each other, we decided to write letters. With the idea that they will be meaningful on our wedding day, but become even more meaningful down the line. During a particularly rough spot in our marriage, a milestone anniversary, or for our kids to find (or be shown) and see just how much their parents loved each other on their wedding day.

      I drafted my letter the other night, and found myself talking much more about the “til death” aspect– the solemnity of the vows– than anything else. Sure, “I love you because you make me laugh, we have so much fun together…” all of that is true… but not what I want to say. Not the words that I want to come back to over and over again.

      It is that I am choosing him, I am choosing to make these vows, and it is the most serious undertaking of my life. I am committed to our life together (and gee, wouldn’t it be great if it were a happy one, ps you’re awesome).

      • Darcy

        We also did letters to each other and then put them in a box a cousin made along with a bottle of wine. It’s our “incase of emergency” box where we will drink the wine and read the letters if we ever need to be reminded of why we said our vows.

      • This is such a fabulous idea, I may just have to borrow it :p

      • That’s a great idea. My fiance and I are planning on making manuals for each other – what to do if one of us “breaks” and a translation guide, among other things. The idea is for me to write his and him to write mine (then for us to edit our own) to get a better understanding of each other and ourselves.

  • liz

    i think, also, that it’s important to note that the majority of the wise ladies who have commented about divorce recently, seem to feel that their marriages were almost doomed from the start- a poor match, bad choice, whatever.

    other than this, i think there is a gradual-falling-apart kind of divorce that creeps in and poisons a good marriage.

    the first, you need to make sure you are not before getting married. the second, i hope to work against with clear and concerted efforts to maintain a healthy, loving relationship.

    so yes. i feel confident saying, “til death.”

    • Really, really excellent point. One is sort of there already, and as was said earlier this week or last “you can’t bring back what was never there.” But the other, you can guard against. I love that you are vigilant!

    • You were waiting for me to comment, weren’t you, Liz?! Here goes.

      I am one of the divorced women who commented extensively on that last post. Let me be very clear, I believe in Til Death Do Us Part. I believe in it with every fiber of my being, and I believe that my fiance and I have that. My first marriage had the outward appearance of that commitment, but the relationship was not right from the start. I knew that it wasn’t right. I was not 110% certain that this was the person I wanted to spend my entire life with, and I was too young and too scared to be brave enough to call off the wedding. Once I was in the marriage, I was committed — fully committed. But I was unhappy, and my unhappiness wore at me; it wore at my ex, who was also unhappy (even if he doesn’t want to admit it). Ultimately, when something is not right from the start, the unhappiness sows seeds of doubt until there comes a breaking point. I can tell you that in the last three years of my life, there were several breaking points that culminated in one grand finale. Think of it like the Fourth of July (Independence Day seems like such an apt metaphor): you start with the little things — poppers, flares, sparklers. These are little things. Things you think you can handle, but when you go outside the next morning, you can still see where they scorched the sidewalk. Then the first real bang occurs. It startles you out of your comfort zone and makes you pay attention. There are a series of bangs that keep your attention focused. This isn’t right, you think. People who care for one another don’t treat each other this way. This isn’t right. This one is just like the last; we’re going in circles. Every now and again, there is a dud that makes you think you were making too much out of the other bangs. But the bangs keep coming. And then, suddenly, the Grand Finale hits, and you know what you have to do. You understand that no matter how much you believe in keeping your promises; no matter how much you believe in Til Death Do Us Part, if you don’t leave, it will be the death of you — this death can be physical or it can be emotional/metaphorical. You choose to do the most painful thing you will ever do in your lifetime. You sever the relationship. You mourn what is, really, a death. A death of a dream, of a relationship, of a friendship, of promises kept and a lifetime that will never be. And then you work hard to forgive yourself for walking away from solemn promises and a person who still feels like family, even if doesn’t feel like a partner, and you try to forgive your former partner, too. If you have children, you will discover that even if you are not married anymore, you are still family.

      I find the marriage statistics fascinating because of the lies and half-truths they tell. I do not find them to be a predictor of whether a divorce will occur with any particular couple. Statistics are easily manipulated. By outward appearances, my first marriage should have lasted: we were from approximately the same socio-economic background (although his parents were more upper middle class to my middle class parents, both sets were well educated). Our families of origin were very similar in make-up: parents still married, two boys and a girl. Our belief systems were fairly traditional and similar. We shared interests, a strong circle of friends, political views and sense of humor.

      But. But. But. I will probably say this a lot here. You can’t judge a marriage you’re not living. You just can’t. What may seem to an outsider as a sudden onset of selfishness or crazy was probably building from the very beginning for the person who called it quits. It is always harder on the person left behind because they probably weren’t in the same mental place as the person who left. But if someone left — there was a reason. If someone cheated — there was a reason. A marriage that was right in the beginning, where the commitment was between two compatible people, can weather the storms. The real question is — in the face of hardship and tragedy, do you turn to one another or do you turn to blame?

      The basic statistics of our marriage — the items that can be ticked off a list and that were evident to those who met us — did not tell my story. They didn’t tell the story of how I married a boy who I cared for, but did not feel passionately about. More importantly, they didn’t tell the story about living with someone with whom I was not compatible and with whom I knew (and by that I mean that I had my suspicions and some serious doubts but convinced myself it was just cold feet instead of slowing down to give myself time to think about what we were doing and whether we should be doing it) I was not marriage-compatible from the get-go.

      The statistics are interesting in the way driving past a car accident is interesting. But they also tell you nothing at all about the long-term success of any one marriage.

      • liz

        definitely agree with all that you say.

        how can we look into the private lives of others and determine what caused what? impossible.

        but i was speaking for my marriage. and for my marriage, i’m firm in the belief that i will fight so that the pops and sparks don’t turn into bangs.

        • I think you’ll be just fine in part because you married for the right reasons. In my case, I think we were always a bit doomed from the beginning. We held on, and tried really hard, until I couldn’t hold on anymore. This is exactly what Meg is talking about — don’t get married if you’re not 110% sure that this is what you want for the rest of your life. I wasn’t, which was my mistake.

          But mistakes happen, and I don’t think it is wise to ostracize people who do choose to get divorced because they couldn’t make Til Death Do Us Part work. I would rather be divorced and peaceful than still married and insanely unhappy and lonely.

          Divorce is rarely decided on a whim. It is, like marriage, not something entered into lightly. Getting divorced is like exploding a bomb into the middle of your existence. Nobody wants to live in a war zone; nobody wants to go through the years of shell-shock needed to pick up the pieces. But sometimes it is the better, healthier, and yes, more loving, choice — promise or no.

          • liz


            as i stated below, divorce is by no means what i would consider “failure.”

  • fleda

    Yup. Both my husband and I have divorced parents, and we both have a very keen appreciation for how hard marriage can be. It was particularly important to us to retain “as long as you both shall live” in the vows (even as we excised all the God).

    The way it felt to me was this: if we’re not going to promise that (and try our darndest to achieve it), then what’s the point? I have friends who have cut those words, and I respect their choice, of course, but I think my own experience of my parents divorcing made me kind of a radical on this issue. I’m kind of a reactionary conservative about it.

    We got married earlier this month, and one of the greatest pleasures so far has been thinking about and talking about old age together. It’s also been sort of terrifying to get this weird proximity to my own death (I’ve never had to make a promise about the circumstances of my own death before!) and terrifying to think about losing him to death–which my vows mean I’ve now promised to do. Weird and good and, indeed, huge.

  • I purposefully didn’t include “till death do us part” or “as long as we both shall live” in my vows not because I was afraid of the hard times or afraid of building a family. I wanted to stay true to my vows even if that meant divorcing 20 years down the line. I didn’t want to have circumstances dictate that the best possible choice for my spouse and I was divorce and then feel like a failure for breaking my vows. They still had a lot of meaning and were chosen carefully, but realistically (not pessimistically).

    Why must marriage end in death for it to be considered a success? My parents divorced after 26 years of marriage, something they probably didn’t see coming at their 24th or even 25th anniversary. It was, by and large, a good marriage, but a marriage that needed to end for the both of them. I’m sure the burden of “till death do us part” weighed down on them, consciously or unconsciously, as they separated and divorced.

    And so, out of respect for the vast unpredictable and unwritten future, I didn’t vow to stay with my spouse until death do us part. If a time does come, I don’t want “till death do us part” to be one more thing making me or us feel guilty or like failures.

    • liz

      i think when we question the success of a marriage, we are actually questioning it’s purpose. to me, the purpose of marrying someone is choosing someone with whom i will love the rest of my life. so yes, a successful marriage to me is being with and loving them until they die. i think that loving part is key, though- (hoping not to start a debate on the semantics of the word “love” again- perhaps i mean “healthy” in this instance?). some marriages stick together until death, and are not successful.

      however, i do not think it’s a success versus failure idea. it’s a… black to gray to white continuum, perhaps. while being in a loving relationship with someone until death is my standard of success, divorce is by no means my standard of failure.

      • I think this is it. It is a gray scale, and there are many people in the middle, and many on either end, and at no point does it become wrong, or right. We’re all right in how we are approaching our own marriages, because what we choose to do is right for us.

        And to me that means signing up til death do us part. Because all I want in the world is to spend my life with this wonderful man. Right now. But if one day, just by being me, I am making him so unhappy that he’d rather not be with me (and we’d tried every other option), I hope I’d be big enough to let him go. I know it would technically be breaking my vows. but I believe it would be keeping to the true meaning of them, much more than making him stay and perpetuating the unhappy feelings he has, just to say we’d stayed together until death parted us.

      • I struggled with feeling like a failure for leaving my first marriage. It certainly felt like a failure at first. What I have learned over time is that sometimes divorce is the healthy thing to do.

