As I’m an only child, the issue of my parents’ mortality has always upset me, no matter how I try to confront it. Barring tragedies, it is likely that they will pre-decease me, and that I will be left alone. I’m currently living overseas and have enjoyed eight glorious, independent years here so far, really helping me “find myself” (though of course I thought I knew myself perfectly before I left!) and this experience has convinced me that I will be able to survive after my parents are gone. It’s been liberating and clarifying. My parents are in perfect health, and I couldn’t be happier with my life as it is at the moment.
Now that I’m lucky enough to have met my lovely boyfriend, everything is perfect, particularly as he’s willing to move here to be with me and will do so later this summer. Nothing could be more ideal and I know, overall, we would both like to be married to each other—in terms of what that means on an everyday basis, in terms of formalizing our feelings for and commitment to each other, and in society’s eyes. However, when I truly contemplate the idea of becoming engaged to him and marrying him, I get overwhelmed by the feeling that, although that would be the beginning of something truly life-enhancing, ANY BEGINNING NECESSITATES CONSIDERATION OF AN ENDING. I can’t imagine the amount of pain he and I would be willingly opening ourselves up to by becoming formally attached to each other and having to lose the one who dies first. The mere idea of it makes me want to run a mile.
Strangely, I have none of the same reaction to the idea of staying with him forever but without the formality and the ceremony of a wedding and marriage. I can’t work out why the formality of the arrangement should make such an impact on what I know will be equally painful either way for the one who’s left behind.
This must give you the impression that I’m rather morbid or depressive: nothing could be further from the truth. But I wonder if anyone else has grappled with this consideration? That they can’t contemplate a beginning without due consideration of the ending, and that makes the whole concept rather overwhelming? Perhaps it is more rooted in my “only child thing” that I’d thought—or perhaps recently having found a solid and cherished independence, I am having trouble with the concept of “re-encumbering” myself?
I’d venture a guess that this is something we all think about, whether only-children, or not. This is the reason we all cry at Up. Love is touching. Loss is sad. But a long life of love, followed by that loss? Heartrending. It’s hard not to acknowledge the possibility of losing something you value so much, and really, we shouldn’t. Like you said, facing a beginning necessitates thinking about the end, and like Meg has said, it’s important to treat “marriage as the act of finality that it is.”
We can scoff at the overblown idea that’s regurgitated everywhere, “I can’t live without him/her.” Obviously that’s not close to true. But, if I’m honest, it sometimes feels that way. And if I’m really honest, it’s that feeling that made me decide to get married, to begin with. Of course I’d live, but it felt that my life wouldn’t be the same without him. And looking down the foggy tunnel of the future, I know that my life won’t be the same whenever it is that we’re forced to part. That very feeling that’s at the core of being joined to my partner is the same feeling that makes me terrified to think what I’d face without him.
You know, that’s how it goes with anything you cherish. To really love anything at all is risky, because there’s the chance (even the inevitability) that you’ll lose it. The risk only intensifies with the investment. So, of course the commitment of marriage will make these fears pop up. Your promise to dump everything you’ve got into making this work, your commitment to building something together, all means that when you do lose it, you’ll be giving up something even more valuable. Something invested with care and work and years. It makes the scary all the scarier.
So what do we do in the face of that fear?
Forfeit anything worthwhile in our lives, so we don’t have to endure the heartache of losing it? If that works out for you, let me know. But I would imagine that philosophy could lead to a pretty empty, solitary life. Instead, we can use that fear to motivate us to appreciate what we’ve got while we’ve still got it.
So, yes. The inevitability of the end is what makes marriage terrifying. But knowing that this person will be there til the end, whatever form that end takes, is part of what also makes it powerful and beautiful. That’s part of what you’re promising. You are mine until the bitter end. And even, I will be there when you face the darkest of the dark.
Be reassured. This is all right in your face right now because of the enormity of decisions and steps forward and change, but it’s not going to be a constant fear throughout your marriage. Like other things, the precious, precariousness is most apparent when something is new (like the engagement ring I was afraid to wear at first, because I kept imagining it falling down the drain). But, reminders of this fear will pop up from time to time. When he takes maybe five minutes too long to run out for late night fast food, and you let your imagination wander. Or when Law and Order comes on (any series, any episode. Just be ready for it). In those moments, instead of letting fear swallow you, make it strengthen your resolve to value what you have right now.
Team Practical, did you find that the beginning of the marriage made you contemplate the end?
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!