Belonging to the Beloved: The Gift of Self in Married Love
- Tuesday, September 05, 2006
'Twas my one Glory -- Let it be Remembered I was owned of Thee --
Emily Dickenson, #1028
I don't know who uses the word "mine" more: children or lovers. Strange, but even in this so-called "enlightened" era of marital "partnerships," most lovers still want more than the almost comically businesslike prenuptial agreements fashioned by lawyers. Real lovers desire to possess each other and whether they are even aware of it at the outset, they are inexorably propelled toward an exclusive relationship with their beloved. Nothing is more painful to lovers, even among those who were formerly promiscuous, than infidelity. Lovers, inevitably, demand exclusive rights; "You are mine," they say. Monogamy is essential to their mutual need, belonging to the beloved.
While a formal egalitarian version of marriage has considerable appeal today, particularly in comparison to some of the lopsided alternatives that brought it into fashion, something about such an arrangement seems inadequate in real life. A carefully crafted equal relationship with equitable sharing doesn't satisfy the longing to possess - and be possessed by - the love of their life.
Marriage as a partnership, no matter how congenial, does not come close to characterizing the nature of the memorable love matches in history -- Jacob and Rachel, Romeo and Juliet, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Prosaic relationships seem almost bloodless in comparison to the relationship portrayed in the three brief lines of Emily Dickenson's poem #1028:
'Twas my one Glory --
Let it be Remembered
I was owned of Thee.
Dickenson's words convey a relationship far richer than mere partnership; her words call up deep emotions, something soul stirring. Those words speak of total surrender, of an all consuming passion, of a union so total that . . . that what? That it could only be a myth? Certainly the realist in me wonders whether she felt that way at all times? Or whether these were just the feelings that stirred at some peak moment . . . and then faded.
Her words make no sense unless the object of her love was a man rich in grace and nobility, a man worthy of more admiration than seems normal for most humans. Perhaps she was not seeing things realistically. Or perhaps her deep love transformed an ordinary person into someone who won her devotion and surrender. Who can say? What is clear is that she gives us a picture of a connection to someone whose love and "ownership" of her brought her a sense of fulfillment, of reflected distinction, of "glory."
I am confident that Dickenson's words convey the hunger of many women's souls. Her sentiments cause something to stir in many -- both male and female. The poet captures a priceless idea: the fulfillment of the instinct to totally belong to the beloved. It is interesting to consider the Scripture's characterization of marital intimacy: it does so by the use of the verb "to know." To be known, to be understood is an integral part of being loved, of belonging.
For lovers, there is another dimension to the idea of ownership. It is a delicious surrender, living out the desire for total union, for oneness without limits, a complete belongingness. Though it involves an abdication of independence, it is made with joy and confidence because it says in one breath, "I am yours," and, triumphantly, in the next, "You are mine . . . all mine!" Mark well, that the loss of independence of which I speak is not a ticket to perpetual bliss with no conflicts or angry disagreements. It is instead about two persons' commitment to "be there" without question in times of need, of being someone who can be relied upon despite what it may cost.
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