        I think if I did not have children, ironically, I probably would have stayed married. When it was just the two of us, we went our own ways and made our own lives. It was lonely but doable.

        When I had children, though, I could no longer ignore the problems. I saw them suffering from the stress of our unhappiness. More than anything else, I wanted them to know the happiness and physical and mental health that comes from a peaceful home. Better, I thought, to have two homes without fighting than one home in constant turmoil. For my family, I was right.

      • I suppose my mention of success/failure were more rhetorical questions of an overlying societal message as opposed to anything found here or mentioned by commentators… Anyway.

        I think when we talk about something being successful, usually there’s a specific goal in mind or something that we want to achieve. Like, this event was sucessful because we raised x number of dollars. In relationships, there’s no way we can quantify what success is. Is it years together? Quality of those years? Is it children? Is it more than one child? Number of fights or fights avoided? Number of blissful days?

        Matters of the heart can’t be added up and marked in pro/con columns and then deemed successful or not. Part of the reason I didn’t vow “till death do us part” is because I didn’t want my marriage to be evaluated on number of years or death of partner; I want it to be judged by the happiness (and the unavoidable sadness) of our days and the quality of our live together. That’s just me, though.

        • liz

          i think that’s what i’m saying.

          there are shades of gray. there are more successful marriages, and less successful marriages. and it’s not for anyone outside of them to determine which is which. but few are what i would deem “Failures,” in the sense that they receive a red “F” on their marriage certificate for not meeting particular criteria.

          i incorporated “til death” and i, like you, don’t feel a pressure to be married 50 years so outsiders see my marriage as a success. in fact, i don’t know that we (as a society) ever speak in those terms regarding marriage. “they loved each other so much,” or “they have such a happy marriage,” or “they make each other miserable,” are the terms in which i think we judge one another’s marriages, be it wrong or right.

          i had a community of people around me when i made those vows. and i expect these same people to step in when i pick dreaded Divorce as an option. not step in to judge my “failure”- but to see what the hell is going so wrong, and what we can do to either fix the marriage or, if that’s not possible, heal ourselves.

    • meg

      I don’t think divorce is failure. But I do think marriage is about vowing to stay together till death, otherwise, I say don’t get married (and nothing wrong with that!). As David said this week, our vows are aspirational statements. They are saying out loud what we want, what we choose, what we vow to do. Sometimes we don’t hit the mark, but we still set it.

      • “As David said this week, our vows are aspirational statements”

        Exactly Exactly Exactly! I no longer have vows, I have aspirational statements! Thank you Meg.

        • Arachna

          I think this is the crux of different takes on this issue. To me vows are irreconcilable with aspirational statements. Aspirational statements are great but they are not vows. To me vows are objective and absolute, I can’t wrap my mind around how leaving someone you swore to stay with is still keeping your vow, I’m much more literal than that. I’d feel like I was lying if I made any vow I wasn’t sure I could keep the literal meaning off – which is why any of those ‘I will always make you laugh, get you ice cream etc.’ vows wouldn’t work for me, though all power to those for whom they work.

          • meg

            Well, them being aspirational statements doesn’t preclude them being vows. I mean, vows or not (and I sure as h*ll call them vows) they are aspirational until you’ve lived them.

    • Casey

      Lindsay – I’m with you, woman. We thought long and hard about the wording of our vows because we wanted to be practical/realistic with them – one thing my man-friend feels very strongly about is not making promises unless you know you can keep them. So we settled on a small but meaningful handful of promises that felt most real and do-able to us: basically, I can promise you (1) my love, (2) my companionship, (3) that I will try my damnedest to be the best version of myself around you, and (4) that I will give you a smooch every day of our lives, even if I’m cranky and don’t feel like it. There are lots of other, perhaps deeper, promises we make to each other as we go through life, but those were the ones that we felt comfortable making public.
      Also – the idea of being with one person till death is amazing, profound, larger than anything I’ve ever imagined – but I would like to openly admit that, as a newlywed young’un, it still scares.the.shizzzzz out of me. I think that’s ok.

      • I love that you call him man-friend… I do too. And my mom and her man-friend (at 50, it’s hard for her to refer to him as a boy). As for vows, there’s a lot that can be covered in yours, including, I think, an implicit vow to keep at it for as long as you can. And you’re right – that, in and of itself, is incredibly scary.

  • I am absolutely teared up and I wish that pie did heal all things, including leukemia, like I thought when I was 4. Life doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and hopefully our relationships help make some things more simple.
    I’m watching C.’s grandparents deal with his grandfather’s dementia and ill health. It’s at once inspiring and heartbreaking. Yet so powerful, and an excellent daily reminder to both of us that it’s not all good beer and fun bike rides, it’s the intense sticking-it-out-all-your-life that matters. The other stuff builds the cushion of memories that help get you through those times, but it’s not the bones of the matter.

  • Mary

    I think it’s also worth noting that weddings are just as much about life as they are about death. About the birth of a baby family, as well as (though not necessarily for everyone) the birth of future children. Marriage is such a beautiful dichotomy: the promises of life and of death both intricately intwined in our vows.

    This reminds me: did anyone see Pixar’s Up? The first five minutes of that movie capture these ideas so beautifully and succinctly. Makes me tear up every time.

    • EXACTLY! I sort of want to play that movie at our wedding. Kids will like it, adults will GET IT.

    • meg

      Well yes, but we cover marriage being about life every. single. day. on APW.

      • Mary

        Ah, that’s true. I didn’t mean to be redundant, but it just really struck me that weddings are so deeply engrained with two seemingly contradictory principles. I feel like other rituals are either about life or death, but weddings are about BOTH at the same time, and I’m hard-pressed to think of another cultural tradition like that.

    • Alyssa

      I sobbed like a baby at the first few minutes of Up. Was not prepared for it at ALL, esepcially a few months before we got married. I felt silly until the lady next to me leaned over and whisper/sobbed, “Why didn’t they WARN us?!?”

      Beautiful movie, beautiful message.

    • Katelyn

      I sobbed, too. And then, during the rest of the film, I sobbed whenever they played the theme music! (which was a lot)

    • Mary

      Ah, I was completely unprepared too! My fiance and I both got teary during the opening sequence, but we completely ugly-blubbery-cried during the scene where he’s flipping through the book and reads her last message to him.

      Marriage is an adventure. I love that.

    • Casey

      One of my bridesladies gave us the movie “Up” as our wedding shower gift. Best pre-wedding gift ever … Cried. Like. A. Baby.

  • Exactly, exactly, exactly.

    While I was in high school, my mother and father each battled cancer (they were diagnosed about two years apart). It was terrifying and strange. Seeing them both sick like that was horrible, but I can’t help but think about it now that my partner and I are one month out from our wedding. Because it’s such a big part of this – marriage, this commitment, is so much about illness and death. It’s so much about being with someone through chemo or surgery or radiation or whatever gets thrown at you. My father took care of my mother and then, when she got better and he got sick, she took care of him.

    It’s all such a tremendous responsibility and sometimes I’m a little amazed that we want so badly to take it on. It’s profoundly beautiful but very scary.

  • This post sums up what I have been trying so hard to put into words. I was talking with my husband of one month the other day, trying to explain what it is that feels different, now that we are married. We were together for 5+ years, lived together for 2, ,so not a whole lot has changed. But I just FEEL different.
    There is something so brave and powerful about proclaiming that you will be together until death, through anything. I look at our wedding day as the day we promised to stay together through everything that life hands us, and we made that promise in front of our loved ones. We expect to hold each other to those promises, and our community of loved ones should hold us to those promises as well.

    • Lindsey M. I think that you are right. There is something about making that vow to stay with someone for the rest of your life that changes things in very subtle ways.

  • Sept Bride

    When my parents were 31, and had been married for 11 years (oh, the good old days of early marriage!), my dad was diagnosed with a very progressive, untreatable form of leukemia. He died a year later and my mom, at 32, was a widow with two small children. I don’t write this to make any dire predictions for your friend’s husband (the cancer my dad had would today be curable – yay!) or to settle a black cloud over this discussion, but instead as a way to illustrate that the concept of “til death do us part” has always been a very real part of my musings on marriage. Now I am almost as old as my parents were when my father died, and I am about to get married (59 days – yippee!). We will be using the old words in our ceremony. The weight of those words, and that promise, is a heavy one, and one I fully understand, having witnessed at a young age exactly what those words mean. I cannot possible imagine being in the situation my mother was in – and I would never wish that upon anyone – but I know that I am entering into my marriage knowing that I am prepared to stand by my future husband even in the worst possible circumstances. As so many commenters before me have said, why else would you get married?? I love that we have a space to openly discuss these things, share our stories, and give each other support through the hard times that we will all certainly face. I don’t comment here often (but read every day!), so thank you, Meg, for making this space.

    Now a question for all of you smart, serious ladies: My fiance would like us to use Wilco’s “On and On and On” for our processional music. He is very moved by the song, and feels quite strongly that it be a part of our (outdoor, non-religious) ceremony. My mother, being used to a more traditional wedding, thinks that this song is much too sad and will be depressing for our guests (it was written for Jeff’s father after his wife passed away and is about love lasting beyond life). I love the song, want to honor one of my fiance’s few wedding requirements, and feel like the song lends a certain gravity to the start of our ceremony which we desire – mostly because we want our guests to feel the weight of the promises we are making to each other. (I often feel that wedding lack a certain personalness or seriousness…) Anyway, I know this is a bit off topic (although, I think you will find it is connected), but I would REALLY appreciate opinions… are you turned off by ceremonies that incorporate a bit of sadness? Would you be offended to attend a wedding that started off with a recognition of death?

    • liz

      sadness is beautiful.

      we need to come to grips with the sadnesses of life in order to truly appreciate the joys.

      play the song, girl.

