“No one marries a marriage. Nobody dates a relationship. There is another name in the equation.” (Andy Stanley)
Almost 30 years ago, I met the man who I would spend the rest of my life with (or at least until one of us kicks that bucket we all hope to avoid for as long as possible). I will never forget that night. A friend asked me kindly to go with her (okay, she dragged me) to what was known at the time as a “college and career Bible study.” (I believed it was just a Christian “meat-market,” and I did not want to go with her, but agreed because I loved her and after all, I was newly single, living on my own and there was free food.)
Of course, right after the “Bible study” time, when it was the “mingle” hour, a very tall, dark and handsome man (supposedly every girl’s dream come true) came walking over to me and said, “I know you are going to think this is a line, but did you used to work at Touche Ross?” In my head, I did agree with him that it was a line, but I was hooked immediately and glad for that line. Out loud, I said, “Yes. You must be Allen Goetz. I had heard that there was someone here that worked there.” Played it super cool. But after a long conversation and knowing my friend was waiting for me, I popped in the car and in a not-so-cool voice, giggled to her, “I think I met the man I’m going to marry tonight.”
After a month of waiting, I received the news that a mutual friend had invited us to his house for a pool party. I was giddy. This time around, no one had to drag me. I went more than willingly and could not wait to see this man again. After another long conversation, another month-long wait, a couple of phone calls (finally!), he asked me to come hear him preach and I said “yes.” The caveat, however, was that first I wanted him to come with me to the Bronx Zoo with my whole family, parents and brother’s family included. After a change of plans because of rain, we ended up at the Museum of Natural History (dead animals instead of live ones), the Ethiopian restaurant for dinner (talk about trial by fire) and the rest is history. We dated for about 18 months, got engaged the day after Christmas in 1990 and were married in May of 1991.
It’s getting close to 27 years since that day. We have shared a lifetime together, committed to a good choice, but in the end, FAITHFUL, at times, to what we have found might just be second best (there’s my fourth “F” in this WTF series – see first three at these links: FOO, Fidelity, Fallibility). At this point, you may be asking yourself, what is she talking about? What good, second-best choice have they been committed to?
On the day we said our vows, the audience heard something like this: “I promise to love YOU, honor YOU, forsake all others for YOU, care for YOU and stay with YOU until death.” They did not hear this: “I promise to be committed to the institution of marriage and stay faithful to our relationship.” Allen chose ME, not marriage. Marriage was the means to get to ME, not the other way around. I chose HIM, not a legal or religious construct. Marriage was the means to the end (the end being ALLEN), not the end in itself. We made a commitment to each other, the person, not marriage, the institution.
At the time, however, I’m not sure if we really understood what we were vowing and believed it. If you had asked us when I was in my flowing white gown and Allen in his black tux, we would probably have told you that we were committed to our marriage, you know, “marriage is for life” and all that very good-sounding, Christian speak. We probably believed then that our commitment to this high and holy state of marriage was what would hold us in the dark and stormy times, the times where we looked across the room at each other and thought, “How did we get into this mess? How can we get out?”
It was one of those times that we came to deeply understand that we had been committed to something good, but not best. We had been having one of the circular, round-and-round, never-get-off-the-ride, fundamental marriage-threatening, nothing-will-ever-change discussions (okay arguments), when we stopped in the middle of it and standing in our bedroom, came close, held hands, looked each other in the eye and I said to him, “No matter what, Allen, I choose YOU. I will fight for YOU. YOU are the reason I am here and staying for the long haul.” His response was one of the most healing in our entire marriage: “I choose YOU, Esther. YOU matter. I am committed to YOU.” Somehow, in that life-altering, marriage-changing moment, we finally felt safe and truly loved.
Commitment to the institution of marriage, while very good and might just keep us legally wed for a lifetime, is NOT what is going to knit our souls together and bring true and lasting intimacy and closeness. And to be honest, I want more than just “making it to the end.” I want God’s gift to us of oneness, closeness, companionship, trust, knowing and being known, loving and being loved. I choose Allen. He chooses me. I am committed to Allen. He is committed to me. Those words we spoke a several years ago, when we were in that desperate place in our bedroom, gave the answer to what we each had been longing for at the deepest level of our hearts and souls.
I would love to tell you that it’s all been rainbows, ponies and butterflies since that day. But it hasn’t. We still have those round-and-round arguments. We still look at each other at times and wonder “how did we get into this mess?” Last weekend, we went on our weekly Friday night date to see “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” a play about dating, love and marriage. In one of the final scenes, a man and his wife of 30 years were sitting reading the newspaper, drinking coffee in their robes and slippers, having an “older married couples” morning and the husband sang a song “Shouldn’t I be Less in Love with You?” (SERIOUSLY WATCH IT BEFORE MOVING ON…I cried when I watched it live because it reminded me of those words from Allen not so long ago). It sums up exactly how I feel about Allen and what I hope you will take away from this blog post. If you want the best possible marriage, don’t be committed to it. Don’t be faithful to it. Choose the person. Be committed to them. Be faithful to them. This change of heart and mind just might be one of the small steps that will take your marriage from being good to being “great again.”
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