I’ve been thinking about marriage lately. Bri’s taking her first steps into married life (with a gorgeous little baby on the way). Laura’s planning her wedding. Juliana’s been married for seven months. I recently celebrated six years with Mike, with our third wedding anniversary on the horizon for August.
Elizabeth Gilbert has been trying to get the masses to drink her Kool-Aid again. After the overwhelming success of Eat, Pray, Love — PrivLit’s golden achievement — Ms (or is it Mrs?) Gilbert has published her thoughts on marriage in a book called “Committed“. I must admit, at first I was intrigued.
Marriage in all of its polarizing dichotomies is something that’s near and dear to my heart. I find the “institution of marriage” fascinating, especially considering all of its controversy. So while the rest of the world contemplates what Real Marriage looks like, I’m going to riff a bit on what marriage — between two people, same-sex or not — means to me.
Shortly before my 21st birthday, Mike surprised me with a platinum engagement ring from his grandmother, bent on one knee in a soccer field at the local high school. He had gone to see my parents earlier that day, to ask my father for permission to marry me. I’d insisted that he ask my parents. Why? Because at 20.75 years old (even at 24), my parents’ approval still meant the world to me. When he asked, I was shocked into tears. Joyful tears. Joyful tears are something that I’d never experienced before. I relished them.
Moments are so fleeting.
Those joyful tears weren’t the result of “OMGWEDDING”. Those joyful tears represented three years of hard struggle on both our parts. From the time I met Mike in 2005 up until about a year into our marriage, I was a COLOSSAL fuck-up. I don’t say that lightly, either. Between the emotional turbulence of bipolar and the fear of my own nature coupled with complete and utter job dissatisfaction, we had ourselves a perfect storm for a break-up. There were a few times (more than a few times, really) when it would’ve been easier for me to just walk out and find something else.
But we stuck together. We screamed at one another. We said hateful, hurtful things in the middle of our anger. I would throw things in the heat of the moment, usually with the intention of maiming. He would grow cold and distant. We would have angry, make-up sex because it was easier to do that than talk to one another about the real issues in our relationship. Our communication SUCKED and I was a major part of that problem.
When Mike asked me to marry him, I knew that we could weather the storms that would accompany the long years of our lives. When I walked down that aisle in that pretty blue dress, blonde streaked hair in soft ringlets, I knew that when we said, “Forever”, we would mean it. Would I say that my wedding was the best day of my life? No, I wouldn’t. I would say that my wedding was fun and memorable. I would say that standing up in front of my friends and family and celebrating my unyielding love for Mike was absolutely brilliant.
But the best? Nah.
Over the last few years, I’ve watched as friends got married, divorced, and tried all over again. It’s hard to sit on the sidelines when things like that go awry. I want to be comforting. I want to be able to rush in and tell them that it will be okay and they’ll be able to pick up the pieces before they know it.
For all of my distaste for Elizabeth Gilbert, she did have a point when she said, “Marriage is not a game for the young.”
However, “young” is a state of mind. I know plenty of fortysomethings that wouldn’t have a hope in Hades if someone asked them to be emotionally or fiscally responsible. Just as I know a fair few twentysomethings that are changing the world and turning entire schools of thought upside down.
Success in marriage shouldn’t be us flipping a coin and becoming a statistic. Success in marriage needs to be more than a monetary investment; it’s a lifelong emotional and psychological investment.
One day in a white dress ain’t gonna cut it.
Weddings are giant, expensive cocktail parties. And my-oh-my are we a wedding obsessed culture. Anytime you turn on TLC, there’s another episode of “Say Yes to the Dress” or “Four Weddings” or some other reality show centred around planning (and experiencing) the Big Party.
Here’s an interesting thought: why not skip the marriage — the lifelong commitment that you’re pledging to this one person — and have the cocktail party? Why not invite a bunch of your closest friends and family to a big party with lots of booze and beautiful dresses to dance the night away?
Using marriage as an excuse to throw a big party is not only a waste of money, it’s a waste of time.
You don’t need a good excuse to have a big party, really. We used to do it all the time when there was this crazy thing called the aristocracy.
You will not be left out in the cold if you don’t have a big wedding. What I can guarantee is this: if you get married without fully knowing yourself and your partner, you will end up on the wrong side of the 50/50 statistic. Divorce is an ugly thing — ask anyone that’s either gone through one or witnessed it. As the years go by, you and your partner will change.
Sometimes, these changes will be positive.
Mike is now able to entertain a room full of people, smiling and laughing whereas six years ago, he could barely stomach it. I’m now able to sit quietly and contemplate, whereas six years ago, it would’ve made me insane.
Sometimes, these changes will be negative. We may find ourselves in ruts. We may find that MONTHS have gone by without a decent bout of sex (seriously, that’s the worst part of being pregnant).
Six years ago, I might’ve wanted my wedding to be the most important event in my life. Hell, up until I actually started planning the damn thing, I envisioned it being this magical, blissful event. In actuality, it was a special day. Nothing more.
Life is made up of a handful of fleeting moments. Some moments are very important and deserve to be cherished and treasured; things like weddings and babies and graduations and your first kiss. When you place too much emphasis on any given moment — say, a wedding — unrealistic expectations arise where you’re suddenly faced with the awful reality that marriage is, in fact, not a fairy tale.
You’re faced with a horrible choice: you can either stick it out because you refuse to give up on a relationship that wasn’t working in the first place or you can admit defeat and cut your losses. Neither seems particularly palatable.
Shit, right? Rock, meet hard place. Hard place, meet cliff edge.
So yes, Ms. Gilbert, marriage is not a game for the young. Instead, marriage is a mixture of heady romance and cool-headed resolve that, when coupled together, create an atmosphere of understanding, mutual growth, and el-oh-vee-ee LOVE.
And while you may not think marriage is a game at all, I say, “Game on.”
But, that’s a whole other post.
Image is my own.