I wasn’t sure if I believed in marriage. It was antiquated. It was oppressive. It was rooted in the myth of female subjectivity. Rooted in a historical legacy of woman as property: capable of, needing to be, and wanting to be owned.

It was the aspiration of overzealous evangelicals, cloaked in insincere holiness, in inauthentic purity, and in short-lived obedience to God.

I was sophisticated and metropolitan and agnostic (Whew! Lol, right?!).

I wasn’t sure if I believed in love. More than that, I wasn’t sure if someone black would ever truly love me.

I try to pinpoint the origin of the falling. I knew that I loved him before the second date. By the third, I knew that we would marry.

He was kind.

Blunt without being crude. Sincere without being overly sensitive. Thoughtful and smart. He wanted to learn everything.

He was patient.

When I met him, I wondered how anyone could ever leave him. How anyone could ever give him up.

He drank beet shakes for breakfast. Believed in sustainability and longevity. That children needed more books, long walks, and more water. That grown-ups needed more books, long walks, and more water.

He was intentional; he was direct. He asked me what I wanted and how long I hoped it would take to get it. He was nontraditional, unapologetic.

I’d worn the wrong shoes. We went for a walk around the neighborhood, and blocks turned into miles. I hadn’t known him long enough to complain, so we walked until I could feel the blisters form. We walked until my toes were numb from the pain.

He noticed my stutter step and threw me onto his shoulders. He hoisted me up and carried me the last two miles home.

Love is not a marriage.

It’s sky rockets in flight. It’s no one, not even the rain, has such small hands.

But marriage, I imagine, requires much, much more than love.

When we moved from Chicago, I was impatient. I’d never loved anyone before; I couldn’t have loved him more. I felt old and late and ready. Where was the proposal I thought would soon come?

He wants a yard so that we can garden. We’d grow our own vegetables and teach our children to produce and create more, consume less. We’d teach ourselves the same.

Love is not a marriage.

There are things we must know, things we must understand, before we say I do.

Figure out how you feel about power.

I’m not too interested in my own power, but I care very much about the temperament, vision, and wisdom of the person in charge. I can lead, but I often prefer to observe and follow. I don’t support hierarchical systems, but I understand their potential for efficiency. Power makes me nervous. People who perceive themselves as powerful make me uncomfortable.

What’s your definition of power?

What does it mean to be powerful? Is it important that you and your partner perceive yourselves as powerful? Is it important that you and your partner aspire for power?

If power is your goal, what sacrifices are you willing to make in order to get it? What won’t you sacrifice for power? What won’t you give up?

Does political power and community leadership matter to you? How important is it that you share the same political beliefs, party affiliation, or political values as your partner? How important is it to you to aspire for a network of politically-connected peers, colleagues, and associates?

What does it mean to have power in your home? Who is in charge, if anyone? Does it depend on the situation? Does it depend on the mood? Does it depend on who has the most expertise or experience? Is there no variance? Is it wrong to think in terms of “in charge”?

How important should power be to your children? How important is it that your children know who has power in your home?

Figure out how you feel about money.

How will you manage it? How will you use it? How much is enough? How much is too much?

Who should manage it? Will you manage it together? Does it matter who makes it? Should you earn more as you get older, or will what you have now always be enough?

Should you combine your finances or keep them separate? Should you invest together, or make your choices? Who will save for retirement?

Should you keep track of who makes what and who spends what? Should you keep score?

Figure out how you feel about difference.

It was an eclectic school with all new staff. The parents were weary, but open-minded. When she asked to visit the class, I was hesitant. I’d worked hard to make progress, but found myself floundering to truly reach her son. There were tears in her eyes as she started, and I waited for the ball to drop. “He wanted a boy. We loved our other children so much, but he wanted a boy. When Michael was born, he was so excited. It changed our marriage; it changed our relationship. We didn’t notice anything at first, but when it was finally confirmed, we felt like we’d lost him for good. We just couldn’t raise an autistic child, not together.”

What does it mean to be different? Do you share the same views, the same response, to difference?

Figure out how you feel about faith.

What does it mean to be faithful?

Can faith exist without religion? Can faith exist without God?

Is your faith connected to religion? How might your partner respond if you lose your faith? How would you change if you lost your own?

How important is it for your partner to share your religious beliefs? Is it important that they are just as religious as you? How important is it that your children share your beliefs?

If you lose your faith, can your marriage survive?

Figure out how you feel about change.

I’d known him mostly through letters. We both loved languages and writing. He was a few years my senior and was anxious about getting older. The conversation was light, but he wanted to go deeper. “I take vitamins. Supplements too. Really anything to slow it down.” I smiled politely, but wanted to understand, “To slow what down?”

“Aging. I’m scared to death of getting old. I’d do anything to stop it. I stay active, but around my 30th birthday I had a breakdown. I was even hospitalized for it.”

It wasn’t the end of the night, but I’d heard more than I needed to.
Figure out how you feel about change.

Figure out how you feel about anger.

When I was younger, I didn’t pay too much attention to anger. I was southern. Born and bred on sweet tea, Texas toast, and respectability. Children didn’t have a right to be angry. Anger was impolite and impoliteness wasn’t tolerated.

As I grew older, I grew ashamed of my anger. Women didn’t have a right to be angry. Anger was impolite and impoliteness wasn’t feminine.

I’m a peacemaker at heart, but anger is useful. Anger is important. It’s a lesson I learned much too late. We can learn from anger; we can grow from it.

We can use it to change our lives.

His ex-father-in-law’s ashes rest in an urn in our living room. He can’t say for sure, but it was his death that instigated an end to their marriage. The anger became a bridge that couldn’t be crossed. The bridge is over.

Figure out how you feel about anger.

Love is not a marriage.

It’s sky rockets in flight. But marriage, I imagine, is planting a tree while building a house while untangling the roots while creating a garden while watching the seasons change and the plants bloom and die and bloom and die, but choosing to water, replant, and prune every week, every month, every year, every day, over and over and over and over and over and over again.


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