      • Alyssa

        I was going to say that while a wedding is just as much for your guests as it is for you; their possible opinion does not get to determine such an important part of your ceremony that your fiance feels strongly about. Anyone who is depressed by such a beautiful moment in your wedding needs to be smacked.

        But what Liz said is SO much better. So listen to her and play it!

    • It’s a way to get your feelings and beliefs about what you are doing to your guests. You are sharing a part of who you are and it’s very real. Do it!

    • Beth

      Just by the way– my now-husband walked down the aisle to Wilco’s “Someday, Some Morning, Sometime” for our outdoor- non-religious ceremony. But I am going to go listen to On and on rightnow. :D

    • Laura

      I love that song. Love it. I say go for it.

    • Carreg

      I wouldn’t be offended in the slightest. Someone probably won’t get it, but you can’t please everyone. And surely, the ceremony has to be based on what you need, not what the guests happen to think is in the most impeccable taste?

      This is easy for me to say fourteen months (probably) away from my wedding, isn’t it? In about a year’s time I’ll probably just be going ‘argh, what if no one likes it, argh’ — then I’ll REALLY need this blog!

    • Morgan

      We used the quote below on the programs. My mother was appalled by it’s lack of cheeriness, or whatever. We used it anyway, because it was so true to our experiences, and it really resonated for me – we had lived with all of them in the year leading up to the wedding. Do what feels right to you and your finance. There are all sorts of things where it might be easier cave to your mother (ie anything you don’t have strong feelings about), but I say go for the things which are meaningful to the two of you, and this matters to him, so, done.

      “Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, the loss of a job… And onward full tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another – that is surely the basic instinct… Crying out: High tide! Time to move out into the glorious debris. Time to take this life for what it is.” – Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson

      • That quote just broke my heart wide open. Thank you.

      • Kim

        That’s kind of awesome. And by awesome, I mean very.

    • Jennifer

      I had considered using “Bist du bei mir” as part of our wedding music, but decided against it because I wasn’t sure about having a song about death would be appropriate, because even though it would be played as an instrumental, I care about the lyrics. But now this post has me rethinking that. A rough translation of the German lyrics would be something like “If you’re with me I will die with happiness, if your loving hands close my eyes.” And yes, marriage is about that, too.

    • Lisa

      This is, far and away, one of the best APW threads EVER. I too have found this week particularly inspiring, perhaps b/c I returned from my honeymoon yesterday so am certainly thinking about what it means to be a wife.

      Anyway, regarding the Wilco song – I say, yes, play it. Your mom will understand and it will be a minor part of the day that makes a major difference to your husband. BUT, if you have a serious concern about it, perhaps you can go with an instrumental rendition. You will understand the meaning of the song, but guests will just hear the beauty of the notes. We hired a classical guitarist from a local university for our ceremony, who played some favourite songs, Beatles, etc, and it was one of the most beautiful details of the day.

  • Carreg

    Wow, my words have been immortalised in italics! This doesn’t mean it’s set in stone as my opinion though does it? It was one of those thoughts which is inevitable when the statistics start popping up, but it doesn’t _feel_ right.

    “To me, the part of the wedding where you promise to stay with this person until you die – that is the most beautiful part. ”
    I agree that it is beautiful — thank you for convincing me that it also makes sense.

    Also, when you think about it, anything less seems sort of circular. I’ve heard of handfasting as a tradition where one can promise ‘as long as love shall last’. Which is surely just promising to love someone for as long as you love them — which is trivially true! Couldn’t do that in my family, the pedants among us would be sure to spot it and point it out. Time for me to stop talking I think…

    • meg

      Of course it’s not set in stone ;) I could tell you were thinking it through anyway, part of why I didn’t link back to it or name you.

    • liz

      lovely to have a forum where we can think aloud and piece together our opinions. :)

    • Alyssa

      I think my strong feelings on this come from the fact that “til death do us part” and the like gives it a weight and a gravity that other phrases don’t seem to have. Because death is tangible and means something. “I’ll love you forever” or “stay with you always” are kind of nebulous, we can’t actually comprehend what “forever” or “always” are. But “I’ll love you until I die”? That MEANS something. At least to me.

      And I hope that when you get married you’ll be a wedding grad and let everyone know what you final decision is! No way of knowing, but I bet for every comment, there’s at least four or five lurkers who are thinking the same thing…

    • suzanna

      CarrieG, I was going to point out that pagan tradition! “As long as the love shall last.” Glad you brought it up. Probably sounds like a weak cop-out to some, but totally works for others. I think all this discussion goes right to the heart of what each person thinks marriage is. And you can’t really argue about that, right? The vows you make to each other are just to each other. Doesn’t really apply to anyone else.

      As always, interesting stuff, Meg.

  • Saying the words “til death do us part” is something that I feel very strongly about saying. There is something so powerful saying those words to that one person, with everyone we love watching that I know will be what confirms the reality of what we are doing in my heart. I need to say those words. For me, I can’t trust that when things get hard and I won’t throw up my hands and walk away. I need to know and remember that I said that to him. That I made him the most intense and binding promise I have ever made, and I would betray him to break that.
    If I said something like, “I choose you today and forever”, there is too much wiggle room in that statement. I could simply not choose him one day. And when it gets really bad, who cares if we CHOSE each other. Someone, a very long time ago, was infinitely wise is saying that sometimes the only thing that will keep two people in a marriage is having to promise “til death…”.
    Am I saything that a marriage is unhealthy or “successful” if it gets to the point where you must call on those somering words to keep you in the marriage? Not at all. Do I believe that every marriage will reach that point at least once? Most definitely. And then come out on the other side stronger and loving each other more.

  • Natalie

    It’s interesting: my wife and I had a traditional, albeit lesbian, Jewish wedding. Traditional Jewish weddings do not have vows per se, which was weird to my wife who converted. I’ve been to many Jewish weddings where the couple has included their own vows, but we decided to stick with the traditional ceremony and do readings instead.

    My wife is the child of divorce while my parents have been married 36 years. I believe marriage is forever. So does she. Yet I was really happy with the way the traditional ceremony does not include explicit vows…the ritual (and our Ketubah) simply implies them. For me, because we’d been through a host of medical issues and family deaths in the 6 years leading up to our marriage, saying the vows seemed gratuitous. But putting them into ritual seemed all-important.

    • meg

      We had a Newish wedding to, you know, and we said the traditional vows in Hebrew as well. But to me saying that we ‘sactified’ our relationship was just as weighty. Same idea, different conception.

      • meg

        Erm. Jewish.

        • I like Newish. Mostly Jewish, with a smidge of newish thrown in.

        • Natalie

          Completely agreed. I guess I just want to say that even though we didn’t explicitly say “till death do us part,” I felt the weight of that commitment. In a really good way. Oh, and I too like “Newish”

        • Meaghan

          I assumed “Newish” was a portmonteau of “New(age?)” and “Jewish,” because I know you’ve mentioned before that there are various sorts of progressive, modern Judaism.

      • liz

        kind of newish. kind of oldish.

  • Alyssa

    Lordy, you’ve had a big week. Prayers and good ju-ju for your friends’ new baby and your other friends’ new struggle.

    I’m one for tradition but I see where people are coming from with not wanting to include “til death do us part” in their vows for whatever reason. But I’m going to be a snot and say if you don’t mean “til death do us part” in your heart, then what are you doing up there in the first place? And if it’s in your heart, then go ahead and say it! Declare it to the world and dare people to judge you for perjury because right there and then, dammit, you mean it.

    But there’s no reason that death has to mean the death of the other person. For some people, in hindsight, “death” meant the death of the people they were when they married each other and are now completely different people who need to move on. Or it could be the death of the promises made to each other when one partner turns out to be someone they were not, possibly due to physical or substance abuse. Or it could be the death of the relationship when someone breaks the other vows that they stood up there and promised to uphold.

    Maybe if you think of it in those terms, not the passing of a person, maybe then it might not give you the willies or make you feel like a liar later if divorce enters the picture.

  • Sarah M

    What a wonderful post to come back to after a week of being cut off from civilization. My fiance got rejected from dental school for the third time two weeks ago and turned thirty one week ago. I know he is really struggling with being 30 and still not being settled into a career, it’s hard on both of us because the limbo he is in makes it difficult to make plans, and we are plan-making kind of people. This little blip in our lives has just served to remind me that we are in this for the long haul, together.

  • Amanda

    Amazing. That is one of the things I’ve wondered about myself.
    So many tragic things and struggles have already happened in the 3 years me and my fiance have been together. We both come from families full of divorce and that has always loomed over us like a giant storm cloud. Growing up I was always weary of marriage because of what I’d seen my family go through, all of the horrific divorces and the pleading and heartache. Those words always either caused fear to grip me in a way that I can’t describe or made me think a lot of the people around me getting married did not think about those words, they didn’t hold any meaning to them.
    It’s been tough, between the fragile relationship I had with my father imploding, and the company my fiance works for not getting much work, there were times I didn’t know how much more I could take. But through everything, we’ve still managed to hold onto that love we share and do our best to build each other up, slowly moving towards officially starting our baby family.
    Knowing I have someone who wants to say the words “to death do us part” and “as long as we both shall live” and mean them fills me with so much joy that I know the knot of fear that hits me at the same time as the joy can be overcome as long as we both hold onto this feeling.

  • Cat

    We said it in our own words and I’m so, so glad we did. The first year of our marriage we’ve been slammed with stress and hurdles and come pretty close to wanting the ‘easy’ way out. It was remembering how much I meant it when I said it (and reading here that someone’s mother or grandmother said that she thought about murder every day but never considered divorce. I can’t remember who you are, but if you’re the person that posted it, thank you from the bottom of my heart. That and the line from my vows really did become my mantra & literally saved my marriage when everything got overwhelmingly hard) that got me through and will every time it gets rough I hope.

