The Mystery of Marriage

Lovemaking is the sensual offer of goodness to our partner, but when we think of the word “lover,” it seems to immediately connote sex. What happens before and after sex often sets the parameters of what degree of pleasure will last after an orgasm. How little I understood the mystery of marriage during my first months of being a newlywed.

On January 21, 1977, I became Mrs. Dan Allender during a blizzard at Trinity Methodist Church in Marble Cliff, Ohio. The ceremony began at 7:30 p.m., which remains one of the worst decisions of my life (the time, not the marriage), but that’s a story for another time. Our first six months we lived away from our families and were active in a vibrant, growing church community in Boca Raton, Florida. Our possessions were few, our jobs seemed uncomplicated, and our dreams for our future seemed naively possible. Sundays after morning church and before evening worship were reserved for swimming, lying at the beach or a pool, and then our anticipated session of connubial bliss.

In August we moved to Philadelphia for Dan to finish his fourth year of graduate study. The dream of living in a carriage house turned into a nightmare, and we chose to live with a newly widowed woman and share her family room, bathroom, and kitchen. We still didn’t own a bed, so two twin beds were pushed together, and each morning I found myself falling through the gap between mattresses.

One car and two different schedules (waitressing for me and school for Dan) required over a mile walk through an office park in order to get to “The Coach Inn” (five train cars turned into a restaurant). More than once I slipped and fell on wet floors in the kitchen while holding a tray of six meals. Often I arrived cold and wet for an eight-hour shift ending at 5 p.m. with unruly business lunches that lingered with liquor way too long. I longed for our Sundays at the beach and regular connubial bliss. And then illness struck.

I barely made it through the front door when my body rumbled with urgency and I dashed up the steep stairs to the bathroom. Within seconds, I was vomiting into the toilet, and then I needed to grab the wastebasket because I needed to tend to dual eruptions! Sounds and smells disgorged that horrified and embarrassed me! Dan was frantically knocking on the door asking how he could help. The last thing I wanted was anyone to see me! I was on verge of fainting when to my horror, Dan opened the door and came in to help me.

The lover knows every part of his or her lover’s body. Every square inch has been discovered and marveled over. My body had never been the basis of so much intimate delight. Even our wedding vows had stated that our bodies were for the other. Yet, in this state of sickness, I was adamantly unwilling to be seen! My husband was in a bind. I was needy, sicker than I could ever remember being in my life, yet the horror and depth of shame was larger than any sense of need.

Dan, without an ounce of disgust, offered me care. I recall the kindest eyes looking towards me, kinder I could have ever imagined. In fact, I still cannot remember a more astonishing moment experiencing his care, truly his holy care for me. Was this love in any way comparable to the tenderness and delight of love making? This most horrific and humbling situation became a window into an even more mysterious understanding of what it means to be a lover.

Our capacity for sex ebbs and flows and rises and falls as regularly as the tides. We have struggled in our marriage over 45 years with irritation, anger, fury, indifference, jealousy, fear, and bitterness.

But far more, we have fought to return to each other and to not let our failures determine our future.  

What lingers from our early lovemaking is the sweet fragrance of nostalgia, but what remains from the way my lover touched me in the bathroom is ferocious loyalty that surrounds the sweet core of wonder. How could he love me so deeply, so unwaveringly, with the affront of such offense so early in our marriage? What we know of love is as Pascal wrote: “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of…”

I’ve been asked by a number of younger women how to keep alive sexually into one’s advance years. I have no real answer or advice, but I have memory of the loyal, sensuous, generous touch of a man who has seen me at my worst, needing the most, refusing even the smallest care. Memory is enough to keep the fire of lovemaking lit.

Becky Allender lives on Bainbridge Island with her loving, wild husband of 42 years. A mother and grandmother, she is quite fond of sunshine, yoga, Hawaiian quilting, and creating 17th Century reproduction samplers. A community of praying women, loving Jesus, and the art of gratitude fill her life with goodness. She wonders what she got herself into with Red Tent Living! bs