April 20, 2015
Thanks so much for your letter.
First off, it must be said: you look stunning in a wedding dress.
I haven’t read Anne Kingston’s book, but it is now at the top of my to-read list. It will make a nice break from (and counterpart to, come to think of it) Anna Karenina. I stumbled across a list of the Greatest Books of All Time, and was shamed by the number that I had somehow failed to read. So I ordered a stack of them and am working my way through.
I confess that the western Disney Princess Bride fantasy exercises a powerful hold on me. This is not an easy admission. I’ve been a feminist for so long that I don’t remember any other way of being. And yet for all of my no-nonsense pragmatism, my desire for self-sufficiency and my lengthy education in gender theory, I have the heart of a romantic. And not just any romantic, but a gooey, true-love-believing, soul-mate-seeking, teenaged-girl romantic. It’s slightly mortifying.
In my defence, I am also heavily influenced by my parents’ marriage, which was and still is an extraordinarily successful love match. They met by chance when my mother was 17 and my father was 19, and have now been married for 47 years. They visibly adore each other.
But, as we know, my inner romantic has taken a serious body blow in recent months, so I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations of love and marriage. In your last letter to me, you asked whether or not we would work so hard at our relationships if we truly understood that they are impermanent. In fact, I think we work so hard at them precisely because we understand their fragility.
We understand that early romantic love is a kind of dream-state, and that lasting love requires dedicated work from both partners. What frightens us is the knowledge that marriage is a game for two, and that no amount of effort from one can make the other want to play for keeps. And we are right to be scared. We put huge trust in the hands of the one we marry, and we do it in the face of poor odds.
But we put our lives, also, in the hands of other people who form a community around us, and while each individual relationship may be fragile, the web of community relationships is not. I’ve been humbled, over and over again, by the kindness of family and friends in recent months. Some people have disappointed me, yes, but the net of support has held strong. And this makes me think that no effort invested in building relationships is wasted.
On that note, I’ve been filming videos for my website, and I did one on the importance of asking for help. I’m much better at giving help than I am at receiving it, and I’ve been learning – both through my publishing experience and through my divorce – that there is real growth to be found in opening oneself to the help of others.
This spring has had a hard birth, in so many ways, but there are warmer and better days ahead. Thank you for being a steady strand in the net. Your friendship means more than I can say.
FIND THE PEN PAL PROJECT ARCHIVE HERE.