    I considered leaving it out for the same reasons the original commentor brought up, I didn’t want to set myself up for failure but I got married to stay that way. At the end of the day I was getting married because I planned to stay that way and the rough patches are already reinforcing how feircely I meant it.

  • Elise

    “To me, the part of the wedding where you promise to stay with this person until you die – that is the most beautiful part. It’s not shiny and fun, and no matter how many rose petals you dump on it, it’s not pretty. But it is beautiful, in a gut wrenching and real kind of way.”

    Thank you. This is what marriage and vows are about. Weddings are about promises and commitments- to each other. It’s not a promise that life is going to be easy. It’s a promise that despite everything else, life is going to be better because you’re together. If you’re not willing to commit to at least striving to staying together, no matter what, then you should ask yourself, why am I truly getting married? Marriage in itself is about outwardly declaring your love and devotion to another person. You can have love and devotion and commitment aplenty without a legally and emotionally binding ceremony, and that’s still a beautiful thing. But if you’re not sure that you BOTH can and will put forth every bit of effort to stay together, or more importantly if you’re not sure that giving that much of yourself would be enough to save your marriage, are you sure that marriage is really the right decision?

    When I got married, I promised to love my husband until death and he did the same for me. And for us, and the family and friends who attended the ceremony, that was indeed the most beautiful part of the wedding. We were well aware that our marriage, unlike the wedding itself, would not be shiny or fun. But it was real, and inspiring, and full of grace and prayers and tears and tankers full of coffee. It was also full of IV nutrition, chemotherapy, hospital grade sanitizing soap, and exhaustion. But our vows were sincere, and “in sickness and health… ’til death do us part” meant more than the vague idea that something bad might be lurking in the distant future. The something bad had already happened. Regardless of the threat of spending the duration of our marriage on hospital cots, potential medical bankruptcy, and the complete and utter inability to plan the future for more than a couple months ahead, we made those vows. Our marriage didn’t last until we were 80, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. And as I’m planning my second wedding, I will include those words again. To me, if you don’t know that you can handle the worst life has to offer together, why would you make a commitment as big as a marriage?

    • Morgan

      Wow. I don’t have the words, but that was just powerful and beautful. Thank you.

  • Chelsea

    I re-read this story a few weeks ago, and have been wanting to share it here, and this seems like the perfect post to do it on. Be careful, this made me cry at work!

    • Mary

      How beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

      • suzanna

        Amazing story–thanks for sharing, Chelsea!

    • ddayporter

      oh man. you did warn us! but man. crying at work is embarrassing. great article though, thank you!

    • Thanks so much for sharing that story, Chelsea, it’s beautiful

  • Cat

    I was doing so well, but you’ve got to me and I’m all teary now. That is really beautiful. All the best for your new marriage too!

    • Cat

      Um. That was meant to be in response to Elise…

  • Rachel

    Driving down to the airport on the way to our honeymoon, my new husband and I talked about the scariest stuff for the first time ever. End-of-life wishes, both in emergency cases and if we just grow old, what we worry about as we age (Alzheimer’s, for me), and what to do if we do have to live without the other person, which frankly seems like an unfathomable task. It sounds terrible, but it was one of the most freeing experiences I’d ever had with him or anybody else. Talking about that scary stuff in such a bright time was the perfect antidote to the nothing-will-ever-go-wrongs some newlyweds cling to.

    As far as the poster’s question, I think “till death do us part” needs to be in there as a promise to at least try. If I didn’t include that in my vows to my husband, it would’ve felt like I vowed to stay with him until I didn’t want to anymore, and, if that were the case, I wouldn’t have married him in the first place. I understand where you’re coming from with feeling like you’ve perjured yourself if you don’t stay together, but I also tend to think that splitting up (and, okay, staying together) involves so much ugly stuff that perjuring yourself just becomes part of a laundry list of things you wish you could change.

  • Jen

    We wrote our own vows, and purposefully decided to leave out “til death do us part.” Instead our vows included “I promise to always give you my best” and “I promise to never give up on us” and we closed that we know we are better together than either of us could have ever imagined alone. So do I plan on staying with my husband until death do us part… you bet! But is that what I want to promise to him? No, I wanted to promise to give him my best and never give up on us.

    Vows are a such a personal thing, I think as long as they resonate with you and your partner, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
    Thanks Meg, another great post!

  • When things get rough, it’s the fact that you can look back and remember that you promised to be together forever that can really help. You do need to be 110% sure that this is what you want. If there is the thought that if this doesn’t work we can always get divorced, you aren’t 110%. That promise of forever is my source of peace and calm now.

  • Maddie

    We wrote our own vows and mine echoed this sentiment that a marriage makes a family. To me, family is an unbreakable thing (and I don’t mean in a “blood is thicker than water” kind of way. I mean, the family that you actively build throughout your life). It can exist of friends or relatives, but it’s a binding force.

    My parents divorced after shortly after my sister passed away. Her death affected them both so profoundly that they were no longer the same people they had married and they felt they had no choice but to end their marriage. It was heartbreaking for me and my siblings. But I will say that I am impressed with my parents every day because they have maintained their friendship regardless of the divorce and are still essentially a family. My mother has remarried and I will never forget watching my dad and my mother’s husband grill burgers at our rehearsal dinner, both of them full of joy at the prospect of our wedding. To me, that is the essence of these vows. My parents could ignore each other, maintain separate lives, and never acknowledge their marriage again. But they made a commitment to each other and to the family that they’ve built and they honor that by being a part of our lives together.

    Interestingly, this relationship is with my step-father (who I consider to be one of my dads, on equal footing with my biological father, if you will). My mother’s relationship with my biological father has never shown the same kind of commitment that exists between my mom and my step-dad and it’s a world of difference. I guess what my point here is that there are all kinds of ways to honor “til death do us part” that can still keep a family together.*

    *I’m completely acknowledging that this is an anomaly and that not all divorces can be amicable (theirs took a LONG time to get where it is today). Some marriages need a clean break and it takes a lot of courage to separate from a really painful situation and never look back. I’ve seen divorces work and not work many ways.

    P.S. Reviewing my post, I think I might be an authority on blended families. :)

    • I recently wrote a long blog post about what love looks like, discussing my parents’ divorce. It started out quite bitter, but it is now one of the strangest and friendliest divorces I know. They seem like siblings. They obviously love one another, and obviously in a “until death” way, but they also obviously are not mates. The family bond is there in full force, but they are not marriage partners.

      I too recognize in myself how different my “til death” committed bond is with my ex husband and my fiance. With my fiance, I see us as puttering old farts still holding hands and kissing into our 80s. I see us annoying one another and surviving. I know that when life throws us sh*t, we will be there for one another — we’ll each have our panic attacks, but we won’t disappear.

      When life threw sh*t at my ex and I, we retreated from one another and blamed each other. The support that we each needed was missing.

      I’m posting the link to the story about my parents’ divorce (which I don’t usually do) in case anyone is interested in this whole family/but not marriage partners thing. I would repeat it here, but it is extremely long.

  • I cannot even imagine what I would do if I attended a wedding in which the parties agreed to be together “for the forseeable future.”

    At Brian’s request, we nixed the “till death” or “as long as we both shall live” and are opting instead for “forever and ever,” because he doesn’t want our ghosties to take lovers.

    • Em

      We are preparing vows now for our wedding next month, and we are both in for the long haul. Eternity, I hope!

  • Christina Afanasieff

    “POSTED BY MEG AT 4:30 AM.” Damn, girl.

    • meg

      That’s when all my posts go up, girlfriend. I’m on the west coast, they gotta.

      • Christina

        * impressed *

  • bailey

    It’s conversations like this that remind that there are other women out there that understand. I am so grateful for this place.

    I grew up with a divorced mother who told me there was no such thing as soulmates, and I tend to believe that still. My Sean believes in together forever and ever, and I believe that as well. I’m all over the place, but I think in the end, it’s all about finding that person that you want to hang with and battle the terrible stuff with.

    • Maddie

      I feel you Bailey. My dad doesn’t believe in marriage, but he’s been with the same woman for over 16 years. He doesn’t understand that they way I see it, they are married, paper or not.

      My family is many, many times divorced and I’ve sort of resolved myself to believe that *maybe* there are soul mates out there, or maybe there are people out there who truly love each other and will do everything to make it work. I sometimes think that soul mates negates the amount of effort we put into keeping love alive in our relationships, you know? Your Sean’s forever and ever is a mantra that you’re obviously both living by, so you’re already in it to win it.

      • liz

        “I sometimes think that soul mates negates the amount of effort we put into keeping love alive in our relationships, you know? ”

        yesss. soulmates. “the one.” it all builds us up to believe that a happy, healthy relationship is about finding THE person meant for you. no wonder divorces can then feel like failures.

        sidenote- my dad is very logical and practical and stoic. he taught me that soulmates don’t exist. that we choose someone with whom we’re compatible, with whom we can better face hard times, and with whom we more easily find happy times. as i was coming up to the wedding day, the subject of soulmates came up.

        i knew his answer, but i asked, “do you believe in soulmates?” he said, “no, of course not.” i asked, “but do you think mom is your soulmate?” he quickly said, “yes,” and then hesitantly, “i don’t know how to explain it. but, yes.”

        that’s one of the interesting things about love. it makes you question what you thought you knew.

        • I believe in soulmates. But not of the star-crossed lover sort. It has a lot to do with my situation. When I met Tony when I was 14, I had an instant crush. When I met him again 21 years later, the second I held his hand, I could not let go. This was the person I would grow old with.

