Friday, February 25, 2011
Thursday, February 17, 2011
I have been pondering marriage a great deal lately, mostly because I fear mine has fractured like a bone china cup, still intact but crazed by fault lines, any of which could cause the whole to collapse into pieces. We have been married ten years, together for nearly thirteen. We have moved across country, bought and sold houses, invested, had two children, acquired a new car, adopted a dog. We have, in short, lived the american reality, if not the dream. We are married. But what does that mean? I have a dear friend whose support of “traditional marriage” makes me unspeakably sad, especially since right now I don't even know what marriage means, except that my gay friends and acquaintances long for it as a near unattainable dream.
Thinking across the various stories of marriage that have built the idea in my head, marriage was never about sex, or children, or even love, but about alliances. Us versus them. United we stand. Think about it – Disney princes rescue their unknown ladies (Snow White had never even met her prince) from poverty, evil, enchantment, all by offering a shield against these things. In return, they get a kiss. Isn't that what wedding vows promise? Not “I will love you” but “I will take care of you even if you're sick or poor”. A couple might as well write a legal contract specifying individual obligations. That is traditional marriage. It doesn't sound so romantic when you realize it's a negotiated bargain, sealed with a ring.
Historically, traditionally, marriages were bulwarks against warfare, destitution, the neighbors. The kings and queens of Europe didn't fall in love, they negotiated for the most advantageous match. And that bargaining wasn't limited to nobility. Even peasants had dowries, and girls with more goods were more desireable. If they could breed well, all the better. Many healthy children meant more swords in a fight. Lots of workers meant a better retirement for the elders.
The mythology of marriage is that it begins with love. I don't agree. Love is what happens quietly after years of marriage. After fighting and making up, after traveling and staying in, grieving and celebrating. Love is not just wanting to share the good with your partner. It is cleaning up bedpans and vomit; dealing with annoying habits that you never can embrace; seeing the beauty inside the ugly. Only when you know the whole of a person – beginning to end – can you truly love. I say marriage begins with sympathetic resonance, a sense that this one person will stand with you against all foes, and will help you achieve the highest heights.
My college roommate was married last spring. In attendance was a gay man I know and his partner of fifteen or so years. They are comfortable with each other in the way that long-married people are; I was warmed by their affectionate smiles and eye-rolling at each other's foibles. At the very beginning of their relationship they weathered the storm of a life-threatening illness that still must be managed on a daily basis, and they told me a little about how that affects their long-term plans together. For them, that future is an unquestionable fact. The strength of their union is awe-inspiring. I think often about my morning spent with them and what a marvelous example they are of what a marriage should be. It's ironic that at a “traditional” ceremony, the two people united hope to have a relationship as strong, loving, and long as that of our gay friends – two men who still had to be careful not to touch or say anything publicly that might indicate their relationship to an outsider.
My husband and I are stuck in silence right now. Looking back, I see the flaws in our earliest alliance, and wonder why we ever walked down the aisle together. I have leaned heavily on my friends for consolation, and they, in turn, have given me absolution for whatever decisions I might make. For now, I am searching for solutions. I owe that to myself and my family. And by doing so I hope I honor my many gay friends who have shown me what marriage truly means.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Ten years ago, I had a first visit with a new doctor. Before any examination took place, he met with me (fully clothed!) in his office, and we chatted. Dr. E got to know me a little. And I got comfortable enough with him that I mentioned my weight. He surprised me by saying that he wasn't terribly worried; health was more important than a specific weight.
I would have followed him anywhere.
Even though he wasn't an internist, I considered Dr. E my primary care physician. He guided me through two pregnancies with minor complications, and I saw him routinely. I could address any question to him. But two years ago he retired. Sure I still get my annual exam from the doctors in that office, but it's not the same.
Prior to meeting Dr. E, I was haunted by previous experiences with a number of doctors, who immediately assumed that any issue was a symptom of my weight. Allergies? I must eat too much. Earaches? Get more exercise. A sinus infection? Lay off the ice cream. Apparently, I was so big even bacteria couldn't escape my gravitational field.
Which is why, for me, going to the doctor is a lot like being sent to the principal.
But I've not been feeling quite right. And, to be honest, I've gained even more weight. It's time to take care of myself. So, I screwed up my courage, made an appointment, and today I had a physical.
I'll get the results from the blood work tomorrow. In the meantime, the numbers in the office were good. Low blood pressure, resting heart rate of 60, great health history. I walked a 1/2 marathon last spring, and am in training to run a 1/2 this spring. I don't smoke or drink. I eat lots of vegetables. I don't drink juice or soda, and mostly avoid junk food. I am, for all intents and purposes, healthy. Despite all that, the only thing the doctor wanted to know is: am I trying any programs to lose weight?
I must be broken, because I am obese. My weight is the only consideration.
And I wonder, why in all my years I've only ever met one doctor who looked at my self first, and then at my body. Because I know I need help, but if you only see a number on a scale, doctor, then how am I going to be comfortable talking to you about what to do?
I'll go back and try and work with this doctor. But I'll miss Dr. E every time.