Ten years. In a decade, those fluffy towels have migrated to the basement, faded and threadbare. The dinner plates once registered for — the ones reviewers warned were fragile — have been shattered, one by one, as if methodically, and replaced with a mishmash you hate. The slow cooker died when its insert shattered; the toaster oven was given to a friend when it wouldn’t fit in the moving van.
While I was spending my first (always insomniac) night postpartum in the hospital, J and Roo snoring softly on either side, I read The Awakening of Miss Prim, something I’d been meaning to read for ages. Unsurprisingly, given all the recommendations I’d received, I loved it.
Prudencia Prim is a practical modern woman looking for escape, who finds it in the eccentric job posting for a private librarian in a small French town. She soon finds herself working for the equally frustrating and charming Man in the Wing Chair, organizing his enviable private library and taking part — somewhat unwillingly — in the life of the household, where he’s raising his nieces and nephews and educating others from the village. Almost despite herself, Miss Prim is drawn in to the unusual community, challenging everything she held dear.
Along the way, she receives the wonderful advice:
“You must not aspire to finding a husband who’s your equal, but one who’s absolutely and completely better than you.”
This was something I took for granted in my parents’ marriage: it was always obvious that each believed the other had settled. My mom admired my dad; my dad admired my mom. And so I set out to find a boy who was my superior, and, like my parents before me, lucked out: John Bowers, a constant inspiration to me to be more kind, patient, energetic, creative.
(Warning: mild Awakening of Miss Prim spoilers)
Like the Man in the Wing Chair, he’s brimming with bookish ideas and convictions and cheerful rants. One of the lines in which the Man in the Wing Chair most reminded me of my husband was this one:
“He wasn’t delightful in arguments, or in debates: he wouldn’t yield an inch concerning what he believed to be true, and he had no mercy with opponents when he saw they weren’t on his level.”
J is a formidable debater who argued several friends into the Catholic Church before succumbing himself. His conviction in debate can make me nervous — I spend a lot of energy monitoring people’s feelings and worry about hurting someone. But his bravery in arguing for the truth reminds me I could stand to gain in tenacity.
One piece reveals the author’s inspirations in crafting her protagonist, exclaiming: “How could one not want to read a novel in which the male protagonist is a composite of C.S. Lewis, John Senior and Mr. Knightley from Jane Austen’s Emma!” While I’m not familiar with John Senior, except by name, biographies of C. S. Lewis have often reminded me of J: intellectually fleet and tough, slightly intimidating in intensity, boisterous with joy. And while Emma isn’t my favorite Austen novel, Mr. Knightley is definitely one of my favorite Austen heroes, one who’s absolutely and completely superior to Emma.
Another passage that struck me as familiar is this one, in which a friend characterizes the Man to Miss Prim:
“And there’s a third group, to which your Man in the Wing Chair belongs, whose aim is to escape from the dragon. They want to protect their children from the influences of the world, to return to the purity of old customs, recover the splendor of an ancient culture.”
Especially in this season, when J’s been able to take a lot of parental leave, I’ve seen all the big and small ways he seeks to protect our kids and “return to the purity of old customs” as he helps educate our kids, reads them books by the fire and leads them in Christmas carols on his violin.
We don’t know from the text if the Man in the Wing Chair sports a spectacular beard, like J, or if Miss Prim ends up with her Man in the Wing Chair. But today, on my Man in the Wing Chair’s birthday, I’m so glad I married mine.
A few years ago I attended a wedding with a really memorable homily. The rest of the wedding was apparently less memorable, because I can’t remember whose it was. My brother-in-law’s?
Anyway, the priest talked about how, by attending the wedding, we were all making a promise to root for the couple in their marriage. In the Book of Common Prayer marriage ceremony, there’s this bit:
The Celebrant then addresses the congregation, saying: Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?
People: We will.
This meant, and means, putting their marriage ahead of our individual relationships with the new husband and wife. If it was my brother-in-law’s wedding, this message especially made sense because the bride and groom were very young, and for many of the attendees, this was one of the first weddings of their peers they’d ever attended.
Now that I am no longer a 24-year-old sitting in the pew beaming up at my devastatingly handsome be-tuxed (tuxed-up?) husband but rather a 30-year-old pulled in a thousand directions, a tiny hand clutched in each of my own, this message seems particularly relevant. Today, on our eighth wedding anniversary, I’m grateful for my sweet, strong, dedicated husband, but I’m also brought back to that priest’s words.
So many people have upheld our marriage. We’ve been blessed to come from a long line of healthy marriages, and we have a lot of folks to look up to. J’s mom advised me that she and J’s dad have a rule: Only one person gets to be mad at a time. My dad advised me that if you don’t feel like you’re giving more than 50% to your marriage, you’re not giving enough.
We’ve also been upheld by friends: friends who are transparent with their marriages, without being whiny, and talked openly about conflict in finance and parenting style and life goals. Friends who have modeled the difficulty of out-of-sync conversions, and marriage that sees career as a shared means toward an end, not an identity. We have friends who have prayed for the conception of our babies, and their safe delivery, and spoken frankly to us about their experiences with that marriage grenade, NFP.
I’ve had reading to guide me — though it seems like basically every recent novel is more about a marriage irreparably imploding — and even found encouragement in fluff like Parenthood, which reminds us that a marriage is worth fighting for.
I want to remind you all that how you live is building up or tearing down the marriages around you. Whether you pretend that marriage is effortless for you while a friend struggles, or indulge in cruel remarks about your spouse that open other marriages up to criticism, your actions affect the unions around you. Remember, please, that vow you may have made even if you’ve never married, simply by attending the wedding of someone you love — to do all in your power to uphold these two sweet, imperfect friends in their marriage.