          But it’s not that much different than what your dad described. I believe we are soulmates because, of all of the relationships we have had, ours was the one that was easiest, most comfortable, most compatible. For me, soulmate is exactly what you describe as that person “with whom we can better face hard times, and with whom we more easily find happy times.”

  • Lane

    As someone who has been divorced, and also believes in taking the leap with the intention of forever, I agree about what Meg says about feeling 110% certain about the person you’re taking the leap with.

    But I also feel another thing is also _extremely_ important – perhaps more important: Know yourself. Know the REAL you really well, and be certain that not only is this a great partner to have, but that the person is a great partner for YOU. And that YOU will be a great partner for HIM/HER.

    That’s not to say that there won’t be problems, difficulties, fights and frustrations. But when you start a relationship not really knowing yourself, you might not be in the best place to make decisions about what is best for you.

    • I agree with this statement so, so much. I live in the South, and the stereotype is sometimes true that Southern women still tend to marry young. I’ve seen so many girls make those vows before they really became women. I’ve seen so many of my friends go into marriages thinking that they were adults, thinking that they were mature enough to handle the commitment, and in reality, they hadn’t even found themselves yet.

      Do I think there’s some magical age where you suddenly know who you are? No. I think learning yourself is an ongoing process that never ends. Do I think people should never marry their teenage sweethearts? Of course not. I just think that they should wait until they’ve grown past the sweetheart phase to start thinking about a lifetime commitment.

      Getting married is a very big deal. Like it or not, it means giving yourself wholly to another person, and it means accepting them wholly in return. When you’re still struggling with accepting yourself for who you are….how can you possibly think you’re ready to give yourself to someone else? How can you know what it is you’re giving?

      As for “til death do us part”….yes. Just yes.

  • Morgan

    David said it didn’t matter to him much what the vows actually said. We both knew what we were promising – till death, for better and for worse. They aren’t the words we used, but they were in the promises we made to each other.

    There is one lines of the vows we used that I really love, though. “I will forgive you as we have been forgiven.” It was a Lutheran ceremony, and was referencing Jesus, but I just love the idea that forgiveness is part of our promises.

  • Ultimately, I called off my wedding because I could no longer imagine spending “forever and ever” or “’til death do us part” with my ex. It turned out that he was sort of a d-bag. Bullet = dodged. Whew.

    I look forward to the time when I can look at my partner and say “yes, this is the one I want to spend good and bad times with. This is the one I want to share all the ugly with.” That will be great. I remember thinking when I called off my wedding that love and happiness was just not meant for me. That I was going to just be that girl who screwed it all up and would end up alone. Maybe get a dozen cats and take up competitive cross-stitching. Settle into being slightly creepy.

    My boyfriend said he loved me last week. Whoa. Could it be that after everything, I still have a chance? I could still find someone that loves me and wants to -maybe (it’s still a little early to tell)- share all the ugly with me?

    Um, yeah. I’m awesome. Why not?

    I look forward to the continued discussion on things like this here on APW so I can challenge my own beliefs on this stuff and look to this amazing community for insight. I heart your faces!

    Weird comment, huh. See? Slightly creepy.

    • liz

      i think maybe we all hit that wall.

      the “dammit, i’m just not meant for this happiness crap- let’s go adopt some cats…” wall.

      your creepy comment made me very happy.

    • This.

      It was a very strange feeling finding my fiance (I can’t really say “met,” as we celebrated the 22 anniversary of our first date in February) and discovering after feeling like such a screw up for marrying the wrong person, for spending all those years fighting with him, for dragging everyone through our divorce. It was hard to come to grips with the idea that I was actually awesome and loveable, and not just a royal, selfish f*ck up for ending my marriage.

      In some respects, I can wish that I had walked away from the wedding and not the marriage, but I don’t. I have two beautiful, fun and fabulous children, and I know more about myself and myself in a relationship — what works, what doesn’t, what I want, and why — than I would if I hadn’t lived my life and made the choices (right or wrong) that I made.

  • I really love this. The concept of divorce is interesting in my relationship with my fiance. My parents have been married almost 25 years, both grandparents over 50. Fiance’s parents are divorced, and both grandmothers single. Granted his parents remarried and are incredibly happy and amicable with each other, but he was really lost. He didn’t have an example of a healthy, long marriage in his life, and that worried him. We went through premarital counseling and it was the best thing we’ve ever done. Divorce is a really delicate issue. It really was the best thing for his parents, and they’re so incredibly happy now.

    But, I’ve also seen marriages experience redemption and reconciliation through refusing to back out and see things through. My mentor is in her 50s and happily married and she said there were plenty of times when the easiest thing to do would have been to walk away. I feel like in our society (media/celebs,etc.) today, divorce is seen as the easy route and is treated too lightly, when, like Meg’s rabbi said, it should be the hardest thing, the last possible resort.

    For us, we’re kind of treating it as not an option, to have 110% faith in what we’re doing. In our premarital classes one of the things we were taught is to never throw around the “d-word”, especially in a fight. It’s a dangerous and powerful thing and must be approached with respect and thorough contemplation in a safe setting.

  • I LOVE your last three paragraphs of this entry. This spring my daughter, who dated and lived for five years with her hubby before spending almost three years married, came home from classes to find him on the floor, gone forever. His aorta tore and he was gone almost instantly. They had planned to start a family this fall, as she would be done with school soon after.

    I am a wedding officiant, as well. I tell many couples this:
    The truth is that each one of us is a powerful creator in the dance of love and marriage. Each one of us, each moment of every day, has the choice to rededicate ourselves to one another or to withhold our love and caring.

    Choose your words to each other carefully, and make the commitment together to do so. To enter marriage with any thing other than the thought that you will want to spend together forever is the lie, the purgery. To not succeed, after trying is not a shame, but you must enter the wedding with all the positive energy you can muster.

    Great post,
    Rev. Carleen

  • Jess

    This is just what I needed. Marriage is HUGE. And it seems that so many people are talking about the veils, the colors, the cookies, and all the while I’m thinking, “I love cookies, but does no one else get how big this is, to promise yourself to another person for the rest of your life?” With my wedding a month away, I feel excited, nervous, giddy like a school girl, and humbled all at the same time – and it’s making me want to explode. Sometimes I also get discouraged when I see (on other sites, of course) the “If you’re nervous you shouldn’t be getting married” quotes. I am nervous, nervous that I will be able to live up to the promises I make, nervous that I’ll fail – whatever that means, but in no way does that nervousness mean that I’m not 110% sure that this is what I want to do. It’s just an enormous step/commitment/ new beginning and I think it would be odd to not be nervous. So, Meg, thank you for this post and this blog.

    • liz

      i think we focus on cookies and veils and colors because we want to be distracted from the ginormousness of what’s happening.

      it’s much easier to stress about our teals matching than “what happens if we hit a rocky patch and i don’t want to do this any more…”

      • Jess

        I can understand that. There are certainly enough details to focus on! Still every now and then I would like to stop and pause the detail stuff and focus on what I’m about to do. It just hit me a few days ago that really, in a month, we’ll be a Mr and Mrs. It seemed so surreal when planning the details that I had to stop and just grasp the enormity of it. And really, I’m sure it’s going to feel a million times bigger on the day.

        • liz


  • CE

    I’m struggling with this because I got married and divorced, and am now in a serious relationship that will likely lead to marriage.
    I don’t know how I can say the “til death do us part” vows without feeling and sounding like a complete hypocrite. I said it the first time and THAT clearly didn’t matter…

    I don’t know how many posts there have been about walking down the aisle the second time, but I’d love to hear from other brides on this subject.

    • Did it really not matter the first time, or was it just more than that relationship could handle?

      Because it mattered to me, when I said it the first time, and it nearly broke me to not keep that promise even though I felt deeply (and still do) that it was the best thing for everyone to start over.

      In contract interpretation, there is a rule that each of the terms of the contract must be interpreted in a manner so that all of the terms are effective. I feel this way about marriage vows, because marriage is a contract between you, your groom/bride, the state and/or your church. We both promised not only “til death do us part” but to love, honor and cherish one another “til death do us part.” Staying for the sake of “til death do us part” is meaningless when there is no love, respect, or support. It’s just roommates, and it’s excruciating. It’s purgatory. It’s that Meatloaf song. “Now I’m just praying for the end of time…”

      It matters to me now that I am engaged for the second time. My relationship with my fiance is very different. Maddie wrote about the level of commitment she sees between her mom and stepdad from what she saw with her mom and birth dad. This is exactly how I feel about the difference between my first marriage and the marriage I am embarking on now.

      I’m no longer a kid putting on a veil and acting the part I believed everyone expected me to act. I’m a woman who has chosen a partner with whom I want to, and know I can, weather the storms.

    • Alyssa

      Dude. Let me say in the gentlest of ways and with love in my heart:
      That’s crap.
      I don’t know you, but I doubt you were being a hypocrite in any way shape or form. Read my comment from earlier. I think you just had a different kind of death.

      But if you’re not comfortable with it, totally don’t say it. You’ll figure out what feels right to you.

      And again, you’re not a hypocrite. Cause it’s not true and because I just appointed myself the boss of you and I said you’re not, so there. :-)

      And try here first, but I think there’s been other second marriage posts.

      • ddayporter

        Alyssa. you have been missed around here! you always crack me up.

        • liz


          where the heck have you been!?

          • Alyssa

            AHH! How awesome is it of you guys to notice I was gone?!? I feel like Norm walking into Cheers…. (Which is totally an aspiration of mine, so check that off the bucket list…..)

  • Meg, amazing post. Once again you managed to put down exactly how I feel about marriage into words. Good words.

