January 17, 2020

To Wed, or Not to Wed; that is the Question.

Ah, marriage.

The end goal of all the Disney movies I watched and adored growing up. We’re all familiar with the plot: a couple must work through a series of challenges and obstacles to be together until the very end when it all works out. They lean in for a big kiss as cheerful music plays and the credits roll up: ~The End~.

As a young girl, I stared at the screen wide-eyed, eating it up as pure reality. Dreaming about my own happily ever after. This generation raised on these fairy tales deserves a Disney movie where it really all starts: day one of marriage.

Luckily, or unluckily, for me, it didn’t take too long before those whimsical dreams of love and marriage came to a crashing halt and cynicism took its place. In fact, I veered too far on the other end of the spectrum and became overly cynical, but we’ll get to that later. For now though, I’d like to start by letting you know that I am indeed engaged. In June this year, I will walk down the aisle (or, an open field in our case) and we will be wedded husband and wife.

Those of you who have already gone through it might be able to relate to the pure joy that is planning a wedding. Nothing beats spending our precious Saturdays working out logistics for out of town guests, planning itineraries, liaising with vendors, and managing an endless list of things to do for one single day of our lives. I’ve asked myself a lot of questions during this process. For example, “What is the point?”

Whenever I vent about feeling overwhelmed to friends or family there is an onslaught of opinions and suggestions. I end up sitting there nodding as someone goes off on a tangent about the pros and cons of marriage. It seems like the act of marriage elicits a divisive response. It is either a worthwhile achievement or an outdated tradition that needs to be abolished.

As a way to become clear on what I actually want, I’ve listed out the the most common opinions I get from others and my responses to each. It has helped me to gain clarity and maybe it will be of use to someone else out there considering marriage:

  1. The divorcée/unhappily married: Don’t get married; it’s a trap.
  2. The creative traveler: Why waste so much money on one day of your lives when you can travel around the world with that same amount of money?
  3. The evolutionist: We are all just animals, and it’s unnatural to have one partner for the rest of your life.
  4. The traditionalist: Omg, weddings! This is going to be the best day of your life!!!
  5. The blunt realist: Why do you need to get married to prove your love? Why don’t you just be together without the rings and fancy ceremony?

The divorcée/unhappily married

These are the worst kinds, so I’ll start with them. It’s hard to resist rolling my eyes when someone goes into a spiel about why marriage is a “trap” and something to avoid.

Maybe because for the longest time, I was like them. I used to have a low regard for marriage. Mostly because there were no examples around me of what a happy marriage looked like. Whenever I heard someone talking about their engagement, I’d wish them well but think to myself, “Why rush into divorce already?”

The relationship I have with my fiancé has transformed me in many ways, and I don’t say this for lovey-dovey sentiments. I’ve never felt loved this much, but I’ve also never loved another person this much either. The feeling of mutuality is blinding and euphoric. I feel seen in a way I never have before, which is also terrifying because it requires trust, honesty, and vulnerability.

I finally get it now why people say you need to love yourself first. Self-love is the most critical ingredient to any relationship and a relentlessly exhausting endeavor. When we love ourselves, we are not blaming or controlling or being vindictive to others. We all have things we don’t particularly enjoy about ourselves; that’s part of being an imperfect human being. Relationships are complicated and difficult for this very reason. But if both partners work to become a better versions of themselves then, as cheesy as it sounds, it makes the world a better place. Love is a potently healing force.

The creative traveler

As the daughter of a diplomat, I grew up traveling. Airports were my second home. I learned from a young age that seeing the world and how other people lived was way more important than any material item. Collecting experiences is of utmost importance to me.

But a wedding is also an experience. It may not feel the same as a safari or climbing mountains, but a giant party with everyone I love in one place is an experience I want to have. It’s something I want to be able to re-live in my mind.

The evolutionist

These are the people who believe that human beings are, at the end of the day, animals dressed in clothes. We may be intelligent creatures who can plan and solve and do all sorts of amazing things—but at the end of the day, we are led by urges and instincts. This, to me, is a cop out for acting like an animal.

