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The ties that bind 

Me and the pard got hold of one of the Bro.-Gov.’s invites to the big Valentine’s Day hitchathon, but we decided to pass it up. We don’t like big self-serving sanctimonious shows. And we think getting married, being married, and staying married are matters that ought to be worked out — and worked on — privately by the two people who have a stake in the thing. The Bro.-Gov.’s marriage is his business — his problem, some might say — and ours is ours. We didn’t think we had anything to teach him about the marital art. And though his invitation suggested he thought he had plenty to teach us — and everybody else who wanted to come and be inspired by his example — we were pretty sure that he didn’t. It’s not easy to compare marriages, but we both agreed that the Lancaster marriage is almost certainly the superior one of these two. Part of that has to do with our good fortune that neither of us has had to spend a life being married to a horse’s ass. Maybe part of it too is the confidence of knowing that if you have it — the “it” in this case being a successful marriage — you don’t have to flaunt it. We also didn’t know if we were supposed to take a gift. The invitation was at least tactful enough to not come right out and say. You’re supposed to know about the gift. And about whether at shindigs like this if it’s your responsibility or somebody else’s to set up the clamor for the spontaneous taking of the love offering. We just didn’t know what the covenant re-nup etiquette was, and we didn’t want to be doing any of that fox pawing that’s such an embarrassment at these pious gatherings of the dearly beloved. So we just stayed home and put up with one another and watched our usual three or four installments of “Law and Order” on three or four different channels at three or four different times. Like most nights. Not one of the mushier of our 40-odd Valentine’s evenings together. But geezer romance has those quiet evenings that don’t stand out, that don’t add to the legend, but that you wouldn’t swap for anything. It really does insult your marriage to make a public spectacle of it. The First Corinthians love psalm warns against the hitchathon’s puffed-up variety of sparking — the kind that vaunteth itself, draws attention to itself, inviting admiration and applause and Osborne-caliber grub and giftery. If all you’ve got to fall back on in the way of marriage is such brass and cymbal posturing, St. Paul calculates that you don’t have diddly. It’s all right to say your vows in front of God and everybody one time, but leave it at that. The second time, the message you convey is going to be that your first attempt was inferior or inadequate in some way and just didn’t get the job done. The third time begins to cast serious doubt. The fourth educes soft laughter and so on till you get up into pitiful territory with Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor, and them. And also leave the slobbering and the googoo to young people. Young people can be forgiven that, once. Second-timers, old-timers, re-nuppers and other repeat offenders need to just get a room. These covenant damned things seem intent on delivering another annoying message: that covenant vows are more serious than regular vows because the covenant bond is harder to break. Covenant vows are to regular vows like Super Glue to Elmer’s. The covenant is therefore a gutsier choice, and covenant married people are just more married than the rest of us. My guess is that the strongest marriages are those in which commitments are kept because the partners want to keep them rather than because they feel like they have to. The bonds of matrimony shouldn’t be shackles. A marriage should be as easily gotten out of as into. Locking a person into an institution, whether marriage or jailhouse, is the surest way to get him thinking about escaping from it. You activate the mindset by turning the key. And I suspect in a lot of the covenant cases, that thought very quickly becomes father to the wish. Or mother to the wish. Regular old marriage is no less demanding. It asks you to hang in there through thick and thin, rich and poor, sick and well — but only because you want to, and believe in it. It doesn’t shark your moat or lock your cell door. Or if it does lock the cell door, it leaves the key on a nearby nail like in Mayberry. The vows me and the pard made way back when were the old dependables Love Honor and Obey. This was even before write-your-own vows became popular, and before the Obey got to be an issue. Obey was acceptable then because it meant something different from one giving orders and the other following them. It meant something finer, something noble. The obedience wasn’t to a bully giving orders but to a standard, an ideal. It was obedience to one’s own better angels. Love and honor also compared nicely to the dry legalisms of the covenant as propositions to plight your troth on.
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