    I think if I were to try to summarize, it’s that the wedding as a whole, *for me*, should be light, and the marriage thing is heavy. Wonderful, heartwarming, something I’m terribly excited for, but HEAVY. Which is also part of why I think that the wedding celebration after a ceremony is so necessary (ok not always for everyone, but c’mon, at its authentic best, it’s a lot of fun). After all that heavy reflection on who you are as individuals, who you are together, and who encompasses that community of family and friends present and what that all means, you deserve a nice meal, drinks and whole-hearted displays of joy, be it dancing, chatting, hugging, croquet, what-have-you. Because weddings are about rocking that day, and marriage is about rocking your life.

    • “Because weddings are about rocking that day, and marriage is about rocking your life.”
      – love it!

  • Alicia

    I have so many conflicting responses to this. Firstly, agreeing with the many posters who argued that NOT making it til ‘death do you part’ is not a failure, and doesn’t mean that the marriage wasn’t ‘successful’ in myriad ways.

    I’m also reflecting on my own wedding last month. We asked my 89 year old grandmother to be part of the ceremony and she wrote the most beautiful speech about the 2 great loves of her life (my grandfather and the man she married after he passed away). The speech made me reflect on how love and marriage are processes as much as (or more than) they are products and how it’s easy to set up a goal that you have to meet or talk about marriage in terms of quantitative measures (i.e. ‘they’ve been married for 61 years, wow!’) but harder to define what feels like a triumphant unbelievable achievement along the way.

    I mean this both in terms of good things, like ‘my husband did this wonderful intuitive incredible thing for me’ and in terms of bad things, like ‘my partner sat with me in the hospital for days on end…’ or simply ‘I still want to be with him/her even though I wanted to murder them with my bare hands for being so ridiculous.’

    I think we reflected this in the way we said our vows as well. We wrote a ketubah together, in which we truly tried to define the many ways in which we hoped and committed to our marriage working. And we exchanged rings saying to each other a quote from Philip Larkin (who is not normally known as a romantic, but who Shez really loves).

    The quote read “I take you for now and for always, for always is always now.”

    To me, thinking back, this reflected exactly what I felt – that it is my fervent hope that we stay together and are as in love as we are now when we are old old old and wrinkly. But that always is always now, and what I hope I can do to make our marriage work is exactly to choose him, to be with him with that in mind both as a process, and hopefully as a product that I can look back on many years from now. Not sure if that makes any sense…

    • Jovi

      Yes! Alicia, I love what you wrote about love being a process as well as a product. I think it’s so easy to get wrapped up in some idea of “happily ever after” as some kind of tangible, attainable goal. But if I think about what that would actually look like in reality, it’s all about the process. Until death.

      Beautiful post, Meg.

  • Mary

    I’m getting married in October. This is my 2nd marriage….but it will be the first marriage in which I make vows that I believe I truly understand and know what I’m vowing. I was married (technically) for 28 years the first time! We were kids having kids. I was terrified. But once I got married, I was committed. We were terrible communicators….and seriously didn’t have a clue about love or marriage or life or much of anything.

    But nevertheless….

    It took me several years to say yes to my fiance…but I did. And I am moving forward with eyes wide open. It took me all this time to say yes because of my own personal baggage, feelings of failure, etc….none of which I really owned once I took a deeper look. I am a proud mother of 2 awesome adult kids. Seriously…how could I have failed…how can I even consider that I failed??

    Sometimes life is just going to suck. Sometimes it is going to be difficult emotionally, physically and financially. Oh well. If I have to walk that path (and we all do)…I want to do it with this man. I am older than him, but he is a 2-time cancer survivor…so I think that makes him stronger and so much more appreciative of life than I am (even the regular life, you know, the ‘gotta clean this bathroom and kitchen’ life).

    So many times we have discussed the end game. He has difficulty talking about this….but we have talked about it. We will honor each other to the end. There is no doubt about that. And that is why we are getting married….to honor each other. Forever. And hopefully death will not cause us to part….no one among us can predict what happens then, we can only believe what we believe.

    and for the happy, sing-a-song, dance-along times we all experience in life….I still want this man by my side. He is my best friend. Without a doubt. Without a single doubt and I will take him until death do us part.

  • Anna

    I am going to be the fly in the ointmant for a second. I said last week that I did not want to say traditional vows of “forever” and “til death do us part”. I said I wasn’t sure where my aversion to those words came from but I listed Buddhism and my parent’s divorce as two possible contributing factors. I have been thinking more and more about this as my husband and I are currently in “the shit” of wedding planning, house buying, moving and me being in school and unable to work due to my internship schedule which means we are doing EVERYTHING on a single paycheck.

    Our moving wedding story isn’t quite as lovely and well planned as some. We moved into our current house over Thanksgiving 09 (about 8 1/2 months ago) because the house we were in was being sold. Just 2 weeks ago we found out this house is being sold as well and we had 5 weeks to figure it out. I am graduating from paramedic school in 9 weeks and we are having our wedding in 11. Long story short our families came together and gave us the boost we needed to buy. So here we are ass deep in boxes and quite shy on cash. Tensions have been high but we are sticking together as a team and I think we are going to pull it off.

    When we first met, my husband and I were very different but extremely compatible. In fact, I tried to break up with him twice early on because “we are too compatible”. I knew if I even dated him seriously he was the man I was going to marry and, at the time I was uncertain if I was ready for that. 7months later we were living together and our relationship worked like a Swiss time piece. We understood one another and loved making the world a better place for the other and most of all we both thought we had won the lottery finding someone who thought we were as funny as we thought we were. After a year and a half we were engaged.

    We beer-loped in January and as we were talking about what we wanted to say to one another the discussion of forevers and til deaths came up. I just felt that there was a more precise way to say what I those words mean to me. Its not that I don’t intend to be with him forever. Its not that I am not ready to promise forever or that I fear saying that. It IS that I think that’s not a promise we can make. Shit happens. Bad, stupid, worse than divorce happens. I don’t get to decided how long I am with him. It is not 100% up to me. The most precise language I can use is that I stand before him stating that I “want” to spend forever with him. Somehow vowing anything more dramatic feels like pinky swearing on the playground and well, we know how well those usually worked out. I get that wedding days are for dramatic language and important statements infront of witnesses but for me I can’t throw out those words, NOT because I am not ready or because I don’t take marrying him to heart. I can’t do it because it doesn’t truly say what I mean. What I mean is that I choose him. I chose him yesterday and, as he is sleeping next to me in bed right now I choose him today. No matter how much we would like to stamp a vow on it and call it real and solid, the married union is a dynamic bond that needs near constant tending and care. I can only promise to care for that bond with respect, love and with both of our best interests in mind at all times. Lets go easy on us ladies who needed “different” vows to feel like we were expressing ourselves fully. Its not all about not being ready or all in.


    • Erika

      Our ceremony words used both “promise” and “want” and we definitely went with “want” for the stay-together-forever bit. It worked for us. It expresses an intention. We just do our best every day. And keeping doing it.

      • Anna

        I think you hit the nail on the head there. All we are ever really doing on our wedding day is “expressing our intentions”. Vow, swear, promise….it is really just an expression of intentions. I think the trouble comes when we lose that perspective.

    • Arachna

      Yes, yes, yes.

      And the things is, I’ve never broken a ‘pinky promise’ in my life or made many of them. I’m probably pretty unusual in that I’ve never gone back on a declaration of my feelings, not for any best friends not for any boyfriends, I’ve never had to go back and say ‘oh I didn’t really love x’ or ‘i was wrong about wanting to be z with you forever’ when it comes to emotions and promises I’ve been 100% consistent so far. But that’s because I’ve never overstated my feelings. Like you say, divorce is not 100% up to us, there are so many possibilities. Looking on my own track record with promises I can have confidence in my decision of marriage and I have confidence I’ll be able to keep my vows. But that means I can’t make vows that don’t feel right. And ‘death’ and ‘forever’ don’t even though I very strongly expect that’s how it’ll end up. But really, loving him and deciding to become family to each other is enough. That’s what I feel and that’s what I expect to continue to feel.

      • Mollie

        I feel like you do about this… which is exactly why finally saying, “I’ll be forever yours” and “until death parts us” is so, so important to me. And huge and scary. I really, really mean these words. Funny how a similar idea can manifest itself in two opposite ways.

    • angela

      Anna, thankyou! That was beautifully expressed…I agree it’s not a promise we can make, and I think I’m coming from a Buddhist-inspired perspective, too.

      Marriage has changed–and will change–as we evolve as a species (how many of us ladies come with dowries these days?). We’re each defining what marriage means to us, and those decisions are deeply personal and almost always hard won. Those who’ve decided to leave out “til death” sthave very legitimate and valid marriages, and the notion that “you shouldn’t get married if you can’t promise forever” doesn’t sit so well with me.

  • Shantel Nilson

    So incredibly true and beautifully written. I love this blog. Thanks Meg.

  • Jo

    Chills. Agreed: “beautiful in a gut wrenching and real kind of way.” At 9 months in, and having viewed other lifelong marriages, I know this is the truth.

  • This is everything we have been grappling with lately: us, our friends, and our families. And we’re facing down the big stuff and with ongoing certainty that this is right. I would not be getting married otherwise. I am with someone who understands, really and truly, what the Big stuff really means. And that matters more than I ever knew was possible ten years ago when I was filled with fluffy notions of love-as-infatuation.

  • I cried reading this post.

    I’ve just recently started following your blog and find this community in sync with our own ideas and values. I’ve gone through tremendous changes and introspection during the planning process to find myself now writing our ceremony.

    Thanks for reminding me that the “till death” needs to be a part of it.

    • Jessica

      I, too, have gone through several changes during the planning process (six months with two years left to go!) I have surprised myself with realizations of things that truly matter to me and have let go of things that I have suddenly found insignificant.

  • Jessica

    Meg, wow.

