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How telling stories helps us define the meaning of marriage

Back in February and March when I was re-reading and reading* Madeline L’Engle’s Time Quintet, I recalled the author’s bittersweet Two-Part Invention.  The subtitle helps show my interest in the book:  “The Story of a Marriage.”

At the time, I thought it was the best book on marriage I had ever read.  Later, when I re-read the Odyssey, I realized Homer’s epic still holds that title.  (And perhaps always will.)

Given that I underline in my books and often write notes in the margins and fly-leaves, I thought that by reviewing this book, I might quickly locate a few insights, a few conclusions she has made about that ancient and honorable institution to help me craft a post on gay marriage similar to that Megan McArdle, as Jane Galt, wrote eight years ago, A really, really, really long post about gay marriage that does not, in the end, support one side or the other.

But, L’Engle’s book was about marriage primarily in the sense that she reflects on her life, her relationship with her husband Hugh, farmed in part around his death from cancer in 1986 .  To write movingly about marriage, she deals not in abstractions, but in anecdotes, sharing certain experiences with us as she recalls her feelings and her reflects on her and her beloved’s interactions.   And as I reviewed my notes, I wondered if what has been bothering me so much about the debate on gay marriage is that most people do the opposite of what L’Engle did in this book, that is, they talk mostly in abstractions.

Marriage is about love, say the advocates.  Gay marriage will destroy the institution, say the opponents.  The former hardly discuss how love can sustain a life-long partnership.  The opponents don’t tell us how exactly same-sex unions will undermine the institution.

And their tired cliches sound increasingly empty each time another individual repeats them anew.   What L’Engle teaches us is that to really get at the meaning of marriage, you need do more than recite rehearsed bromides, you need to tell stories.

No wonder that when Homer reunites Odysseus and Penelope after twenty years of separation, he has Athene delay the dawn so that the married couple can both delight in the pleasure of love-making and share each other’s stories.

Now, to be sure, L’Engle does offer more than just anecdotes particular to her marriage.  And offers this one insight which, I believe, gets at the essence of marriage:

A love which depends solely on romance, on the combustion of two-attracting chemistries, tends to fizzle out.  The famous lovers usually end up dead.  A long-term marriage has to move beyond chemistry to compatibility to friendship, to companionship.  It is certainly not that passion disappears, but that it is conjoined with other ways of love.

L’Engle isn’t the only one to get it.  Amidst the flurry of bromides and nasty barbs on Facebook in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court decision on state recognition of gay marriage, a married lesbian friend shared this touching reflection on the meaning of the institution:

Those of you that are married will understand. When Susie and I were able to get legally married, it changed me in a way that was different from any other relationship I had been in. Being fully seen in the eyes of our family, our friends and the law and having no “easy” way out (I mean that in the best of ways), has made me a more patient, humble, loving, communicative, and gentle person. Marriage has made me a better woman. Congratulations to everyone that gets to experience this now.

Reprinted with permission, but with the name of her wife changed — and with emphasis added.

Marriage changed her.  Please do note how in this short reflection (fewer than one hundred words), she mentions that she has “no ‘easy’ way out”** — and how that aspect of the institution helped draw out — and strengthen — her good qualities.

Perhaps, it is due to their interactions with gay and lesbian married couples like my friend that Americans have, in recent years, come to embrace the idea of gay marriage.

Let this be the opening of that long post I have long wanted to write on gay marriage.


*The reason for this unusual construction is that I had, as a boy, read the first three books of the Quintet, but had not read the last two.  So I re-read A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet and read, for the first time, Many Waters and An Acceptable Time.

**This is one reason why those truly concerned about strengthening marriage should focus on abolishing “no-fault” divorce laws rather than blocking state recognition of same-sex unions.



  1. Here’s a story: Gay couple pays Russian surrogate mom for boy; use him to make child-pron.

    It’s not exactly ‘When Harry Met Sally,” but isn’t it romantic?

    Comment by V the K — July 2, 2013 @ 12:51 pm - July 2, 2013

  2. I don’t come here to engage the person (1) who keeps attacking me (2). If you enjoy clutching pearls about other people’s behavior on this blog (3), one wouldn’t think you’d need to wait very long to do it (4). And if you think two people’s being banned would end the problem, you are worse than naïve (5).

