Last week, I started the first article of a series called Marriage: Nobody Tells You Anything. For myself, marriage has become a central lens to life and I’m still amazed at how little I knew going in. This series of newsletters will explore the strange beliefs, surprising truths, and embarrassing strokes in marriage and love from my own experience and yours. I asked for your input. I wanted to know what it was like for you. And letters came in…
We’re getting married in a few weeks!
I don’t know what to say in my vows.
She’s my best friend.
He’s a stranger.
I’m closer with my children.
We’ve been married 22 years and it’s because we have a shared purpose.
There were stories of marriage as challenge, as joy, as confusion. Which was my point, I guess. Nobody tells you anything.
So I thought we could start at the beginning with myth #1: Marriage is Forever. This beloved myth is held by many, myself included. I don’t really want to mess with the forever thing, but for the sake of transparency, let’s fess up to the weird beliefs we’ve subscribed to, consciously or subconsciously, when it comes to commitment.
Most folks don’t marry with an expectation of less than forever. Who plans for divorce? (Although I did know of one couple who explicitly said during their vows that they would stay married for as long as it made sense, for as long as it served them both; in that situation, I guess marriage was intended to serve a term—and it did. But besides that, I think most of us intend to be married forever.)
But you know what lasts forever? Styrofoam. In this case, forever is considered dangerous…so dangerous that in certain places of the world, it’s banned from use, because forever here implies that which does not break down and that it is not affected, even by time. Apply this philosophy to marriage and you’ve got a future filled with unnecessary pain, because why would we want to commit to a way of life that implies any kind of stagnancy?
If you’re looking to transform, to connect with your highest self, to awaken to your true purpose, then life will break you down. So in marriage, we have an opportunity to get rid of all our non-biodegradable matter. It’s the role of marriage to expose the rules we harbor about marriage. Any hard and fast rule you hold about life or love or family or Forever, any fixed idea, is considered non-biodegradable and thus up for re-evaluation. In marriage, we want to learn how to compost everything… the scraps, the trash, the rotten parts. Making art out of our inevitable garbage is a more realistic measure of life and ultimately of self.
But what do we mean when we say forever? Most of us technically mean for a lifetime, not forever. And how long is a life? Let’s shoot long and say 100 years. The idea of committing to someone Till death do us part can seem incredibly stifling. Commitment can imply a lack of autonomy. But it can also be a natural result of lifelong devotion.
So what’s the difference?
I think it’s connected to the whole Forever thing. If the idea of Forever makes you claustrophobic, listen up. You can commit to sharing your life with someone without having subscribing to Forever. But don’t miss out on unpacking what Forever means to you.
Till death do us part actually means for the rest of your life. And what we’re talking about is a daily practice, not a length of time. In my opinion, Forever can be a distraction from what marriage means. The heart of marriage—the reason that after you and your partner have fallen madly in love, after you’ve been through the best and worst, after you’ve already made your commitment to each other, that then you still go meet the parents and plan the wedding and create the ceremony and gather your loved ones. Why? So that you can declare in a formal way how you will love them.
What can you promise today to do for the rest of your life, no matter what arises? What are the aspirations you hold and vow to unfold until you leave this earth? Marriage is not the promise of a dream. It’s a homecoming. When you become confused, lost, or disconnected, what will you vow to do? This is the commitment. How will you love? When things turn out all wrong, what then?
Marriage isn’t forever. It’s for now. Thousands and thousands of nows. Sometimes we choose love. Sometimes we choose anger or blame or resentment. Sometimes we pull away and choose “I” instead of “us.” But then we remember the vow and we come back. And that’s the whole point. Marriage is the vow to return.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Please send me your stories, your experiences, your own reflections and let’s explore this together. And if you’re anything like me and had the thought, but what if something happens in the future where I can’t possibly vow to return? Let’s dive into it further with next week’s marriage myth when we talk more about rules, conditions, and all the weird baggage we carry when it comes to being alone and being married—at the same time.