A Marriage Covenant

We call it a “marriage covenant” without thinking much about it. A covenant is a “coming together,” certainly; every way of parsing the word must note com = “together” and venire = “to come.” But we “come together” in so many different ways, don’t we? This picture is about several of those ways, all happening at the same time.

For a number of years now, I have liked this particular way of understanding it.
I’d say these people, Al and Vickie [1], have been married a long time, so, presumably, they have had their ups and downs.

We can see in this picture that Al is generous and disciplined. We can’t tell just by looking whether he is also smart. If Vickie understands the “acts of service” Al performs for her as the truest and most authentic expression of love, then what Al is doing in this picture is not only generous and disciplined, but smart as well. If she understands displays of  emotional attachment—not acts of generosity—as the building block, then what Al is doing is not going to cut it. And he is getting wet needlessly. [2]

politics 1.jpg

He is grumpy. She is morose. Very likely, that is how they express discord between them. Al is being actively grumpy. I think that is why the artist wanted us to see the puffs of smoke coming out of the pipe. Al is working at it. And I think that means that he is going to have to be the one to take the next step.

He seems to understand his choice to shelter her, rather than himself, as part of the trip back toward each other And that is one way to understand it. If, on the other hand, his holding the umbrella is more of a gambit; more an attempt to entice her to take the next step, then what we are seeing is not the precursor to an initiative of his. It is a request for an initiative of hers. And if that is the way she understands it, then we, as onlookers, can be sure it will fail.

It is harder, I think to become less morose [3] than it is to become less grumpy. Grumpy is stamping through the halls and slamming the doors. Morose is hiding in the bedroom, holding yourself, and rocking quietly back and forth. Morose is static [4]; grumpy is dynamic. That means that if she sees the umbrella as an attempt by Al to draw her into action, it will be only another affront. If she sees it as a wisely chosen initiative on Al’s part—“wisely” because it takes into account the kind of person he knows she is—then she can safely respond is whatever way is appropriate.

And what way is appropriate? It will depend on the kind of person she knows Al to be. Does he respond best to praise? Some men do. To touch? Some men do. To actions that clearly have the restoration of the relationship as their premise? Some men do. If she has been paying attention over the last…oh…50 years, she will know how to respond to him—to Al in particular—in a way that is appropriate to him and that will say what she wants to say.

What Al knows, and I think this is the thing I like best about the picture, is that Vickie is still the woman he loves. And he loves her now, in this moment, when they have just had a disagreement that shredded the peace in which they normally live. He is angry at her at the moment, but his love for her is not a fact of their lives that exists at the same level that the anger does. The love is the foundation of the relationship; the anger is a badly chosen color for the garage.

So it isn’t that he doesn’t love her at the moment, but knows that he will again. His love for her is settled and decisive. It is an offer made and honored over and over again for many years. The anger is an emotion that has come and it will go and when it goes, Vickie will still be dry and Al will still be wet.

Finally, the caption that comes with the picture says that this shows “caring for each other.” Al cares for Vickie; Vickie cares for Al. The funny part of the picture is grumpy old Al holding the umbrella over Vickie’s head. But Vickie is caring for Al too.

I note, for instance, that she is still there. If you will think back to your own past, you will remember times when caring was not enough to keep you or your spouse from leaving the scene. When the relationship is bad, there are so many other places you could be.

And although she seems sad and withdrawn, we have to wonder whether that is really the best she can do at that moment. I think it might have been. And if it was, if holding herself at that emotional level and refusing to allow herself to go lower, was an achievement for her, then Al probably knows that and may very well be proud of her. In doing the hard work of emotional control, she may have been caring for him, just as he is caring for her by where he hold the umbrella.

I really like these people. I have no idea whether the internal stories I have made for them are true—or even what “true” means in this context—but they seem realistic to me because I have been at some of those places and have loved wives who were at others of those places and I think that is why I like this cartoon so much.

[1] I think I may once have had Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert in mind, but looking at the picture, Al and Vickie is as close as I could come.
[2] An important part of the early relationship Bette and I experienced was based on The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. The notion that loving your partner in the language she cares most about is the smartest thing to do comes from that book and from some years of living with Bette.
[3] I always hear “less-ose” when I write “morose,” but with vigilance and good will, I can confine it to the footnotes.
[4] It is a static that will interfere with whatever signals she is trying to send Albert.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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