New marriages are very much like the rings we exchange: shiny, new, full of sparkle for the bright future ahead. With or without diamonds, made out of precious metals like platinum and gold, they shine with promise. As well they should.
Over time the rings tend to tarnish a bit, not unlike the marriage itself and not necessarily in a bad way. Patina, they call it, in jewelry circles. The layers of tint that come naturally with time, darkening and enriching the surface of the metal. Some people hate this coloration and scrub their rings clean the moment it appears. Others pay the jeweler to add it, artificially creating depth that hasn’t had time to occur.
Years of wear tests any marriage over time, with hundred of pop quizzes you never saw coming and more than a few finals for which you should have studied harder. And occasionally the anvil, upon which everything bends – or breaks.
No matter how strong the commitment, how passionate the love and fervent the determination to stay together, every marriage has a breaking point. Even if you never get there, you can sometimes see it on the distant horizon. The place beyond which, despite your best efforts, you just can’t hold it together.
It’s important to step back at this time, lest you stumble past the point of no return and onto a battlefield where no one ever wins…
On New Year’s Eve we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. I didn’t want to make a big fuss about it, even though it was too big of a milestone to completely ignore. It took several months of thinking before I literally stumbled over the right marker. More accurately, I had dinner with it.
Rebecca is a friend and jewelry designer who somewhat unwittingly (being adorably young and unmarried), came up with the perfect metaphor for a marriage tested by time: A ring, forged out of steel and held together with a small piece of gold. She had just recently designed it and was wearing it at dinner.
Steel is not a traditional metal for modern-day jewelry making but is growing increasingly popular. It’s worn more often by punks and hipsters, the creative folks who hang out on jewelry-making’s jagged edge. It wouldn’t have been my first choice. Until I thought about it as a metaphor.
Steel doesn’t melt. I mean it does, but that’s not what makes it strong. What makes steel strong is when you heat it and then pound the shit out of it. I mean with a hammer. Think about knife making: Heat. Hammer. Cool. Polish. Heat again.
Sound familiar? Well it does to me.
Gold, by contrast, melts easily. It can take a beating, but it doesn’t ask for one and if you’re not careful, it can flake or shred on you, ultimately giving up its shape. Gold wants you to be good to it.
When I saw Rebecca’s ring I realized right away what I’d discovered: a symbol of a long and loving marriage, forged over time and held together by the perpetual breaking point.
For better or for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.