I have -- in case I haven't mentioned this before -- a happy marriage; we're in our 28th year now, and still seem to enjoy each other, a fact (I'm sure) some of the folks who knew us when we met would find quite mystifying, as we are very different people.
I am, I confess, still processing that experience of watching the video of myself (ugh, who likes to look at pictures of themselves, anyway?) and so this morning, somehow, the question of "settling" arose. It dates back to a rerun of "How I Met Your Mother" my husband and I watched a while ago, in which marriage partners fell into a debate about which of them settled, having been told that in EVERY relationship one of the partners has "settled" for something less attractive than he or she merits.
Neither of us has a particular claim to good looks -- not that we're ugly, or unappealing, but in a society where appearances are important we would never attract attention. So I wondered aloud if that made us happier -- that we are each grateful that we've found someone to love and be loved by, whereas if we'd been drop-dead gorgeous we'd always be wondering if there was someone cuter out there; be players, always trading up, never settling down.
He thought it had little to do with appearances, and more to do with attitude -- so I of course took that opportunity to read aloud to him what Eckhart Tolle was saying in my reading today: "If you are not in a state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, look closely and you will find that you are creating suffering for yourself and others."
What, then, he asked, does acceptance look like? Could it include the sort of depressed Eeyore/martyred take on life -- the "This is all I'll ever get, I guess I'll just put up with it" sort of attitude that can so easily erode joy in longterm relationships or jobs? Because that sort of SOUNDS like acceptance, but it doesn't feel very positive.
So I read on. "Acceptance," says Tolle, "means: For now, this is what this situation, this moment, requires me to do, and so I do it willingly... And (he goes on to say), if you can neither enjoy or bring acceptance to what you do -- stop."
We agreed that willingly must be the key word. Which, if you think about it, takes us right back to the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. Pain may be inevitable, but suffering is a choice, an attitude, a way of looking at the pain that can create misery simply through patterns of thought.
We've certainly had our rainy days. I know my husband isn't perfect; I'm not perfect, either. I could choose to dwell on those imperfections -- either mine or his -- and make both of us miserable. But (though I do occasionally gripe) for the most part I just enjoy the man; rejoice in the goofiness that is our life together, laugh at our differences, and thank my lucky stars that he is the stable, bright, generous and supportive soul he is.
I remember what it was like to be miserable in a marriage. And I know how easy it was at the time to point a finger at my now ex-husband and say he was responsible for my misery. But the truth is more complex than that, and I understood even then that I had a choice. Whatever his contribution may have been, I am the one who was responsible for ending that relationship, because I was the one who just could not find a way to accept that situation. I wanted joy, and could not find it there. Eventually I found the courage to stop; to refuse to settle for less.
For whatever reason, in this marriage I seem to have found the joy I hungered for. My husband likes to suggest from time to time that the pleasure I find here is at least in part relative, a simple matter of comparison: because that former marriage was so uncomfortable, this one looks great just by being less painful. Implying, of course, that this marriage works, not because we are so perfect for each other, but because I've learned acceptance.
Maybe. There might be some of that. A willingness to put up with flaws I might have grumbled more about before. But mostly this just works. For whatever reason, whether it's his particular combination of personality traits or my ability to accept, it works. All I know is -- I'm grateful, every day, for the wonder of that.