A marriage in the West usually starts like in the photo shown above. Girl meets boy. A strong physical attraction brings the two together. Sometimes, the relationship never quite moves beyond that passionate kiss. At other times, the girl and the boy decide to tie the knot and start a life together. Of course, mores have changed. Girl and boy can choose to live together and have children without getting married. It can also be girl with girl, or boy with boy. Woman and man happens too; love does not stop at age barriers. In fact, the variations are nearly infinite.

I can see these differences in the friends and relatives around me. Some have stayed happily married (with ups and downs, of course). Others are divorced, widowed, remarried. A few are single.

The idea of this post came to me while watching Korean dramas, which are usually very romantic. A kiss only comes after several episodes. A bed scene is very rare. So very different from French and Anglo-Saxon shows. Drama takes place, of course, through thwarted love (“les amours contrariés”).

One drama, Healer, particularly seized my imagination. The chemistry between the two young people is fabulous, pure in a way, and the attraction between the two is undeniable. Add to this, martial arts, a journalistic investigation, corrupted politicians, you have a great story.

A young couple who falls in love is delightful to watch. It is refreshing, charming, and inspiring in a way. This reminds me of the weekends of Marriage Preparation in which Paul and I participated. The young couples gained some insights in their relationship and were preparing to a life of Catholic bliss and challenges. For us, presenters, we were left at the end of the weekend with a renewal of our own marriage. Those young people’s delight in each other (most of the time ‘young’) was contagious.

As I reflected on the interaction of the two heroes in Healer, I realized that their age in the story was Paul’s and mine when we met. Like in the story, Paul was very attractive and I did turn him on. Then, I tried to imagine the heroes in the drama forty-five years later. How have their appearance changed? Are they still together? Do they have children? What did life bring to them that shook up or threatened their love for each other?

Watching Korean love stories has me revisit my own. Just today I was looking through our wedding photos. One gave me the thrill of a shiver: during the wedding reception, Paul and I are standing by friends sitting on benches in the field where we all have lunch. His left hand is on my shoulder. How wonderful this hand still feels today…

I have no idea really why Paul and I stayed married. My mother once told me, “You’re lucky: you got married for love”. I guess she hadn’t. True, neither he nor I fell in love with someone else, or became attracted enough to somebody to be tempted to leave our marriage.

I did not get married thinking that our marriage would last, however. Having seen my maternal grandparents and my parents unhappy in their own marriage, I had always thought that if it did not work out, unlike them, I would leave. Also, I felt pretty sure that after two years I would know everything there was to know about my spouse, and might not want to stay with him any further.

I was wrong, of course. I still don’t really know all there is to know about him. I did think of leaving sometimes over the past forty-five years, but I always gave myself more time — to be hurt. Six more months… In six months, I will see. I had my escape plans: how I would get from where I was to where I wanted to take refuge… It all got easier after the first twenty-five years. But it’s still possible to get really hurt now. Not today or yesterday, but even so.

Paul and I have succeeded where my grandparents and parents have not. I feel grateful for this ‘success’, but have no recipe to offer. I have seen how a broken marriage hurts those involved; how much of one’s self-esteem seems to be linked to marital success. Sometimes, of course, spouses are unaware of what is really going on in the mind and heart of their significant other. The revelation can be dumb-founding or heart-wrenching.

Among the many gifts that Godde has given me in the course of my life, staying married is one of them. The attraction of that first kiss is still there and somewhere inside of me, it is not only the sixty-nine years old woman who breathes, but also the twenty-fours years old who fell for this young American man and was, and still is, so very much turned on by him.

Thank you Godde for this.

Photo: Robert Doisneau (found here).