I Choose You!

It was a difficult and painful counseling session. Ten days ago, Arnold had announced to Virginia that he was leaving their twenty-year marriage to be with another woman. Since that announcement, they had spent a number of sleepless nights painfully baring their souls. There was no question about their love for one another. Rather, Arnold revealed that he was no longer “in love” with Virginia.

Something significant emerged during the session. Arnold told Joyce and me, “I never really chose Virginia. She was always the one pursuing me. She asked me out on dates. She asked me to move in together. She asked me to marry her. True, I went along because I loved her, but she was the one who chose me all along. Even though it hurts her deeply, I’m finally choosing for myself, even though it’s someone else.”

I admit, one person choosing the relationship is not uncommon. But does it work? I don’t think so. In some ways, the person making the choice has more power. The person not making the choice has forfeited some of his or her power. The “chooser” is somewhat like a parent, while the chosen one becomes more of a child.

Especially when it comes to living together or marrying, both partners must equally choose, or the relationship is being built on a faulty foundation. Arnold admitted, “Virginia was the kindest, most loving woman I had ever been with. For her to want to be with me was the highest compliment. I just couldn’t say no to her choosing me. But now I know it was because I didn’t think I would ever find as good a woman as her. That’s not a good enough reason for a relationship.”

After three and a half years with Joyce, in the spring of 1968, she started bringing up marriage. Even though she never proposed to me, she made it clear that, for her, marriage was the next step. I, on the other hand, was content with having Joyce as my girlfriend. But underneath, I was really afraid to choose Joyce for the rest of my life. Marriage seemed too permanent … too big a risk for me.

To her credit, rather than asking me to marry her, she made plans to move on in her life. She was soon graduating from Columbia Nursing School in New York City. She applied as was accepted as a nurse to work with Native Americans in a reservation in the southwest, thousands of miles from New York. I remember feeling that she would never leave me. So I maintained my stance of inactivity, almost calling her bluff.

The next day she announced she had just bought a one-way plane ticket. In those days, tickets were fully refundable, but I started to get nervous. Joyce really was moving on with her life without me. If I wasn’t going to choose her, she was choosing a career away from me.

I spent a few days examining my deepest feelings. I certainly didn’t want to choose to marry Joyce just because she was leaving. Yet I did feel sorrow at the thought of losing her. I allowed myself in my mind to play out my life without Joyce. It became unbearable. I felt that losing Joyce would be the greatest mistake of my life. In that moment, in my mind and heart, I chose to spend the rest of my life with Joyce.

The next day, I went out and ordered a diamond engagement ring. It would cost me every penny I had, but I would be choosing Joyce, and that was worth everything. I wanted it to be a surprise, but made the mistake of telling my mother, who was never good with secrets.

A week later, Joyce and I stopped by my family home. As we opened the door and went inside, my mother blurted out, “Barry, the jeweler called to say the ring is ready. Oops, I shouldn’t have said that…” I saw the beginnings of a smile form on Joyce’s lips, but nobody said anything more. I did, however, notice my older sister shoot an exasperated glance at my mother.

The next day, I picked up the ring, stowed it safely in my pocket, then drove down into New York City to be with Joyce. From her dormitory, we walked to our favorite place, the George Washington Bridge. We walked out to the first tower and there, hundreds of feet above the Hudson River, I took the ring from my pocket and asked Joyce to marry me. She looked down at the ring in my hand and felt two things: first, a resounding YES, and second, fear that I might drop the ring. We were standing on a walkway grate with holes easily big enough for a ring to fall through.

Fast-forward to the morning of June 26, 2010. Our daughter, Rami, was getting married to River outside our home. It was a beautiful warm fogless day, and the sound system was being set up, with speakers big enough to handle a rock concert. I was handling a last-minute request to clear poison oak around the children’s play tent on the lower part of our sixteen acres. The family knows I eat poison oak as a prevention from getting the rash, and I’m not afraid of the plant. I was hundreds of feet from our house and normally far from earshot.

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