Why I See Marriage as a Verb, Not a Noun

Not a capstone, but a cornerstone

bride and groom exiting wedding

I got married at an age that would be considered young in certain circles, but not shockingly so in most. I was twenty-five, nearly twenty-six on my wedding day, and my now-husband was one year older. We met and started dating when I was twenty-one. As we push closer to thirty, I’ve realized that I’ve spent almost the entirety of my twenties, a time full of change and growth and maturity, side-by-side with this man.

A few years ago, a fairly comprehensive study on marriage was released. In that study, they talked about marriage as a capstone versus marriage as a cornerstone. Put simply, marriage as a capstone presumes that marriage is one of the later steps in a long list of milestones—something you do when you’re established, stable, and undeniably grown up. Marriage as a cornerstone, on the other hand, assumes that marriage is a foundational partnership, a stable base to build up from even when stability is noticeably lacking in other areas of your life.

To me, marriage isn’t a goal or a target that you reach. It’s a fluid, active concept—a verb, not a noun (no matter what Merriam-Webster’s dictionary says). It is something you learn to do, slowly, clumsily, and not without error. It also provides the stability that allows you to take those risks, make those mistakes, and challenge yourself in ways you didn’t necessarily before.

When we said our wedding vows, we made promises to each other that emphasized that our marriage was foundational (although it wasn’t intentional at the time). We stood in front of family and friends, and promised to build a life together, to create a home together, and to make the conscious decision each day to love each other and choose this life together again, day after day. We vowed to love what we already know, and trust that we will continue to love each other even as we change and evolve.

Our officiant spoke some wise words from the APW book during our ceremony. He said, “A good marriage makes you free. Marriage allows us to support our partners to become the people they were meant to be. To empower them to pursue their dreams, and to live bravely and honestly. It allows us to live bravely and honestly ourselves. Marriage gives us the strength to continue to say yes to what is right for us. It gives us a foundation on which to build and the strength to dream big dreams.”

Marriage can make you very brave. My marriage neither completes me nor defines me. I was a whole, complex, flawed person when I entered my marriage, and so was my husband. What marriage has brought to my life though, is a sense of home that is rooted more in a relationship and a particular person than it is in a particular place. My marriage gives me roots and support in a way that frees me to challenge myself and push my own boundaries, with the knowledge that I have something to fall back on should I fail miserably. I am able to move forward knowing that the man by my side is ready to learn and change with me, and that he will wake up each day and choose “us” again, just as I will for him.

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