    Comment by Lori Heine Cry Me A River — July 2, 2013 @ 12:26 am

    Taking the last one first:

    5 – Throbert, you are right, and hardly naive. I might get more mileage out of ignoring this shrieking, howling banshee, but I find the urge to castigate her both necessary and irresistible.
    However, as I said to ILC recently, while I am not proud of some of the things I throw at her, neither am I ashamed or regretful.
    This hag is yet another example of a long line of cowards (on or off the Internet), who delights in throwing her bull*** and bile whenever her inner psycho bubbles to the surface (is it ever NOT at the surface?), and the first to scream “FOUL!” when she finds that a few people here like to respond to her ‘in kind’.
    But, I take your admonishment seriously, and will resist, as often as possible, the urge to administer to this crone the doses of her own medicine which she so justly deserves.

    1 – You respond to me, directly and otherwise, nearly every time you show up. This statement is a LIE.

    2 – “who keeps attacking me.”
    This is another instance in the long, wearisome history of Ms. Heinous where she will, faster than greased lightning, throw out the ‘victim/martyr’ card.
    She needs to be told constantly that if she’s going to stage her attacks on others (and there’s a veritable mountain of these in this blog’s archives), then she shouldn’t be so taken aback when some of us return those gestures.

    3 – “Clutching pearls.”
    FrankenstHeine here has been clutching HER pearls for so long (being, as she obsessively reminds us) a ‘pure as the driven snow’ libertarian, that I’m amazed she hasn’t strangled herself to death or, at the very least, scarred her pretty little neck with permanent ligature marks.

    4 – He, and everyone else here, will never “need to wait very long to do it.”
    No, they’ll only have to wait for as long as it takes for YOU to show up.

    This blowhard has been, and remains to this very day, the reigning title holder in the LIAR, PHONY, and HYPOCRITE classes.

    Congratulations, champ!

    Comment by Jman1961 — July 2, 2013 @ 1:58 pm - July 2, 2013

  3. And if you think two people’s being banned would end the problem, you are worse than naïve.

    To be clear, I was proposing a (temporary) timeout, not a perma-ban. I don’t think the latter is a very good policy — I remember what a nightmare it became during a certain phase of LGF history — but I think that occasional use of 3-day or 1-week bans could sometimes be helpful. It gives the naughty puppies a shake by the neck without harming them, and may serve pour encourager les autres.

    The rationale for banning both/all of the persons involved in a prolonged flame war is that it spares the mods/owners the headache of having to adjudicate on claims like “I didn’t start it, HE did!!!” and “If you go back to this thread from two weeks ago and that thread from March, you’ll see that SHE was clearly the guilty party!!!” Instead, anyone and everyone who’s making bad trouble RIGHT NOW gets a brief suspension, without prejudice or favoritism, on the principle that it takes more than one person to make an argument or flame war.

    That said, of course, timeouts may not be technically practical to implement — it depends on the Web-fu strength of the owners/mods.

    Comment by Throbert McGee — July 3, 2013 @ 8:23 pm - July 3, 2013

  4. Hm, that wouldn’t be the LGF spinoff blog that drove away everybody but about four people who now engage in a continuous Obama-lovin’ circle jerk?

    I haven’t even looked in there for a couple years, but I assume we’re talking about the same place…

    Comment by Throbert McGee — July 3, 2013 @ 8:24 pm - July 3, 2013

  5. Hi Throbert,
    ” I was proposing a (temporary) timeout, not a perma-ban.”
    I liked the idea, once I read your explanation @53. I think that it still has some issues to work out–you get rid of the “he said–she said” issue; but then the issue of what constitutes a “prolonged flame war” in these circumstances would have to be hashed out; e.g., how many exchanges, etc. Even so, I hope the moderators give your idea consideration.

    Comment by Passing By — July 8, 2013 @ 3:19 pm - July 8, 2013

  6. Even so, I hope the moderators give your idea consideration.

    Comment by Passing By Constantly Sticking My Snotty Nose in Places Where it Doesn’t Belong — July 8, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

    They might also consider throwing your sorry a** off the premises, while they’re at it.

    Comment by Jman1961 — July 8, 2013 @ 5:52 pm - July 8, 2013

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