The water is wide, I can’t cross o’er
And neither do I have wings to fly
Give me a boat, carry two
And both shall row
My love and I
— Pete Seeger, The Water is Wide
There’s a marriage occurring in the family this weekend, and it got me thinking about my own. I’m approaching three decades together, which makes us uniquely qualified to talk about long-term relationships, I suppose. But then I look at my in-laws, married for 61 years and counting, through the epic highs and devastating lows that a couple of humans can experience together. It makes me wonder about the years to follow, having ridden that roller coaster along with them for almost half of their marriage. As my favorite Navy pilot used to say, “I’ve seen the future and I don’t like it”. But we can still make the most of it. Amor fati.
Life’s challenges are best endured together. We are each distracted and busy, annoyed at times with the world and with each other, but we return to each other always. A marriage can be seen as a boat that rides out the storms and keeps a relationship alive. Or you can look at it as a contract between two able-bodied people who agree to stick it out together when one or both are not so able-bodied anymore. We generally meet our mate when we’re at our peak fitness level and full of potential. They see that potential and bet on us, as we do with them. Sometimes that bet works out really well, and sometimes it doesn’t. But the thing about humans is that we’re at our best when we invest ourselves in others. The load is heavy enough as it is. Better to carry it together.
Now everyone dreams of love lasting and true
Oh but you and I know what this world can do
So let’s make our steps clear that the other may see
And I’ll wait for you, and if I should fall behind wait for me
— Bruce Springsteen, If I Should Fall Behind
We forget sometimes, in our focus on meeting the moment, that we are life partners until the end. Life reminds us of our fragility, in body and in spirit. We lift each other up or drag each other down, and this becomes habituated. Simply put, the dynamic in a relationship becomes our normal. Best to have a partner that lifts with us, rather than drag us down constantly. I’m blessed with one of those. I hope you are or will be too.
So how does a marriage endure? There’s no secret, really. It’s all the things you’d expect: patience and love, listening and lingering in moments together, appreciating the best and accepting the less-than-best about each other. But I think it’s mostly about feeling gratitude for having found someone willing to row that boat with you across the wide water. Someone who will wait for us to catch up to where we ought to be, as we will for them when they fall a step behind (knowing deep down it’s usually us falling behind). There are no secrets to long relationships, there’s only the commitment to seeing it through.