What Kind of Wedding – And Marriage – Do You Want?

DSC_0091Not everyone wants to get married. In fact, for most of our lives, Michelle and I didn’t want to get married, either. Early on in our relationship, over 8 years ago now, the topic of marriage came up – but at the time it was an impulse, not yet truly right for us, and also not legally possible.

But recently the amazing, deep, rich goodness of our life together – coupled with the amazing new legal possibilities in our state, as in so many others – finally won out. Michelle proposed to me last March, and we married on September 13. Legally. Wow.

So weddings – and marriage – have been on my mind a lot lately. Two women we know recently had a fancy wedding, complete with a cake topper custom-made for them in Italy (figurines of the two of them together plus their dogs.) Cool! We know it feels really important to many couples to “do it up” for their wedding. But, ours wasn’t like that.

Ours was like this: me shopping at the farmer’s market for fresh fruits and veggies to serve our guests… up until half an hour before they were invited to arrive! Décor: a bunch of colorful helium balloons from the Dollar Store. The most expensive item (apart from the actual marriage certificate) was the gluten-free, dairy-free wedding cake Michelle ordered (food allergies – sigh), but we made our cake topper ourselves. It was a print-out of a photo of us, held up on popsicle sticks.

So, you might get the idea that ritual isn’t important to us. But that’s not exactly true. The ritual that was really important was the one we did down by the river with our friends. We wanted our wedding to be a chance for everyone present to talk about love – what they want, what they fear, what they wonder about. And we talked too, authentically and from the heart.

For instance, I talked about how the spaciousness of Michelle’s love has helped me overcome the claustrophobia I’ve felt in most relationships. (I’m not shy to admit I’ve had a lot of relationships… but this is the first time in my 52 years that the idea of marriage truly felt right to me.) We both talked about how growth is more important to us than traditional notions of “loyalty.” The way we support and love each other best is by honoring each other’s continuous evolution, the fierce calling we each feel to become our full selves. Marriage isn’t a rut we’ll settle into, but a deepening of our already profound commitment to keep challenging each other… and ourselves.

In many relationships, the unspoken contract is “Don’t change, and I won’t change either.” That offers a feeling of security, but at a terribly high price. And ultimately that sense of security is an illusion, because trying to keep ourselves from changing actually sucks the life out of love.

So for us, a marriage with growth at its center is literally heaven on earth – because it’s alive, it’s dynamic, and it calls forth and makes room for our full aliveness, too. (And oh yeah, by the way, it’s a great recipe for passion!)

And now for our vows

We each wrote our own vows, and didn’t share them with each other until the moment we read them aloud. They’re too long to share in their entirety, but here are some highlights:

Ruth to Michelle: I vow to behold you – and myself – with wonder, curiosity, tenderness, compassion and humor, and to embody my adoration, acceptance and respect for you… I vow to cherish our shared path, even as I also honor your path as distinct from mine, and my path as distinct from yours… I vow to honor and hold in my heart all of your many aspects, female and male, wounded and healed, so that I can fully love you as you are now, and also as you shift, change and evolve… I vow to stand unwaveringly in support of your joy, and my own.

Michelle to Ruth: I promise to cultivate loving-kindness, generosity, healing, openness and curiosity in my life, and in our life together… I promise to honor our autonomy and our closeness, to give you space when you ask, and take space when I need to, and ask for closeness when I desire it… I promise to continually discover the truths of who you are, to keep learning and honoring your life’s purpose and path as I learn and honor mine.

And now, an example of how we live that out

In our relationship – and now, our marriage – we have a fundamental principle of honoring each other’s ways of being, even when they’re not the same as our own. Here’s one small example from last night’s dinner table conversation.

We have different kinds of health insurance, and we considered changing that so we could share a plan. But when it came right down to it, Michelle values the convenience of Kaiser, and I value the freedom and flexibility of Blue Shield. I’m a super-proactive health care consumer. I need to be able to go out-of-network and see any doctor I damn well please – and I’m willing to pay for the privilege of doing so. Otherwise I feel… there’s that word again… claustrophobic! Michelle, on the other hand, is more of a “go with the program” health care consumer. She doesn’t put a lot of energy or thought into researching her conditions or trying alternative healing methods, and she doesn’t want to. She’s happy just going to her HMO and having the docs there tell her what to do.

So, we could each have spent a lot of time trying to change the other – trying to assert the rightness of our way of being. But instead, we make it easy on ourselves and each other. Michelle’s keeping her plan – and I’m keeping mine.

And by the way, the respect we have for each other is a basic principle of how we we each are in the world – so we respect your ways of being, too, even when they’re different from ours! What you want for yourself is what we want for you. And we are always honored when we’re able to support your relationship journey.

About Ruth L. Schwartz, Ph.D. & Michelle Murrain, Ph.D.

Ruth L. Schwartz, Ph.D. and Michelle Murrain, Ph.D., are joyful partners in life, love and work. With backgrounds in psychology, neuroscience and spirituality, they co-founded Conscious Girlfriend to help women learn to love women – better. Ruth is the author of seven books, including the groundbreaking Soul on Earth: A Guide to Living & Loving Your Human Life. She has taught at six universities and helped hundreds of individuals and couples through her private healing practice, HeartMind Integration, as well as her spiritual and creative mentorship. Michelle is a scientist, professor, writer and seminarian with a long-term Buddhist practice. Both Ruth and Michelle are deeply committed to helping other women learn the tools of self-love, self-awareness and self-responsibility that have transformed our love and our lives.