It’s like the act of loving another person over a long period of time is the most recent software update to our mind. It links to our primal brain, but it also incorporates a deeper level of conscious awareness and intelligence. After the rush of the honeymoon period fades, it becomes an ongoing exchange that requires attentiveness, communication, patience, and a clear understanding of our own needs. Two people who are happily married for a long period of time seem like mature, emotionally intelligent human beings. Of course, this does not apply to everyone, and it is not meant to insult anyone who divorced a toxic partner. Love and marriage is complex and there are many factors at play. But I think that anyone can act on impulse. Not everyone can commit to one person through life’s highs and lows.

I imagine a relationship like two willing participants aboard a small sailing boat on an ocean called life. To stay aboard, the two of them need to work out the best way to get the wind under their sails. If one person has a problem, then both of them have a problem. Inevitably someone pulls a cord they shouldn’t have, or steps on the other’s toe and they end up in the water. Even for the most skilled sailors, there is no such thing as stagnancy. The seas can be rough, and we never know what we will encounter. We must always stay alert and do our best to stay onboard. And sometimes, even when we try our best, we fall overboard.

The traditionalist

I love people who get excited for weddings. They make me excited too because, in most cases, they are present-focused people. They aren’t focusing on the divorce rate statistics or overthinking the pros and cons; they just want to see two people who love each other celebrate their love. I mean, it’s hard to argue with the people who love weddings. Celebrating love is fun because it’s also a chance to celebrate being alive.

The blunt realist

Marriage, I know, changes nothing drastic in our relationship. I’m still me and Mat is still Mat. We will continue to work to improve ourselves and heal our inner wounds. We will still have our issues, like every couple does, and we will continue to do our own work to evolve into the highest versions of ourselves we can be.

Marriage stands in stark contrast to the disposable nature of today’s relationships. Real commitment is increasingly rare, and just as increasingly important. Especially for young children. A child needs to know that the parent commits to them to feel worthy of love, but the child also needs to see how the act of love is shared between their two parents. I believe both of these, when done well, alleviate so much needless suffering as the child becomes an adult. The quality of our life depends largely on the quality of our close relationships. So much of which is witnessed in our early years of development.

The adventure of marriage

I believe marriage is an honorable adventure. It has taken me many years to come to this conclusion, and I’ve had to remove a thick layer of armor to get here. Now that I’ve arrived, I’m ready to commit my life to the best man I know. I’m aware of the work required and the risk that comes with loving someone. But there is a risk in every path we choose in life, and we cannot get out unscathed.

I love the idea of having a ceremony with our loved ones gathered. The only other time my family has come together in such a grand, drop-everything kind of way, was at a funeral. It was only during these times that I forged bonds between distant relatives. Weddings are quite similar, aren’t they? They are those memorable events of our lives that pull people together in the name of love. They make us stop and reflect on the most important things in life. One commemorates a life lived, the other celebrates the love between two people, and the new life to begin. Tears are shed and we leave feeling the pulse in our veins, deeply alive and obligated to live a full life while we’re still here.

Perhaps if I had not experienced grief the way I have I would have opted for a small, practical wedding. One where we would elope to some tropical island. There would be no stress in planning and preparing; it would be straightforward and simple. Or, I wouldn’t have been getting married at all. But life has led me on a different path and showed me how important it is to bring the people you love together. Yes, it may be challenging to plan and yes, it may cost a significant amount of money. But when would be another time in our lives when two families who live on opposite ends of the earth come together?

I want to see our families unite and friendships blossom. I want to hear tearful emotional speeches about the people we once were and who we have grown to be. I want see all the people I love celebrate our marriage and light up the dance floor.

My family has dealt with so much pain and grief. Every funeral brought me closer to those that I’ve lost touch with and expanded the love I have for my family. I want to change the track of devastation we’ve experienced to one of hope. I want to bring my family together again, but this time in high spirits and cheer. This time, with tears of joy, not of pain.

But unlike a funeral, we will be there to see it. We will be alive to absorb every ounce of love that fills the room.

I simply can’t wait to be a part of it.

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