    “It’s about putting each other into the ground.”

    You literally stole my breath with that comment.

    The absolute magnitude of this event and the *forever* it signifies is awe inspiring.

  • Melissa

    Saying one has a 60% chance of making it would be saying the divorce rate was 40%, not 60%. Sorry, I am just very anal with details.

  • Wow, just wow. I’m in Australia so I often read these posts after there are 100+ comments like there are today. I teared up on the train to work reading this post and the comments, and I’m now at work, teary, because of the magnitude of what this post, and the comments, means for me (getting married in 5 months!).

    I’ve only just started thinking about our vows and talking to my fiance about what we want to say in them. This post has reinforced to me that marriage is very much a promise to love each other and work on our marriage ’til death us part and that I do want those words in our vows.

  • I could never imagine getting rid of that part. That’s the part. The reason to be married. ‘Til death do you part. This is a beautiful post, Meg, very insightful. I have a lot of friends that I worry are rushing into marriage because they feel it’s just the time or it’s “Been long enough.” Those aren’t “Til death do us part” marriages. Thanks for the perspective.

    • Liz

      BEEN LONG ENOUGH. gaaaaah. there are few things in this world that i hate more.

      i know someone getting married. and our friend asked her, “when did you know when you were in love?” and she replied, “that’s not how it works. we’ve just been together for a long time, and he’s still hanging around, and this is kind of the next step. right, liz?”


      • That’s how my fiance ended up marrying his first wife, which I think says pretty much everything about getting married just because you’ve been together for a long time.

  • The till death do us part always makes me cry (and not just at a wedding, reading in on this page did it to). it is big and happy and exciting and scary and hard and so important.

    Since my wedding 7 months ago a lot of my people around me have had marriage breakups and I’ve really struggled with it. I really hold onto that promise we made each other, and its made both of us work even harder on all our problems. Its made us stronger because we both want forever but have seen around us that its not going to be easy, we will have to fight for it sometimes.

    I also gain strength from the fact that close friends of our have lived with cancer from a young age and their relationship goes from strength to strength, it not easy but they find a way to make it work.

  • Jessica

    Wow, yes. I have thought this for ages and have often felt that people find me morbid/gross because marriage to me is more about whether we’re going to be willing to change each others’ diapers when we’re old and incontinent than it is about how shiny and beautiful the wedding ceremony will be…but it’s soooooooo vital, in my opinion, to be conscious of the longevity of it and of the inevitable separation of death. If you’re not with a partner willing to face those realities with you, I don’t know that you’re ready to get married.

    But cheez, “putting each other into the ground,” that is some heavy stuff. You really hit the nail on the head with that one.

  • Meg,
    Could we pretty please have an “exactly” button for the posts?????
    This is one where I so totally exactly it. I’ll have to come back and read the comments in the morning when I’m not friday-night exhausted and likely to cry so much… :)

  • You know, yes.

    And exactly.

    But also, I do think that that moment – the huge, momentous (yes, I read your “Huge” post) event “yes, I sign on to this, I vow to be with you forever” – the part where you vow to put each other into the ground) moment…doesn’t necessarily come at the wedding ceremony. I say this from a secular point of view, mind you, and from a humanist rather than spiritual one. But not long ago I read this quote from a book that someone posted on OBT:

    “I should stop right here and say that everything from here on out in this essay is foofaraw. This is the essential moment that Dave and I consider to be the start of our marriage—not the wedding itself. Embedded in every marriage, there is a true moment when your hearts sign on for good. It doesn’t necessarily happen when the guy mows Will you marry me? into your lawn or trains a puppy to bring you a velvet box. It doesn’t necessarily happen in the white hoop gown or because some exhausted justice of the peace says so. It usually happens in some quiet moment, one that often goes unregistered. It can happen while you’re brushing your teeth together or sitting in a broken-down car in the rain. Some unplanned, unscripted moment.

    But when people ask about your wedding day, they want a grand story. Not something that ends with stealing mini hotel soaps and shampoo bottles from a Red Roof Inn.”

    …and that really resonated with me. I do believe there is such a momentous, huge, not-pretty-but-amazingly-meaningful moment between two people who do vow to be together for life. I agree with that. I just don’t feel it necessarily comes at the wedding itself.

    We’ll see, of course – I’ve still got a month and a half or so before our vows. Maybe the moment I say them I’ll change my mind. It could happen. I’m open to that. But as it is now, I look back on a moment about a year into my relationship with my fiance where I rolled over, and without even really thinking about it first but knowing it was right, looked at him lying in bed in our newly rented apartment and said –

    “It’s you.”

    He replied, “It’s you, too.”

    We will see if the power of that moment will be matched or even overshadowed by the momentousness of our marriage vows…but right now, honestly I feel like I’ve already said them, and “It’s you” is all I needed to say.

    • liz



      i definitely had that moment long before the proposal- long before the wedding day. my husband had the ring for over a year before proposing. (sneaky, sneaky) but then, the wedding day is another moment. all of the things that you already know are being said in front of a community of people. you’re taking what you’ve already committed to yourself, and swearing it to this other person, and to everyone around you. all of those unspoken promises are now spoken, tangible realities.

      similarly, we had decided on our vows months before the wedding, with much thought and discussion. but the day of the wedding, i broke down in tears as the words “til death” slipped out of my mouth. it was a new recognition of the huge-ness that i already knew was there.

      perhaps a different huge. but huge just the same.

      can’t wait to hear if it’s the same for you, in a month and a half. :)

      • liz

        and also, holy moses your story is amazing.

        • The story about the Red Roof Inn is from a book someone quoted on a forum, not mine! Mine is the simple, short one below.

          I am excited to see, as well, if it really is this huge momentous…moment (momentous moment: I should submit that to the Lyttle Lytton contest) that dwarfs what’s come before. We shall see!

          • liz

            yes, yes! it’s the simple short one that’s best.

    • That quotation comes from Altared. I read that book while I was engaged and that really resonated with me as well. I had that moment well before we were engaged. It happened after we consciously moved into together knowing that we were going to get married, but didn’t feel any rush to get engaged yet. Reading that essay allowed me to register the unregistered.
      It’s a great book with a lot of food for thought.

  • this is great, as i had been thinking about our vows.

    we didn’t include anything about “until death do us part”. in some ways, i felt like i was missing something- that i should have said what i knew traditional vows to say. i asked for him to be my life partner, which does mean eventually there is an end. i appreciate hearing what woman have to say , when they consciously decided not to say those words.

    i echo a lot of the sentiment here regarding divorce and how it can be ok, and shit happens in the world, terrible heart breaking shit that we just can’t see coming, and never imagined it would. and sometimes, it’s bigger than us.

  • Maxi

    Wow, yes! And I say this even though I’m polyamorous and we will have an open marriage. He is *absolutely and only* the man I am agreeing to be with forever, and that includes the “in sickness and in health” part and the “til death do us part” part… although we won’t be using archaic language to say so. And yes, I said those words to another man many, many years ago and that marriage ended in divorce. Admitting that I couldn’t keep that promise to my first husband was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. (In retrospect, also one of the smartest, but that’s a story for another day.)

    I joke that the theme of our wedding should be “recycled” because our relationship is recycled. We were together in the mid-90s then went our separate ways. When we re-connected in early 2009, there was a pivotal moment that changed me forever… We were on our first “face to face” date in many years, after a couple of months of phonecalls and emails. We were discussing the pitfalls of re-connecting, particularly in the physical sense. He said, “I can’t do this if it’s going to be casual.” And I swear, I felt gears and cogs and wheels churning within my body and then just falling peacefully into place. I heard my own voice responding, “I don’t feel casual about this at all.” It was just a moment. But it changed everything.

    So when we say our vows and declare our intentions in front of our community it will be primarily an outward acknowledgment of what is already inwardly determined, as far as I see it. But that declaration to our community is *exactly* why I even agreed to marry again in the first place! (The idea of elopement just escapes me…. though I totally get that it works for some people.)

    And having seen my FH go through the experience of supporting his mother when his dad died, and then nursing her to *her* end from cancer less than a year later, I get that he knows what he’s promising. And huge doesn’t begin to cover. it.

  • Danielle

    I have just one quote to add to your post.

    This quote is being pressed into our ring dish. This quote will be hung in our bedroom for our years to come.

    “Across the years I will walk with you –
    in deep green forests; on shores of sand:
    and when our time on earth is through,
    in heaven, too, you will have my hand”
    The Promise – Robert Sexton

  • I heard this on the radio this morning, did anyone else hear it?

  • Marina

    My husband works as a long term care nurse, so what with that and with all of our grandparents getting up there in years, we’ve ended up spending a lot of time in our first year of marriage talking about death. But more than just talking about death, talking about end of life issues. Where we fall philosophically on the scale of “kept alive at all costs” or “kept comfortable at all costs”. And I think that’s something EVERY til-death-do-us-part couple should talk about, and should talk about FREQUENTLY, because it is a very wide range of options and a very deep philosophical issue. It is not only about making sure your partner doesn’t have to decide that stuff for you without knowing what you’d want, it is also about finding out what your partner thinks about death, and through that what your partner thinks about life. What you value about being alive.

    I’m 25, and 85 seems very far away, but it still shapes my life now. I think about what my husband would go through if I have health problems later in life, and I want to be healthier now not just to look prettier but so we’ll be able to keep going on our after dinner strolls in 60 years. And it puts a different spin on encouraging each other to be healthy too–if we “nag” each other about what we eat or about working out more, it’s not about whether he thinks I’m ugly or whether I want him to be more macho. It’s because we’re both very clear that we still want to be hanging out with each other and taking care of each other in 60 years, and we’re both very clear on how different that will look if we’re healthy in the years leading up to that.

