To you this day am I wed
And to you do I make these promises:
I will love you from my deepest self
Sharing my life with you, I will be joyful
In your sharing your life with me
I commit myself to you , to a life
Of service to our marriage, and our family
And will keep my agreements with you
In a spirit of love and acceptance.
I will love you without conditions
No obstacle, no action will divide this pledge
And I will take you as you really are
And as you will become, as you grow
Into the person you shall become
I will be joined with you in a common bond
To a life of love, acceptance, and growth
To reach out beyond ourselves, and make
Our contributions to the future of our family,
Our people, and our world
I will love you without seeking to own you
Give freely of my abundance, while
Receiving joyfully from yours.
I wrote this poem in 1984 and my wife and I based our marriage vows on it. Our marriage was my second marriage, but her first, and so far, only marriage. These words bound us together in a marital relationship for the last thirty-five years. Our marriage was always unconventional in many ways, and the way it started made it necessarily so.
It turns out that we are quite different in our points of view, on a lot of issues, including, and maybe, especially, what marriage means to each of us. For many years we chose to leave our differences unfocussed and just slightly behind a curtain of apparent and superficial conformity. To our community, and mostly to our children, our marriage appeared to be pretty much according to common community values, one man and one woman, with a raft of kids, going through the process of life. Our initial agreement to be unconventional in being polyamorous was a whisper in privacy.
It was implicitly and explicitly understood that I would be discrete in my external relationships and not bring them home, even in discussion. The policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell applied because she really didn’t want to deal with it, and as long as I stayed away from her circle of friends, she was mostly fine with it. In a sense, she had been a special “friend” with me and mothered our first child while I was in an “open marriage” with my former partner.
Over the many years which followed those early times we both followed what we believed was applicable under the terms of our promises. Suffice it to say that my external relationships and experiences were kept away from the family, and never discussed with her. Any time she did bring up the issue of marital fidelity, I would always remind her of the agreement we made at the beginning. She believed that our agreement was purely a “pro forma” agreement, an agreement made purely to serve as an artifact of our original relationship.
Most importantly, she believed that I merely maintained my commitment to it to retain my intellectual independence, and was not involved with any outside relationships or sexual engagements.
And so we continued until a few years ago, when a time came when I had to explicitly introduce evidence that I had not only engaged intellectually, but had also engaged in sex with someone else. In my view, I was never unfaithful, as our promises never included any promise from me that I would not be involved with other people. In her view, when confronted with specific evidence confirming my external relationships, I’d been screwing around, and unfaithful, for all of the last 35 years.
It didn’t matter that we had this agreement, because she felt that it was obtained under duress, or without her full understanding of what it really meant. Over the years when she challenged me on whether or not I was seeing other people, I had always confirmed our original agreement as still being valid, and refused to specifically acknowledge when or with whom I was involved. She’d had many suspicions over the years that I was sexually active outside of the marriage, but had never felt that she wanted to push the issue, knowing that I would continue to adhere to our agreements, regardless of her fears.
The proof that I had been sexually active for years came when I took a battery of blood tests, including one for STDs, that indicated that I was a carrier of Hepatitis B, a disease that is generally contracted by an exchange of body fluids during sex. The first thing I did when this result was made known to me, was to inform my sexual partners, including my wife. Ironically, the test was a false positive, which the specialist stated to me when I went to see him, upon referral by my family doctor. So I’m not a carrier, not even remotely, but by then the damage was done, and the cat was out of the bag.
Suffice it to say, my wife decided that she no longer considers us married, and wants a divorce. I urged her to reconsider on the basis that nothing really had changed, our agreement from 35 years ago is still in place, and I still consider myself bound to its terms.
All of that took place about a year and a half ago, and we’re still living together and cohabitating. We no longer consider ourselves “married’ exactly, but we are both comfortable that we are still “partners” “nesting partners” or even just “friends” living in a common household. Sexuality has not been a facet of our marriage for a long time, so it really wasn’t an issue for either of us.
We have had a really difficult set of discussions and for now are in agreement to stay together for mutual benefit, if not in fact in a marriage, we are still in fact deeply caring people who still love each other, if not the way either of us had wanted. She will remain monogamous and I will remain polyamorous. Where we go from here is anybody’s guess.
What I can say for sure, is that we still love each other, and will remain friends always.