What is love? What is marriage?

“Love changes, and change is true.” ~Wendell Berry

After 16 years of living with my husband (I’m only 33; I just moved in with him at young age), last week I learned the particulars of his laundry folding.

Apparently, Eli has six category of T-shirts. There is a particular way of folding them — crisp and rectangular — that he enjoys.

This is a new discovery.

In the San Francisco apartment we recently moved into, the bedroom closet is quite tiny. So, we (well, honestly, “I”) decided it was best that Eli’s closet be the one out in the living room.

In his new closet space, Eli discovered how he likes folding his shirts and organizing them.

When Eli left to Tassajara (the bottom of a canyon to practice Zen, monastically), for three months, I was terrified.

Sure, there were certainly moments in our relationships when things were difficult, and wished I could work far away — out of the country — for a month to have my own space. Though our relationship was stable and good right now — and, three months, that is a long time.

Those three months were lonely, scary, adventurous. And the moments when I learned the most about myself and our marriage. I met “Cat”, without “Cat and Eli”.

I saw how our marriage kept me very safe, and in a dynamic of ‘safe and separate bubble’ from the world. We had our own language, a shared understanding of the world (these two both seem relatively healthy and sweet), and this way in which we only relied on each other to ‘soothe’ and ‘fix’ when things were hard (these two feel less healthy and sweet).

I wanted to hold onto that “Cat” I had met forever, while Eli was away. In an instant, I wanted to escape from the archetype of having Eli as my protector, and safety bubble cohabitant.

I quickly, mentally, packed my bags, and our marriage went from a version of “Merged Cat and Eli Bubble” to a panicked “Get me out of this bubble, now!”.

Things were really rocky for a bit.

It was a year’s process of investigating individuality, while being in a shared journey of marriage.

I started to see marriage as these mergey entities that kept people very separate from the world. A place where people retreated to a shared belief system that would keep them limited and isolated.

All of the old beliefs around what love and marriage really meant were falling away … and yet I was in an abyss of what love and partnership meant in an unconditioned way.

A friend told me while Eli was away for these 3 months: “You know, some of the most sophisticated, happy couples I know sleep in different rooms, they take solo trips by themselves, they have their own sets of friends. They each have their own space. Time apart, time together. I admire what you and Eli are doing.”

That was encouraging and reassuring.

Because up until that point, as far as I knew, if you slept in different rooms, there was clearly something wrong with your sex life. If you took solo trips by yourself, you clearly don’t like spending time with your partner. If you have your own set of friends, it must be that your partner doesn’t get along with your friends.

It has been a little over a year since Eli returned from Tassajara — a second time.

I’ve been holding this koan my Zen teacher shared when bringing up marriage, “Not two. Not one.”

Folding the one T-shirt of mine today that showed up in a load of Eli’s laundry, it is more loose and odd shaped. I am delighted to fold it differently — my style — and giggled to myself at the messier shape.

After a decade of marriage, creative expression and possibility have something to do with love and marriage — I’m pretty sure.

Time apart, and time together are important too.

I placed it in his pile of shirts, for now.

And for the moment, this poem brings ease ❤

The Dance
by Wendell Berry
I would have each couple turn, join and unjoin,
be lost in the greater turning of other couples,
woven in the circle of a dance,
the song of long time flowing
over them, so they may return,
turn again in to themselves
out of desire greater than their own,
belonging to all, to each,
to the dance, and to the song
that moves them through the night….
And I love you as I love the dance
that brings you out of the multitude
in which you come and go.
Love changes, and in change is true