My first wife was truly exceptional. Phi Beta Kappa from Berkeley, she turned down Harvard Law School. She was the smartest woman of my generation I’d ever met. And with the deadly and unpredictable new disease called AIDS creeping mysteriously about, why wouldn’t I play it safe and marry her when it became clear she’d say ‘yes.’ We might not have been a perfect match, but my buddies thought she was ‘cute’ and compared to most of my couple friends, we seemed relatively compatible.
Moments after the Justice of the Peace pronounced us married my new mother-in-law pulled me aside and with her stern British accent warned me, “Congratulations Mark. But you know marriage is a lot of hard work.”
A lot of hard work? My heart sank. I didn’t get married because I wanted one more difficult task in my life. On my wedding day, my new mother-in-law had unwittingly helped me realize that I believed (in fact had always believed) in soul mates, and that her daughter was not mine.
While it took nearly seven painful years for the marriage to fully unravel, I spent much of that time reaffirming my fundamental belief that my soul mate, my true life partner, was still out there and that I was meant to spend my life with her. This belief had been buried under years of watching my own parents fight and criticize each other. The little boy who initially believed in true love grew into a cynical young man who objectified women, valued trophy wives and lost touch with what he felt in his heart of hearts.
But thanks to my ex-mother-in-law, I am now married to my soul mate and best friend. It is such a deep, all-knowing and certain feeling that I struggle to explain it to others. One grotesque way I sometimes describe it is: if all four of my small children and my wife were all about to get run over by a train and I had to choose to save either all four kids or only my wife, the answer is a no-brainer. I’d save my wife without a second thought. I do love my kids. They’re just not my soul mates. They’re somebody else’s. And if I lost my wife, my life would feel absolutely pointless.
As a practical matter, in our 11 years together, my wife and I have never had a fight. We both, rather ridiculously, think the other is the most attractive creature of their gender. Trust me, we’re not. But I don’t see beauty through my eyes anymore. I see it from my heart. I feel my wife’s presence deep within my bones and we often have the exact same thought at the same moment. It’s as if she is not only my other half, but she is actually part me.
My marriage is not hard work. It’s one big celebration.