    I read some bullsh*t article recently about how women gain 10 pounds in the first year of marriage because they “let themselves go” after starving themselves to look good at the wedding. A year after my wedding I’m in the best shape of my life, because I have the best support system I’ve ever had in my husband, because health means so much more to both of us now.

  • WOW this one hit me hard. Thank you.

  • The hardest moments that i’ve experienced with my partner have always been the ones that have strengthened the bond between us. Having watched my partner lose his mother unexpectedly and be unable to attend the funeral… Having him volunteer to accompany me to a medical appointment about a mysterious lump, which honestly i wouldn’t have been so worried about if he hadn’t come along but was so much better having him with me anyway. Seeing him beside me when i woke up groggy from the resulting surgery… And watching him struggle and feel powerless when work was hard to come by…

    It is these moments that draw out a fierce commitment to protect and love and fight to the death for each other. These moments that allow us to see into the depths of our commitments to each other. Till death do us part? absolutely. Even the thought of being parted by death makes me want to creep into the bedroom and watch him sleep for a good long while.

  • Jenn

    This speaks to a lot of things I have been thinking about in the past week or so as I’ve been preparing my vows, especially as I’ve been ruminating on why we ARE getting married. For the first few months of being engaged I felt really hesitant about trying to reconcile my want to be married with what some members of my family have dubbed a sort of rabid feminism (which I see as more rabid gender equality, but tomato, tomahto). It took a 4 hour long conversation with my mother to help me sort it out. I may not be able to see the future, I may be pretty young right now, I may no longer be religious in any way, but I want it for the same reason I teared up when I read this:

    “It’s about promising to be each others family. It’s about being there through all the births, the infertility, the parenthood. Being there through all the illnesses, the hospitalisations, the tests, the fear, and the pain. It’s about being there until we die. It’s about putting each other into the ground.”

    That’s it. That’s what I want. So very well put, thank you :)

  • Great post. Thanks.

    This from Mike Mason’s The Mystery of Marriage” about the uniqueness of vowing…

    “How can anyone bring himself to affirm that he will care for another person twenty years from now? It is one thing to promise your girlfriend that you will pick her up at eight o’clock; it is quite another to give her your pledge that you will love her for the rest of your life. The marriage vows are simple ones, but remarkable for the extremity of their loftiness, for the foolhardiness of their altruism, and further remarkable for the fact that in most cases they turn out to be the only true vows either partner will ever make, let alone hold to, in their entire lives. So remarkable are these promises that after just one year of them (to say nothing of twenty or fifty!) a couple will be left shaking their heads in bewilderment and wonder, amazed that they have kept their word, hardly believing what they know to be true. Yet equally will there be complete astonishment and devastation if the promises should ever come to be broken.”

  • Thanks Meg, just beautiful. I feel like our marriage has been through so much already and we’re not even a year in, what the time has proven is that we are strong, so very strong and I want to be there with him until I die. As simple and as huge as you say.

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  • Lisbeth

    Wow. This blog is amazing.

    I’ve had deeply mixed feelings about marriage for a long time. I don’t know if I realized it until recently, when being in a healthy, supportive, amazing relationship has made me begin to revisit all my beliefs and desires (to the point of neurosis), but I think I have been *tormented* by it.

    I’ve been vehemently anti-marriage for more than ten years. I was in a long term, cohabiting partnership that I was 100% committed to, and that I thought was for life, but it ended terribly with a total betrayal by my partner. But all along I knew it was doomed. As many of you have mentioned, I should’ve realized I was only wasting my time and causing us both pain by staying so long – I was never 100% sure. I was 100% committed, but only about 25% compatible with the guy, who was really a nasty piece of work (but who fooled me early in the relationship with a textbook display of pedestal-putting. ugh.). I’ve often referred to it jokingly as my “bad first marriage” even though we weren’t married. I felt I had dodged a bullet – not just in the choice of partner, but in escaping without having to go through divorce, and without children who would be affected (and have an asshole for a father, to boot).

    Now that I’m a bit older, and most of my friends are slowly and fairly quietly pairing off, I’ve been thinking about this even more. At first these changes only made my opposition more smug and entrenched, especially when the first baby came (I have also been pretty strongly childfree, but I find that – while I still don’t really want kids for myself – I have mellowed a bit on that front, too). For the past several months, I have actually felt a great deal of anxiety leading up to the move of my current boyfriend, who is coming all the way across the country to be with me, and who I have “converted” to being anti-marriage and anti-kids from a more ambivalent, typical twenty-something male “maybe later” attitude – ha!.

    I’ve realized recently that I think my opposition and, frankly, anger at people’s insistence on marrying and having babies (two things which seemed stultifyingly conventional and abhorrent to me, akin to giving up on life) actually spring from my own feelings of insecurity, resentment, and fear of failure. Like many of you here, my parents are divorced. My father left my mother when I was two, something she always phrased as him “deciding to leave his family.” It was very much non-mutual. (I did have a good dad, though, and my parents always got along in front of me – being a child of divorce was not, in itself, particularly traumatic for me.)

    My boyfriend’s dad has been married three times, and left his mother for his current wife when he was small. I find all this hard to reconcile, and it makes male infidelity and immaturity seem, well, inevitable to me. I have a deep seated fear of signing up for the whole deal against my better judgment, even having kids (which, under ideal circumstances, I might want, but who I also fear feeling trapped by), and then finding myself 40, with kids, and seeing my partner walk away for greener pastures, citing “space” needs (which is what my ex claimed) or unhappiness or any of the myriad excuses unfaithful partners use to justify their selfishness.

    I guess my point, in this long rambling comment, is that I guess I feel like it’s impossible for me to expect any man to actually promise “till death do you part” to me. I’ve been so traumatized by cheating and divorce and betrayal and abandonment, that I couldn’t help but feel that getting married – and especially promising to stay together for life – would set me up for that inescapable fate which I am so afraid of. I do NOT want to be that woman. I WILL NOT be that woman. A woman who buys into it all, and makes the vows in good faith, only to find that her husband, for whatever reason, cannot. A woman who finds herself alone with kids in middle age, discarded. This terrifies me.

    And yet, since the first night I met my partner, I have had that feeling. I knew. He’s the first man I have ever known, my father included, who hasn’t disappointed the feminist in me. Not even once. I didn’t even believe a man like this could exist. Our relationship is mutually supportive, fun, deep, and exciting. So it’s not that I don’t trust *him* – it’s that I don’t trust the institution. It seems unnecessary, and a recipe for disaster.

    But this post, and the amazing comments, have given me a lot to think about. I’ve been tormented for the past three years, pulled between my fears of abandonment / insistence that expecting a human being to commit their life to another person is backward, antifeminist, unrealistic, etc. and my undeniable desire to make that vow to and hear that vow from my partner. It’s been a rough tug of war inside my heart and head.

    But it’s also true that I have to admit to myself that I cannot feel secure or happy in this relationship unless some kind of similar commitment is made. The commenters who spoke of making their spouse their family hit the nail on the head for me. Not only is legal marriage the only way to make my partner my family in the eyes of the government (which, frankly, chagrins me still, especially considering marriage isn’t available for everyone), but choosing to make those vows does make our relationship a different one in our wider community.

    The comment about attending a partner’s family funeral and realizing you weren’t, ultimately, part of the family (yet) also resonated with me. I was there when my asshole ex’s grandmother died, a few months before we broke up. I felt like part of the family, and his parents considered me as such; I sat with them in the front pew, I made coffee for cousins, I rode in the family car, the whole deal. And after that I actually started to kind of want to get married. I mentioned it to my ex, and things went downhill from there. I think it made it all too real for him. I wanted real; he did not. But, like I said, it was just as well, definitely a blessing in disguise.

    So now I realize that, while I have been anti-marriage, I did and do actually want all the things associated with marriage. So, why not just get married? I think I am more against the Wedding Industrial Complex, and the appearance of “following the LifeScript” and all the conventionality that implies (such as the minivan soccer mom thing Meg obviously also fears), and other people’s tendency to project their own reproductive hopes and religious beliefs upon one’s own marriage.

    I have a friend who eloped. They invited their parents and siblings to a tiny, private civil ceremony (she wore red), and then went to a romantic foreign locale for an indigenous ritual wedding, with just the two of them. This has been haunting my thoughts for the several years since, it so struck a chord with me.

    My partner and I had talked about doing a pagan handfasting, privately, in the forest, with the “year and a day” vow, to be followed by a “long as the love shall last” vow a year later, if we wanted to renew. I’ve been driving myself crazy trying to sort out my feelings and desires and politics on this, but

    …this post just made me realize, I actually want to get married.

    Thank you, everyone.

  • As a terminally ill woman I’ve actually wondered if it’s even fair to be getting married. I know I’m signing my fiancee up for all of that bad stuff: hospitals, tests, and eventually my death. He assures me constantly that he knows what he’s signed up for, but I still have my doubts. My disease is unique in that I could still go into remission (I have lupus) or get better– I’m termed “terminal” now but the length of time I have left isn’t possible to estimate. Either that or the doctors won’t tell me, but honestly I don’t think I want to know. Anyway I think knowing I’m going to be sick for our entire married life, which will probably be 10 years at best and might be much shorter, makes the “til death do you part” very real to us, not just part of the vows you use because they’re tradition. And I think it says a lot about my FH that he still wants to make those vows. I was fine with living together and not getting married; I’ve been married once and it wasn’t fun. But he talked me into it, and the more I think about it the more I feel like it’s a kick in the teeth to lupus– a way of saying “you might kill me but you’re not taking my life.” Anyway as a divorced woman I can say that I think it’s good to leave that part of the vows intact because hopefully it’ll make you really think before you marry someone who is wrong for you.

  • Aiyana

    Goosebumps. Again.

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