Wes: This week’s column was safely to bed and ready to transmit just as my weekly life-altering experience reached out to grab me. It arrived in the form of a wedding. I didn’t see it coming, because frankly, I’m not a big fan of weddings. In my view, young couples, in their overabundance of romance and shortage of forethought, put more time, energy and planning into their 30-minute wedding than they do their lifetime of marriage.
So I went to this wedding not for a heartfelt moment of sheer joy, but because the bride was Marissa Ballard, Double Take columnist from 2005 and 2006. Even before that, Marissa helped conceptualize the column, and since her “retirement” and move to Pittsburg State, helped judge the columnist selection contest every year until 2010. Beyond that, she’s one of my favorite young people.
In terms of gifting, I never go with the bridal registry. My wedding gift keeps on giving: John Gottman’s book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” You’ll find it at the bookstore on a shelf labeled Marriage and Divorce. No, seriously. Nowadays they mix up the books on marriage with those on divorce and child custody. That way you can pick up both in one trip, so you’re ready if the marriage fails, which statistics tell us it probably will.
Ah, but I am fooled again. In my nearly 48 years I’ve been to more than a few weddings, but none more moving than Marissa’s. Rather than a lot of pageantry and pomp, I saw two young people surrounded by friends and family in a simple setting, overwhelmed with their emotion for each other. I’ll not invade the sanctity of the moment by giving a play-by-play, but the sense of love and togetherness between the couple made it as if the rest of us had disappeared into the background, leaving them alone, together, perfectly, as they shared their promises. Then, they turned and rejoined us there, in the community. I’ve never clapped so hard at a wedding. It touched my heart and made me want to go home and be married another 25 years, which I shall now do.
That brings us to the point of the column, short and sweet. A great many young people today do not trust the “us” of the world. In adolescence, as they are becoming their relational selves, they see too much divorce and destructive sexual behavior amongst adults. We like to think they’re getting this diet from TV or the Internet. Don’t kid yourself. It’s closer than that. They in turn form transient relationships, relying far too much on the recreation of sex and too little on its spiritual essence. Instead teenagers need to see role models who show them that getting married is not about your wedding day — no matter how deeply moving it may be. It’s about the next day and the one after that, and a lifetime of those days. In each one you get up and decide to be married again, not when it’s easy and beautiful and fun, but when it’s hard and ugly and sucks. You fight for the relationship not because you don’t want to end up divorced, but because you want to end up married.
My deepest congratulations to Marissa and her new husband, Arna Hemenway, as they take that journey together, and to all the young couples who follow them. Marry well, trust the “us” and fight for it.
Samantha: Unlike Wes, I haven’t been to many weddings yet. I’ve been to a couple of traditional white weddings, with a bride donning a lovely dress, flower girls sprinkling petals down the aisle and a ballroom reception. Those things never moved me. The most beautiful ceremony I ever attended was anything but traditional — my godparents’ wedding, a humble backyard affair, the wedding party dressed in shorts. We sat on a canvas painter’s cloth on the grass during the ceremony.
Other than my parents, my godparents are the greatest example of a loving relationship I’ve had the honor to witness. They enjoy each other’s company every day; my sister says they always seem to be on their honeymoon. Between the two of them, they can do anything. Ranae excels at woodworking, line dancing and teaching, and Jan is a fantastic singer/songwriter and an expert at web accessibility for people with disabilities. They support each other’s interests, and they offer help to each other even while juggling 15 other projects. It’s so fun to watch them brainstorm together; they encourage and inspire each other to achieve great things. Every day, Ranae makes Jan a blended ice mocha, which Jan greets with a dazzlingly gracious smile. I want to have a marriage like that. One where the little things count.
At their small wedding, each person shared a story, speech or poem about Jan and Ranae. Each had something wonderful to say about the relationship. When they read the vows they’d written for each other, they were both in tears, along with the rest of the wedding guests. Jan and Ranae never have been bored with each other or strayed from their commitment. They’re the light in each other’s lives and their reason each gets up every morning to face another day.
They were together over 15 years before their wedding day. It came during the small window of time in which gay marriage was legal in California. It’s astonishing to me that a couple of this caliber could not be married in most states; they have a better marriage than 95 percent of the couples I know. I think everyone has something to learn about love from Jan and Ranae.
— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Samantha Schwartz is a recent graduate of Lawrence High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.