Recently I was exchanging emails with one of APW’s regular contributors, when the topic of fear and anxiety around major life changes came up. I don’t process transition well, and apparently, neither does she. She explained, “When I am faced with a situation where I either don’t have a clear vision, or have a vision that is negative, then I get very anxious and experience the stress of that imagined (or confused) future as if it is happening NOW.”
Oh hello, light bulb. I didn’t see you there.
That one small sentence suddenly explained all of my pre-marriage fears (and subsequently, my pre-baby fears). I grew up without a lot of positive married role models. My parents are divorced, both sets of grandparents are divorced, everybody in my immediate family (save for a rogue aunt or uncle here and there) are either very intentionally single or D-I-V-O-R-C-E-D. So while Michael and I knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, when it came time to picture our future as married partners, I panicked. All I had to look at was a blank screen. And any of the pictures I could fill in were bad.
So I started to look for relationship models that could fill the blank screen with pictures that didn’t make me break out in a cold sweat. And that’s when I rediscovered a love of television. I began analyzing the marriages of people on TV, looking for clues about what made them work. I dove deep into Shondaland (the Grey’s variety, not the Scandal variety, because woof to those relationships), fell in love with Paul Newman and Joann Woodward (see also: David Bowie and Iman), and I learned to see the beauty in my parent’s very amicable divorce. There, if nothing else, I could find comfort in the idea that even in the worst case scenario, two people can still fundamentally love and be kind to each other.
But it’s an ongoing process. My marriage is a constant exercise in delving into the unknown. So looking out for marriage role models isn’t a static process. It’s a constant sending and receiving of signals, trying to find someone just a few steps ahead of me, making it work in a similar dynamic. And I know I’m not alone in this. If there’s one conversation we have consistently behind the scenes at APW, it’s this: Where do you find marriage role models when you grew up without any? Can you fill that gap? I don’t have any concrete answers except that season ten of Grey’s Anatomy was a revelation for me. But maybe you do?
So let’s talk: for the folks who grew up with divorced parents, or unhappily married parents, or single parents, or simply without a marriage to look up to, where do you turn? How do you fill the blank screen?