The funny thing about this post from APW Associate Editor Maddie is it’s not the post she set out to write. She told me she wanted to write something lighthearted and funny about wedding planning. Turns out, she wrote about marriage and death (oops). But what she wrote nails everything. It banged me over the head with a new perspective of what getting married and creating a family is and why it really can matter. It single handedly answers the question, “Why even bother getting married?” Let’s discuss.
Earlier this week, as I was preparing to write my post for today, I kept burning through draft after draft, amassing a small digital pile of crumpled papers in my computer’s trash bin. Nothing was sticking. Nothing felt right.
But then I read Sara’s post, and on that same day stumbled on a video for a grieving center that my mother and sister had participated in back home, and it was like the universe was telling me to get over my desire to write about wedding dresses already and just write the damn thing it wants me to write.
What Sara, my sister, and my mom reminded me about was just how f*cking scary marriage really is. I know that popular wedding and marriage conversations would have us believe that the worst thing that can happen to our marriages is that they end in divorce (always spoken about in the abstract, too—Divorce, like it’s the same for everyone) and if I didn’t have the morbid mind of a kid who attended one too many funerals in her youth, I’d believe that was true. But for me, the reality of marriage is that it represents the constant risk of loving someone with all your heart while knowing full well that the universe might break it. To me, that is the scariest of scaries. And it terrifies me on a daily basis.
When my sister Stephanie passed away almost thirteen years ago, my family fell into disarray. My younger sister feared that she’d contract the same illness that had taken Stephie’s life; my mom was doing everything she could to keep our family together while coping with her own immense grief; and I shut myself off from the event entirely.
My grief manifested itself in the form of perfectionism and control. Amid the chaos of my family’s coping mechanisms, I saw the ability to manipulate the tangible artifacts of the world around me as a means of mitigating the tornado of feelings present in my house, while simultaneous providing me with the false sense of empowerment that I could prevent further tragedies from befalling us. I was a perky, overachieving robot who had cut herself off from reality, and as a result, from feeling anything at all. Which to me, was all the better. No feelings meant that you couldn’t feel anything bad.
And then came Michael. Who ruined everything. Being with Michael granted me access to feeling again. (I’ll never forget the first time I cried during a sad romantic movie. I couldn’t figure out what the hell was wrong with me.) I finally understood what it meant to care for someone with your whole heart, which is something that you can’t do when you are a closed-off robot. But in opening me up to that kind of caring, Michael also opened me up to The Fear. Anyone who has ever lost something precious knows about The Fear. It was the thing that made it so difficult for my mother to let me leave the house after my sister died, because she no longer had faith in the universe to send me back.
At first, I tried to micro-manage The Fear. I thought if I knew where Michael was at all times, that if I could keep him from doing too much, experiencing too much, that the world would keep him safe. But we all know that you can’t foster a relationship when you let The Fear dictate your actions. It builds resentment and stifles relationship growth.
So, slowly, I trained myself to push The Fear down. I forced myself to trust that the universe might let this happiness be mine. It was like a training exercise. If I could look beyond all of the horrible tragedies that might befall my relationship, if I could see past The Fear, then I would be granted the awesome experience that comes from building a family. Over time I’ve been successful in this activity, and The Fear has been reduced to a whispering nag that lives in the back of my brain.
But the thing I know to be most true is that, small as it may be, The Fear never actually goes away. If you’ve ever suffered an injury while doing a physical activity, you know this. You’ve probably fallen off your bike before. It sucks, it hurts, and you get back up again and you ride. But after that first fall, you know you will never be the same. It takes greater courage to ride again, because you now possess the knowledge of how much it f*cking smarts to fall off a goddamn bike.
Which is why it makes me so angry whenever I have to defend my decision to get married (which I do, seemingly over and over again). When I was working in the entertainment industry, it was a favorite question of the older males in my office (the ones with long-term committed girlfriends, oddly enough). “Why are you even getting married? What’s the point when half of them end in divorce anyway*?” they’d ask. And I’d laugh and respond with some bullsh*t answer about taxes or the ring on my finger, but inside I’d be fuming.
Because what they don’t know is that my choice to get married is a daily exercise in bravery. It is a decision to go against all of my better judgment, my knowledge, my experience, and to accept the risk of possible devastation for the reward of something better. As far as I’m concerned, I might as well be living under an active volcano for the sake of the lovely ocean views.
So when people try to talk to me about how crazy it is that anyone would get married these days, I want to shake my fist at them and tell them “You don’t know the half of it!” I want to stand up for the people who enter into the institution of marriage because it takes such bravery to commit yourself to caring about another human being, for better or worse, ’til death do you part. And while suffering a great loss may have made me acutely aware of life’s potential for heartache (and let’s face it, in a way I probably wouldn’t wish on anyone else), I don’t think I’m alone in my bravery. I think we all deserve a small badge of courage for staring life straight in the eye and daring to be happy.
So here’s to us. I’m raising my morning cup of tea to you. Because marriage is f*cking scary. And we’re all laughing in the face of danger.
Photo by: Julie Randall (APW Sponsor)