“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half…’”
Oh, that Robert Browning knew how to turn a phrase. So, for that matter, did his similarly articulate spouse, the former Elizabeth Barrett.
It’s quite tragic, then, that the poetic pair didn’t have a chance to grow very old together. Long medically fragile, Elizabeth passed away in the arms of her beloved at the tender age of 55.
Chronic health conditions aside, however, the couple did have a decent run. From all accounts, they lived fairly well, enduring the drama of family animosities — her family regarded him as beneath her — and flourishing in the company of other intellectual glitterati of the day.
And most important, they stayed together. It’s an unfortunate thing that so many spouses don’t do that now.
While things have gotten better in the past couple of decades, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that more than four in 10 first-time marriages still end in divorce. For remarriages, the trend is still more grim: six out of 10 second unions go south, and it appears that with a failure rate of 73 percent, the third time is not necessarily the charm.
Still, as a species we are generally committed, ’til death do us part, to the principles of romance, monogamy and happily ever after. And that makes Sunday a huge red-letter day.
As you probably know, that’s when it becomes OK for same-sex couples to marry in a way that accords all the legal rights of any other marital union recognized by the state of Illinois. It’s a pretty big deal.
Sure, some have considered themselves wed for a while already. My Chicago friends Matt and Max will mark just their first anniversary Monday, but those of us who live in the part of suburbia where I dwell can’t remember a time when our neighbors Bob and Michael weren’t a compatible twosome.
Naperville Petland co-owners Adam Stachowiak and Mike Isaac, proud parents of twin baby boys, intend to turn their civil union into a legally sanctioned marriage, most likely by filing the paperwork needed to convert their civil union into marriage within the mandated 12-month window.
And Washington Junior High School science teacher Nikki Pagano told me she and her spouse, Jamie Pagano, will likely seal the deal in the presence of their son Cooper and the rest of their loved ones, even though they did have a wedding ceremony, at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Naperville, nearly seven years ago, and became civilly united in 2011.
“We’ll probably do it on the anniversary of our first union, which was in a church,” said Nikki, 34, a North Central College alumnus.
It’s true that as a society, we’ve changed our thinking about recognizing the legal status of gay and lesbian couples’ marriages. This is particularly true of young adults, many of whom seem bewildered by all the hoopla over the shift.
Does that mean all these friends and acquaintances of mine will remain forever blissfully wed? Of course not. Every marriage faces challenges, unforeseen twists and turns, and other variables that sometimes perch resolutely on the shoulders of that excruciating process we call growth. Every marriage also happens upon joys and triumphs nobody saw coming. Being in a relationship that lasts till one’s dying day will by its nature and at various turns prove messy, sad, uplifting, maddening, delightful and exhausting. Marriage takes work, and it does no couple any favors to keep that reality hidden from them.
But borrowing from a now-famous rhetorical question posed by Pope Francis: who are we to forbid them from putting on the steel-toed boots and the hard hat, and buckling down to what can be life’s most rewarding work? Who are we to say they cannot grow old together?