Mystery Dance

Twenty-five years ago this May, Eric and I went to the justice
of the peace and got married, with Brenda Ueland, Eric’s
89-year-old stepgrandmother, as our witness. Afterwards, when we
stepped out of the elevator into the courthouse atrium, 150
schoolchildren on risers who happened to be there performing over
the lunch hour burst into song: Could I have this dance for the
rest of my life
? They followed that with Mamas, Don’t Let
Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
. It felt like a mythic
beginning.

Our marriage continues to be a wild dance and the kids are not
cowboys, though they do have an affinity for extreme sports.

Only in hindsight do Eric and I realize that Brenda was an
unusual choice for the only witness to our wedding. She spent half
of her bohemian writer’s life in Greenwich Village and the other
half within a few blocks of where we live. Her passion,
originality, and authenticity live on in books that are still in
print, including If You Want to Write, which Carl Sandburg
called ‘the best book on writing ever written.’ She was married
briefly to Eric’s grandfather (just long enough to find Eric, she
used to say) and boasted that she had had three husbands and 100
lovers but never engaged in a love affair with a married man —
unless he brought a note from his wife. These days, that doesn’t
seem like such an outrageous idea.

There are, of course, good long-term relationships that are
dynamic and loving (though none of them is perfect). But many more
are stagnant at best, toxic at worst. As a culture, we’d rather
countenance train wreck divorces than have honest conversations
about how to heal wounds and restore connections, or how to honor
and cherish family and community no matter how the forms of family
and relationship morph.

I think of a young man I’ve known since he was in kindergarten
telling me how much it meant to have the loving support of an
extended community, one that happens to be open enough to integrate
divorces and other human drama. I think of one of my kids coming
home after getting caught in another family’s post-divorce
undertow, giving me a very long hug and telling me how grateful he
is for our family. Our fragile, tensile, permeable nuclear family
includes my stepson, Leif, and therefore also his mother and her
husband, whom we affectionately call our outlaws — plus countless
other people (and animals) who have been integral to our lives.

All this is the tapestry of the life that Eric and I have
created and that we both love. The romantic soul mate connection
that we had at the beginning has long since tarnished, but the fact
that we have continued to show up and have remained life partners
when splitting up might have been easier reveals qualities of
devotion and connection we never could have imagined 25 years ago
— no matter what the future brings.

In the process of thinking about our cover section, I’ve had a
host of honest conversations with all sorts of people, including a
tantrika who has studied sacred sexuality all over the
world for 21 years, and Steven and Ondrea Levine (see page 52),
whose isolated life allows them to use their 26-year marriage as a
24/7 meditation practice.

I’ve heard about divorces that left everyone mangled and
divorces that actually made families closer. I’ve heard about
outwardly happy marriages between healthy people who haven’t had
sex for seven years; about a single mother business colleague who
has had a once-a-week affair for 21 years; and about a man who
lives part time, platonically, with a former girlfriend so that he
can be the acting father to another man’s son. I know of a
therapist couple, married for decades, who would never tell the
couples they counsel that they have gone to private sex clubs.
About a woman who met her partner of 23 years the first time either
of them had been to a lesbian bar and how they occasionally bring a
third person home.

Regardless of the form relationships take, the consensus is that
a good one is based on self-respect, clear intent about priorities
and purpose, and commitment to growth. But even with a relationship
built on the best foundation, the fact remains that love is
essentially risky. Our only safety lies in gratitude for the lives
we share and for the miracle that we continue to love, against all
odds.

UTNE
UTNE
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