Marriage—happy marriage—is a mythical unicorn that stalks in the back of my mind, glimpsed from afar and never seen face to face, forever a shifting mystery that is foreign to me.
Let’s talk about this mythical beast of wedlock, and why you should always be the best you you can be, for your sake, and for your (perhaps as of yet unconceived) children. My disclaimer here is that I’m not a marriage counselor or child therapist or any sort of certified person to give advice; these are just the thoughts and opinions of an adult child who is still unearthing the true form of marriage and happy relationships.
I went to a wedding yesterday, an event I have little experience with in the past, but I have a whole lot of opportunities to polish my chops in the future. As a twenty-something, my facebook feed is unabashedly in bloom with notifications of engagements, special dates, bridal showers, wedding rings and baby bumps. A lot of this has caused a bit of a shift in my normatively anti-marriage perspective.
I’ve never wanted to be married. I’ve wanted plan and host a big themed event like a reception, sure—cause who doesn’t dream of a massive neon palleted zoot suit party every once in a blue moon? But marriage? Oh no. No no no. Marriage is lifetime of misery, thinly veiled by biological and social pressures.
The wedding I came from yesterday, the couple had been together for 9 years. Nine years. Both bride and groom were glowing with delight and excitement to be together in this special way, and there came in my breast, a little morse code tappity-tap on my ribcage, a rising question of why it is that I am, and always have been, so defiant of the institution of marriage. I guess that happens when you see a glimpse of a two very happy people in a very happy relationship.
I don’t understand marriage. I never have.
I don’t know what happy, loving, functional marriage looks like, sounds like, smells like, feels like. I don’t use the word successful—successful is for business enterprises, career choices and stock investments. One does not measure marriage—nor the size and scope of ones life—in success; but happiness, love, compassion and mutual care.
I have vague ideas about happy relationships, feelings I know are true—like embracing pain and joy in one, taking people for who they are, casting aside unrealistic expectations, etc etc. But I’ve never had an authentic example of a happy loving relationship in my life.
I’ve seen the final cut, to use a cinematic metaphor, that’s edited and polished and color-graded to where the blacks are crushed and colors pop. I’ve never seen the rushes, however. I’ve never seen the raw, grainy, footage of a real, loving relationship, outtakes and all.
Everything I know about marriage I’ve learned from the true lies and false honesties of movies, television, books, and of course, the dysfunctionally abusive relationships of my own parents and the parents of my peers. Ergo my concepts of marriage are heavily weighted in the spectrum such that my expectations of marriage are pure bliss or utter agony.
Parents can lecture about love and compassion and being a good person all they want but children mime action, deed and attitude, and when an adult doesn’t practice what they preach children are left struggling to understand what marriage is beyond an assumed step in life towards the equally misunderstood realm of adulthood, both of which are dark and limitless waters that seem filled with much misery, unhealthy self-medication and rare glimmers of true love and happiness.
Any advice given from persons in broken relationships I take with a grain of salt the size of Jupiter. This advice, while well meant, is from the family of “How Not To Fuck Up” advice. While this does undeniably help one gain their bearings towards a happy wholesome relationship, this unit of measurement is far smaller and far less influential than the GPS of “How To Have a Happy Marriage.”
I think it’s no surprise that many of the people I know who, like me, disavow marriage also come from families whose parents should have been divorced, but didn’t and therefore also lack a template for happiness. I would be doubly unsurprised if I were to learn the parents of those parents, like mine, were also raised in unhappy marriages.
It goes beyond giving a living, breathing example of what a real, loving relationship truly is; it’s about being a happy, loving individual as a whole.
To set an example of what a happy, fulfilled individual is, one has to be a happy, fulfilled individual, and one doesn’t necessarily need to be married or in a relationship to do that. When we keep ourselves penned up in unhealthy relationships, we are not only sending the message that self abuse in this manner is okie-dokie, and we set no clear example for children of how to live their lives to the fullest and how to be the best that they can be.
Is this really the legacy we want to give our children?
Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t normally stick my pinky toenail into matters of population propagation and family, again, no doubt because of the circumstances I was raised in wherein children equaled unhappiness and misery for life. But this whole fiasco is an electric hornet up my butt-hole and I need to get the unholy insect out: It is not a good idea to vehemently stay in a negative relationship for the sake of you or your children. You are not doing them any favors by being anything less than the best version of yourself.
I know that deep-down the answer lies in the act of doing.
One can only know what being the best version of oneself is by doing that, but the process is eased when one has living, breathing templates to compare to, with the good and the bad in the mix. I’m not saying you have to become a shiningly altruistic saint of love and kindness that farts holy compassion and eats rainbows and dreams for breakfast; ‘cause that’s horse poop of the highest order.
Do not attempt to be an illusion you hold of what your best self is who is an entirely different person—nor does this mean being languid and letting sub-par you slip by as your best.
Being the best version of yourself, for yourself—which, in my opinion, does predicate that if you have children you do your damndest ‘cause you have a responsibility to set an example for them and being a responsible person is, ya’ know, a good thing—means confronting the dark crags of your ego and pulling out the small slickly shining blessings that hide in your shadows. It’s about being mindful of yourself, and of others and, above all, practicing that being the best version of yourself is a process, not unlike marriage, which embraces the pain of living, and will have good days and bad days, but never fails to try and to learn and forgive and above all—love.
Beyond this, the dimensions of the super-stellar-disco-wonder-ball of your ultimate-self are, of course, up to you.
As a bonus, your children will also learn that happy people do not place their self-worth upon the outcome of their children’s lives. Once a child undergoes the beautifully tragic transition from being a child to an adult who also happens to be your offspring, their life is their own; and while you may disagree and want to interfere with their decisions, it is not your place and the ultimate end of their actions and their life decisions should not by any means impact your self-worth if you are a truly happy, best-of-the-best version of you.
You’re a Sherpa, not a co-pilot.
Marriage is a massive commitment, and one never to be taken lightly, but I certainly feel it’s a concept that can be approached with a far clearer head if we had a better idea of what the creature looked like when not malnourished or infected with neurotic, abusive tendencies like anger and inadequacies externalized onto spouses and children, for example. The wayfaring survivors of ship-wrecked marriages, like myself, would benefit from seeing flesh and bone samples of the mythical happy marriage and happy people.
So whether you are single, engaged, freshly risen from your wedding bed, or have been plucking the strings in the duet of marriage for a long time, be the best version of yourself you can be. Find your strengths and crank the volume to 11. Weed out your shortcomings and diligently tend them with a circumspect eye, watering daily with mindful improvement.
(Parting shot: A big honey drop of thanks to my good friend Diana, also recently engaged, from whom I pilfered the title of this article a la a raucous tale from their most enviably rich and wonderful life. Much love to you, my dear.)
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Ed: Sara Crolick