National Catholic Register


Voluntary Permanence

BY Simcha Fisher

| Posted 8/11/11 at 7:00 AM


In Tuesday’s post about tattoos, a reader said,

n my little corner of the world, it’s a somewhat popular practice among Christians to have a wedding ring tattoo stamped on the ring finger when they get married. I’m not sure how to analyze that. It’s wonderful that they’re saying, “I’m in this for life.” But didn’t that used to be what the vows were for?

I’ve thought the same thing, although I understand that cultural connotations may vary (and that some people understandably opt for tattoos if they work with dangerous, ring-snagging machinery).  The thing about metal wedding rings is that you can take them off — but you choose not to.  Something is lost when we make it impossible to take off that ring.  In a small way, the voluntary nature of wedding jewelry speaks volumes about the trust you place in each other, and in yourselves.

I wish I could find the recent article by a therapist who argues that marriage is an unnatural and undesirable state of being.  He bases his opinion partially on the fact that a huge percentage of his patients identified their marriage as a significant stressor.  I’d like to remind the good doctor that 100% of his study group were PEOPLE IN THERAPY.  Concluding that marriage is therefore universally suspect is sort of like working in a hospital and concluding that walking around is unnatural and undesirable, since so many of your patients identified walking around as the occasion of their injury:  the sample group is, perhaps, a little skewed.

Anyway, another of his arguments goes something like this:  Marriage is supposed to mean the life-long duty of monogamy.  It therefore deprives both spouses of the precious gift of being chosen anew every day.  When you roll over in bed and see your same of old wife, he says, there’s nothing romantic about that—nothing loving about forging ahead with the same old same old.  What people really want, he argues, is to be freshly selected as a partner over and over again.  This freshness, this free will, this clear-eyed affirmation of affection is the only way to know that you are truly loved, and not merely endured out of habit or convenience.

In other words, the man is insane.  And knows nothing about love.  And has no business giving anyone advice about anything, beyond how to open, and possibly subsequently to close, the door to his office while hightailing it out of there and over to the nearest bar, where you are likely to find more sensible views about human love scribbled on the bathroom wall.

People in marriages that last understand that freshness and affection come when you stop chasing after them.  They come at odd times, after you’ve earned them by putting in the long hours of devotion, faithfulness, and fortitude.  What the therapist extolled as true love sounds like a perpetual nightmare of anxiety.  Imagine rolling over in bed to see your not-spouse, and wondering, “Will he choose me today?  Am I good enough?  Will I make the grade?”  That doesn’t sound like romance to me, that sounds like pure terror.

In a good marriage, we work hard to make ourselves attractive and appealing.  We strive to be pleasant and helpful, good company.  We try to be someone our spouses would want to choose, given half the chance.  But, unless something has gone terribly wrong, there is no choice—or, rather, the choice has been made.  We enjoy the deep comfort of knowing that it will not be reneged upon.

Jimmy Akin says that when a Protestant asks, “Are you saved?” we can answer, “I have been saved; I am being saved; and I will be saved.”  Yes, I’m free to mess this up for myself at any time—but I have been loved, I am being loved, and I will be loved.

There have been times when I wanted to kill my husband.  But it never crossed my mind to leave him, to undo what we had done—and he says the same.  Even when I’m obnoxious and whiny, even when I’m so enormously pregnant that I couldn’t roll over in bed if I tried, even when I’m doing everything I can to make it hard to be married to me, I know he’s not going to take his wedding ring off. 

It’s not because he can’t, but because he won’t.  The fact that he can makes my certainty all the more delicious.