Yesterday I was walking my three dogs in the wee hours of the morning. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a blurred greyish fluttering, and turned to see what had caught my attention. I watched in amazement as I saw for the first time ever the mating ritual of the common red robin. I watched in rapt fascination as the two joined beaks, touched their wings together, flew a couple of feet straight into the air, spiraled downwards, and repeated the whole sequence several times before the female lay on her back and was mounted by the male for a brief second, beaks still joined. According to Birdhouses101.com, “it is said to be a simple and short ritual that a person would be very lucky to observe it.”
Robins are not the only species of bird to have beautiful or complex mating rituals. Many bird species engage in elaborate visual and auditory displays – intricate dances, elaborate songs, spectacular flights – to woo prospective mates. (If you would like to see some examples, you may find this site and this site interesting.) While a few species, such as the hummingbird, tend to “love ’em and leave ’em”, it has been suggested that 90% of paired birds are monogamous, and that many species – including Canada Geese, Mute Swans, Pileated Woodpeckers, Barn Owls, Blue Jays, and yes, the lowly robin – form pair bonds that last for several seasons or until one dies.
Perhaps the most well known of these pair-bonding birds is the lovebird, a small African parrot that is social, affectionate and monogamous. Pairs spend long periods of time just sitting together, and develop long-term relationships with each other and their owners, enjoying a good snuggle and gentle handling. In return, they participate in preening rituals with their owners.
In some ways, people are like birds. We engage in these elaborate dating rituals designed to attract and impress. It was not so long ago that humans meant for these rituals to become a life-bond – ” ’til death do us part”. But now? 41% of first marriages end in divorce…as well as 60% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages. Instead of becoming a permanent bond between two people that unites two extended families into one, marriage has become just another disposable part of our instant-gratification world. With the average wedding now costing $30 000, one cannot help but wonder if the trend towards showier nuptials is a misguided attempt to openly declare that *this* marriage will be different, this marriage will last.
My parents will be celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary this year. My mother’s parents were married for more than 50 years before my grandfather died. And elderly friends of mine were married for 63 years before they died within nine months of each other. None of those marriages were marked by extravagant shows of wealth. But they *were* marked by a constant nourishment, a frequent sitting together and snuggling, and a commitment to each other. My father met my mother on the night that his father was buried. My grandparents grew up as friends. And my elderly friends? Well, their story deserves a little more room….
I hope I remember all the details. It’s been a few years since she told me this story as I stayed with her while her husband was having surgery. It seems that one day he awoke and decided it was time for him to get married. So he went to his town square, where he sat all day and watched as everyone walked by. At the end of the day he decided that he did not want to marry anyone from his town, and the next morning rode his bike to another town nearby, where he again sat in the town square. As he watched the people go by, one girl caught his eye. He approached her, introduced himself, and said, “I am going to marry you.” She said, “Oh, you think so? Well, we’ll see about that!” And a couple of weeks later they were married.
This was not unusual. The current leader of my church first saw his wife while he was attending a dance with another girl, commented to her that *there* was the girl he was going to marry, and he did.
Each of these couples were/are committed to each other. The scriptures say, “Thou shalt love thy [spouse] with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto [him or] her and none else” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:22). They do not say, “Thou shalt love thy spouse 50% and s/he will love you 50% and that makes 100%.” Marriage is not a 50/50 proposition – it’s 100/100.
A lasting marriage takes being 100% committed to each other. It doesn’t take being the most beautiful or the most showy. It takes gentleness, companionship, affection.
Don’t be a hummingbird. Be a robin. Be a lovebird.