When I was planning my wedding, I got a lot of advice. Everyone I knew had an opinion on what and who needed to be included on our big day. It can be an overwhelming time, and I do my best not to give brides advice until I’m asked. But on this one, I’ve got to speak out.
It was a rainy evening in late September. The cake had been cut, the toasts had been given, and there was but one thing left for us to do: party. Then, IT came on. The DJ, my brother, put on Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer. All the wedding guests ran out onto the dance floor. EVERYONE danced. Even my husband’s 90 year old grandparents sat and clapped from their chairs, looking on and smiling. Bon Jovi was a hit. People dig 80’s rock. But that’s not why this song is must at a wedding.
People who have been married for more than 20 or so years are often asked a question by those who have been married for less time: “What’s the secret?”. I’ve heard a variety of answers, everything from “honesty” to “laughter”. One person I asked recently gave the best answer I’d ever heard “What’s the secret?” I asked. “Don’t get divorced.” He answered. I personally find this to be brilliant advice. Because the question wasn’t “How do you stay in love?” or “How to you stay happy with the same partner?” but “How do you stay married?” and that really is the true secret to staying married: not getting a divorce.
Now, I’m not insinuating that every couple is meant to be together forever. In many cases, abuse, neglect, and simply growing apart cause people to lose the luster of what brought them together. And that’s ok. In some cases it’s great. But it is true that while we glamorize the idea of having grown old together, we rarely glamorize the actual concept of growing together. Perhaps these older couples we admire for being “so in love” for many years, had years that didn’t feel like love at all. They most likely had years of struggle, and strife, and fighting, or even not speaking. Women of our recent past and even now often lack the resources to free themselves of these difficult relationships. This lack of choices can lead to what we often covet- a long lasting marriage. So the question must be asked: what is the key to a long lasting and HAPPY marriage? Besides not getting divorced, the answer is obvious: Love.
But what is love? I would argue that when we first say “I love you” to someone in a romantic relationship we rarely mean it. Because love isn’t based on attraction, or fate, or sex, or even compatibility. When we first say “I love you” to someone we are saying that we can see a future with them. That we are psyched that the basic foundation for love is in place, and that IS rare. It should be celebrated. With a romantic proposal, a diamond ring, or a wedding, we celebrate. But we aren’t celebrating love. We are celebrating potential. We are celebrating faith. When two people pledge their lives to one another, it’s no different than going all-in at a poker table. It’s the biggest bet you’ll ever make. And you make it with the person you marry in front of all of your friends and family. But there will be a time when you regret placing that bet, throwing all your chips down, and risking it all. This is normal. All love really is, is having a connection with someone SO deep, that you can’t walk away in a time of crisis. Love is going through it with someone. Love isn’t strengthened in times of trial, it is created there. So, it’s actually impossible to be in love with someone you haven’t been through it with. Whether it’s your best friend, your parent or sibling, wife, or husband, Love only shows itself when it’s called to endure. And when you’ve endured together, you begin to truly love.
Which brings me back to Jon Bon Jovi, who obviously knows the secret to lasting marriage because he married his high-school sweetheart in 1989 and they are still going strong, which is impressive under any circumstance, but remarkable considering he is a rock star celebrity. So you know that you can trust him when he says “you’ve got to hold on to what you got”, and that “it doesn’t really matter if you make it or not”. He’s singing about crisis in a relationship between two people who refuse to give up on their situation, and each other. And that may not be the case for everyone. But it is for Tommy and Gina, who have it tough (so tough). Listening to this song as a younger woman, I felt bad for Tommy and Gina. What a crap situation they have! But as a married woman, I now realize, there isn’t a couple alive that don’t have it tough. This is a song about love. Not crisis. This is a song about marriage. So when you play this song at your wedding, you are solidifying a commitment to love, REAL love. The kind of love that endures. And you are welcoming crisis. Because you won’t be able to avoid it, no matter who you marry. There will be arguments about money, and tears and blame to share. There will be resentment and hurt feelings, and taking turns pulling an unbearable weight. There will be heart-bursting days of overwhelming love, and the kind of tragedy that tears people apart. There will be nights of Netflix, pillow talk, and laughter, and days of sorrow and aches of heart and head. What is important to remember is that for love, you should give it a shot.
As the dance floor swelled on my wedding night, Bon Jovi declared the ultimate statement. “You live for the fight when that’s all that you got.” Then, the bad ass key change happened. Key changes are often used to enhance the feel of a song. They increase a sense of climax and usher in a surge of optimism, which is exactly what you will need at some point in your marriage. Whether it’s a career that you love, a family member, friend, or spouse, you won’t know your capacity to love until you’re living on a prayer. So on your wedding, make sure you get blessed by Bon Jovi. Look at the person you’re thinking of marrying. If you’d work at a diner for them or hock your favorite guitar, take their hand. You’ll make it. I swear.