Local Lifestyle

Wednesday, Sep 12 2012 12:00 PM

VALERIE SCHULTZ: With you, my love, I can be myselves

By The Bakersfield Californian

My husband and I attended a beautiful wedding over Labor Day weekend. Being as we were married over 30 years ago, we are hardly of an age when our friends are getting married. But as we celebrate our 32nd anniversary today, we are the age of people whose children and children's friends are getting married. Our daughter's best friend from second grade had been in her wedding, and she was returning the favor in this most recent wedding we attended, to which our whole family was graciously invited. The ceremony was heartfelt, the reception perfect to every last detail, and I even got my husband to dance.

All of the members of the wedding party were invited to make toasts to the newlyweds, and I was struck by something the maid of honor said. It was a reflection on the meaning of love that she attributed to the bride. When they were schoolgirls, and talking about falling in love, the bride speculated that love meant not only that you could be yourself with the person you loved, but also that, in the presence of your soul mate, you could "be all your selves."

So just for today, and with apologies to Nicole, I am stealing this lovely thought.

Love may be the most widely and oddly defined word in our language. We use it to express varying degrees of affection every day, from declaring our love for coffee to affirming our love for our children. We sometimes qualify what exactly we mean by love, using terms like eros (erotic love) and agape (selfless love).We speak of filial love, brotherly love, platonic love, puppy love, and love/hate relationships. The synonyms for romantic love -- adore, be crazy about, cherish, care for, desire, think the world of -- are never as satisfying as the actual word.

Movies, song lyrics, poetry, and other works of literature offer us memorable, but not definitive, meanings and metaphors of love. A brief survey:

Love means never having to say you're sorry.

Love is blind.

Love is a battlefield.

Love is patient; love is kind.

Love is a many splendored thing.

Love was made for me and you.

But the idea that you can be all of your selves with your one true love resonates deeply with someone who has been married a long time. When you've been married longer than you've been single, when you as a couple have weathered challenges and joys, comedy and tragedy, success and setback, intimacies and estrangements, you get to know each other really well. You see the private selves behind the public selves presented to the world. The vows you make -- for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health --pretty much cover all of the selves you are or may become. When you grow up together, when you become parents and grandparents and senior citizens, you also get to see how people can change as they mature. You may lose parts of old selves, even as you come into new selves.

Within a marriage, we mates need to be comfortable exposing all of our selves, in the trust that every self within us will be accepted by our spouse. The serious self, the silly self, the confident self, the frightened self, the faithful self, the doubtful self, the gracious self, the angry self, the outgoing self, the withdrawn self, are all known and loved if we are fortunate enough to find ourselves in what Shakespeare calls "a marriage of true minds". Maybe it takes the cooperation of all the selves to build a solid, lasting union. Marriage really only works if it is a collaborative effort: when only one partner shoulders all the responsibility or does all the work for the relationship, sooner or later the marriage collapses into little pieces of resentment and regret. Similarly, if some of our selves must be hidden, or some of our selves are expected to change to suit our spouse, there will be trouble along the way.

A wedding day always brings me back to the young and giddy beginning of my own marriage, when I thought we would never change, when I thought life would always be as lacy and delicious as our wedding day, when I expected the sun always to shine. That self still lives in me, and is still loved by my husband. I know that because of the way he holds my hand tightly during other people's weddings, and by the way he somehow still sees me as just as beautiful as on our wedding day. He is well acquainted with all my selves, the best and the worst, the brightest and the darkest, and loves me for exactly who I am anyway. It's a mystery. But it makes all of my selves grateful for how lucky they are.

These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at vschultz22@gmail.com

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