I’ve been studying the giant listing of vows at [wedding forum redacted], and as I do, I’m struck by how many people’s vows make untenable promises about “always”: I will always keep this passion alive, I will always adore you, you’ll always be my beloved and most awesomest best friend.
And I’m thinking, “…really? So, you can consciously control your impulses, turning on and off your flow of oxytocin and serotonin like a tap? Coooooool*. But most people don’t work like that.”
The realist** in me suddenly sees why marriage services are so often three-pronged: a celebration of the present with its smoochy-faced love; a reminder that marriage is Serious Business; a sobering pledge of fortitude in the face of challenges. The couple vows to behave a certain way, because, duh, you can’t control your passions, but you can control your behavior.
Because emotions are slippery, fickle things, I can’t sensibly promise how I will feel in the future. The Fella is my bestest beloved most awesomest best friend, and I’m entering this marriage believing that will always be so. I will nurture and bolster my passion, my fondness, my adoration of him, and do my best to give him reason to do the same. I enter this marriage believing that our love, sympathy, and hard work will keep these feelings vital and growing, always shifting and changing with us.
I can hope and believe and, most importantly, I can strive to make it so; I can’t promise that my crazy hindbrain will follow in step every day.
But I can pledge to treat him as someone I love and adore, as someone for whom I am passionate, as my bestest beloved most awesomest best friend. What, then, does that mean? For me, it means a promise of respect, trust, honesty, kindness, sympathy, and a mutual assumption of good intent now and in the future — even if I’m hurt, even in anger, even if my lizard-brain hisses at me.
Surely this is the crucial part of the vows, in any case. Ardent love and bountiful affection don’t test our vows of commitment. Marriage (or any bond of love or friendship) is predicated not on the continuance of fleeting passions, but on the determination to honor our promises, even (especially) when loving kindness flags or falters.
*I would like to cut you up and study you. Please?
**Yes, The Fella is aware that he’s marrying an affectless robot.