From "Surrendering to Marriage" (Talk Miramax/Hyperion). Used with permission.

In marriage, no matter how deep the love and devotion, our partner is still The Other, someone we may think we know very, very well, but who is always somewhat of a stranger. We share neither blood nor genes, perhaps not even common interests. Yet we met and married and now share a home, in-laws, and children.

It can be hell.

Surrendering to marriage means realizing that to succeed in this most mysterious and difficult, yet essential, of partnerships we must push through waves of sadness and rage, and accept them as part of the whole marriage organism that also includes the profound joy of being in a committed union, and of giving your kids a rock to hold onto.

Surrendering to marriage means we must be forgiving and flexible when what we really feel like doing is spewing venomous remarks. We must give back rubs or our bodies when we feel like reading or sleeping. We must keep our marriages alive, and revive them when they are dying.

We must surrender to reality and let go of fantasy.

Ultimately, surrendering to marriage, if it's with a spouse who isn't destroying us with hands or words or by total apathy, means coming to know there is nothing better out there because wherever we go we still have ourselves to lug along. People who leave a marriage for someone else often end up finding that person carries heavier baggage than the partner they left behind. Without the old, imperfect partner around to blame anymore we find it was our imperfect self that was the cause of our own pain all along.

No relationship can fix our woes and finally give us the happiness that has thus far eluded us. Smitten men and women who appear superhumanly heroic to each other during courtship evolve into naked and annoying husbands and wives. Women who wear red Victoria's Secret panties during courtship put on beige Sears cotton underwear during marriage. Hard-bodied male suitors become potbellied husbands.

I'm in my kitchen slapping together lunches, arranging them neatly in L.L. Bean thermal packs, and thinking of roads not taken, possibilities unfulfilled. I should be thinking how wonderful it is to be making four peanut butter and honey sandwiches for four adorable sons, but instead here's what's running through my mind: If I have to make one more sandwich I'm going to lose my mind.

Running a household is the same every day. We are machines going through repetitive tasks, too often unconscious to the flow of the motion or the pulse of the moment. No matter how helpful a husband is, women generally end up being Command Central, in charge of overseeing the whole of the operation and attending to the myriad of details, the buying, scheduling, organizing, most of the cleaning and cooking. The Buddhists tell us to be fully awake in the here and now. "Just be with it because it is there, like the wind, the cicadas, the cool rain...," Toni Packer advises us in in her book The Work of This Moment. Ah, if it were only that easy, to swirl like the wind, to fall effortlessly like the rain, to become the motion while doing mundane chores at home after dropping kids off at school or returning from the office, and not let embittered thoughts about monotony fling us into a reverie about a more enticing future.

Even when we try hard to embrace each moment, days with children who need rides everywhere--this while handling our professions--get hammered into dumps of anonymous weeks that blur into anonymous months. As the routine goes: Get up, get dressed, get kids dressed, feed them breakfast, clean up after breakfast, take them to school, shove in as much work of your own as you possibly can the hours they are away, pick them up, take them to soccer, piano, orthodontist, come home, make dinner, scoop up food off the floor, homework, baths, bedtime, then come downstairs to your clean kitchen to make it dirty again when you start all over making school lunches for the following day.

It's hardly shocking that people often seek an escape from the grind in the form of illicit love with fetching strangers. We are, after all, the generation who grew up in dread of stopping too long in any one place as not to miss the higher-intensity drama we are certain awaits us around the next corner, through the next door, with the next mate. Yet, while the real guys we married may be flawed, at least they are people whose imperfections we are used to. At least they are men we can count on, men we loved once, may still love, and if we don't now, will love again.

It's easy to fall for charming seducers who keep you hanging with promises to free you from the chains of the mundane. But these suitors are fairy-tale characters until they withstand the reality test of the twenty-four-hour life cycle. Before you ditch your own boring spouse, put Mr. Happily Ever After to this test-get fat, don't shave, be bitchy, and bring a snot-nosed, whiny kid on one of your lunch dates. In other words, be real around them, and see how it transforms your idealized-perfect-soul-mate love. I'll take an imperfect marriage I can touch and feel over an unproven Mr. Right who is perfect only in my dreams.

I could not have grown old with any earlier boyfriends because while there was big love, there wasn't mature love. Chuck and I are connected, somehow, in our deepest and oldest place. We are soul mates, whatever that is. Listening to the above stories on lost-and-found loves I can't stop mulling over this vague concept of "soul mate" our generation has relentlessly, obsessively pursued. What does soul mate mean, really? Someone you meet, soul to soul? Who can you genuinely touch in that way, really, other than God? Before I was married I consulted a psychic in San Francisco because I thought I found my soul mate, but this so-called soul mate hadn't realized it. The suspense was driving me nuts.

The psychic told me that I was my soul mate so I should stop looking for one. Me? My own soul mate? It began to make wonderful sense, that what we often seek is a mirroring of who we are in the form of another person. And when we find that person who will say, "Yes, you are tops, one in a zillion," it feels like a filling of the soul but it's really a filling of the ego. We should learn to bask in the fullness of a "Me" without a mirror, something that could keep us from expecting fullness to come from some unknown "You" out there. This advice from a psychic made all the difference in the world when it came to adjusting expectations in finding a partner. A spouse is someone you meet shoulder to shoulder, nose to nose, someone you should be able to deal with in the physical universe, someone you want to climb all over. A spouse is a real person, and not necessarily an ephemeral link to the soul. My husband is the man I crash into when I'm tearing through the house trying to find a missing black Adidas or the last Corona.

I asked Chuck if he thought I was his soul mate and he said, "Sure." I asked him how he knew for sure. And he said what he always says: "Because you are my wife," and continued watching the Washington Capitals get beat on TV. Chuck is not a wordy kind of guy, but what he says generally cuts to the core. I am his wife, a mate on all levels, right down to the soul, as evidenced in our mystical composite creations, Theo and Isaac and Jack and Zane, with their lanky bodies and wiry hair and blue-green eyes. These children are the embodiment of two souls melding, a family we can hang on to, something real, something we can never rearrange or change. We are stuck, and that is good.

A good marriage becomes an easy rhythm between partners, a gentle sway that takes years of cohabitation to choreograph and synchronize. A good marriage is two people in one house, knowing when to touch and knowing when to leave each other the hell alone. This dance, however slow and robotic and familiar, is better than spinning around with a carousel of new lovers who make you dizzy with ecstasy because they never stick around long enough to get old. It's easy to idealize a new lover, and think them the mate of our soul. Erich Fromm characterizes this worshipful new love in The Art of Loving: "This idolatrous love is often described as the true, great love; but while it is meant to portray the intensity and depth of love, it only demonstrates the hunger and despair of the idolater..."

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