I’m in the garage working, when my daughter runs in breathless.
“Come, Daddy, fast!” she exclaims. I ask her what’s wrong, and she looks at me quizzically. “Just come, Daddy!”
We walk around the garage to the backyard, where she climbs onto the trampoline and starts bouncing. I wait. She bounces. And bounces. Finally, I ask her what she wants me to see. To which she replies,
“Me, Daddy. I just want you to see me.”
I know, Sweetie, it’s what we all want.
In fact, it’s probably the reason so many of us get married…
I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of marriage books.
Most authors mean well, but, oftentimes, the subtle or not-so-subtle message is that if you find a good marriage, then you will finally find the good life. If you get your marriage right, then you will finally feel right. If you are satisfied with your marriage, you will finally be satisfied with your self.
And no marriage can deliver on such promises.
However, I just read an early version of a marriage book that may have restored my hope for the genre. It’s entitled, Very Married, by Katherine Willis Pershey. The only problem was, after finishing it, I couldn’t quite get my head around what had touched me so deeply.
Then my daughter bounced.
And another little girl squealed…
She’s sitting on the floor of my therapy office, still strapped into her car seat, where she had been sleeping only moments before. She’s the daughter of a client, and she’s along for the therapeutic ride. Now, she’s wide awake, and every couple of minutes, she looks up at her mother, her eyes get wide, and she lets loose a lovely, lilting squeal. Her mother looks at her and, as soon as they make eye contact, the little girl’s face breaks into a radiant smile.
She’s four months old and she just wants her momma to watch.
Beginning in the crib, all we really want is a witness.
In the film Shall We Dance?, Susan Sarandon’s character puts it this way:
We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet…I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things…all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying, “Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.”
I will be your witness.
It may be the only promise marriage can truly deliver upon. Marriage doesn’t guarantee we’ll find the good life, feel right, or finally find peace with ourselves. But it can satisfy the deepest desire every human being harbors: the longing for a witness.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a four-month-old little girl or a six-year-old slightly less little girl, you want to know someone is watching. Perhaps that’s what the patriarchal and, to some, offensive ritual of a father “giving his daughter away” in marriage is really meant to symbolize: I have been her witness, and from this day forward, you will be her witness.
The truth is, though, it has nothing to do with being a girl or being little. I’m a man who is tipping into the second half of life, and my longing for a witness is alive and well. It’s like hunger: if you’re alive, you’ll want to eat; and if you’re alive, you’ll want to be seen.
Of course, I don’t mean to imply marriage is the only place in life we can find a witness. We can find a witness in the many forms of true friendship and companionship. But marriage is unique in one way:
Marriage is the only place where we promise to be a lifelong witness.
This is the great promise of marriage and, if we honor it, it is also the great pleasure of marriage. Two people who have committed to be each other’s witness, knowing the need will never dissipate, and gladly celebrating that it won’t. Two people walking two paths that constantly intersect, always keeping each other in sight. Enjoying together the joys of the journey, and bearing witness to all the pitfalls and pain of being human. Someone to watch the whole aching thing with us.
In the end, it turns out that’s what we really need anyway.
We don’t need the good life; we simply need someone to watch this life with us.
And I can’t think of a better reason to be very married.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.