When people tell me that marriage has become a meaningless gesture, I cringe a bit. Sometimes I let them rant because I know that marriage is something they really want, but also something they associate with pain and abandonment. Other times, I answer their anti-marriage rhetoric with a reminder that mature people who decide that something isn’t for them usually do so without having to bash others who’ve decided that it is. Besides, people who bash marriage are obessed with it the most. If they weren’t they’d just shut up about it, because the opposite of caring deeply about something is being indifferent to it–not embarking on a journey to discredit or belittle it. But hey, there will always be people who’re either freshly divorced, perpetually on the side, or just reallly afraid to get hurt, so I get how they must feel. When I got married and had a son I felt as if I’d walked through a door that had auto-locked behind me and welded itself shut. My life had changed permanently in ways that no one had told me about and I was often consumed with the urge to cut ties and run from my marriage. Now I’m grateful that I didn’t.
Tthis post is not a tirade against women who’ve chosen not to marry. It’s an explanation for those who genuinely can’t fathom why anyone would want to be with one person for the rest of their life, and my answer to a question I see dragged across my timeline on a regular basis:
Why marry at all if marriage, as we know it, is doomed?
“It’s just a piece of paper that doesn’t change anything.”
“He’s still going to do what he wants at the end of the day.”
“Marriage doesn’t mean anything anymore anyway.”
I’ve certainly expressed the sentiments above at one time in my life. Also, after spending a portion of my twenties fighting off advances from ‘happily married’ men online, in grocery stores, bars, and in college, my outlook on the legal union that supposedly fastens two souls together for life had gotten pretty bleak. But I committed to it anyway. Call it hope, brainwashing or delerium, but I married the father of my child.
In order to understand the gravity of this, know that I’m a girl who’s spoken in front of a huge crowd at the Appollo Theater, jokingly called a feminist congresswoman “Hot Legs” in front of her staff, started a brawl so big made it made it onto Media Takeout, and played the KORG 707 in an all-girl, lesbian jam band. (I didn’t know it was a lesbian jam band; I just thought we were playfully affectionate for the crowds.) Even after all I’d done, getting married was the most radical act in my life. But, I was young and outlandishly idealistic. After about a year of living together we realized it was hard. But not hard in a general sense, like losing fifteen pounds. No; this was hard on an astronomical level, like losing your last fifteen pounds. We had money issues, trust issues, and co-parenting issues, so we threw in the towel and lived separately for a few years. During that time we both grew up a lot. Then–and this is a major key–because we’d gotten officially married, we decided not to throw in the towel so easily.
I remembered that the whole reason I chose to wed my husband because I saw something in him that made me want to try, so that’s what we did. It didn’t look perfect from the inside or outside for a long while, but even during a time when what we built began to fall apart board by board, I was still able to focus on why I married him in the first place. Then I was able to break away from my expectations and habits that were killing my marriage. Beforehand, my idea of marriage had to do with duty and closeness–two things that I was distinctively bad at. It was like something had clicked on in me that said, ‘Okay. We’re married, these are the things that should come next.’ Then I constantly put a level of pressure on myself and my husband that blinded me to the good in him. Once I stripped that away and blocked out all the advice I was taking from women who really should never give advice, I realized that I’dalready chosen well. He lets me cry in his arms, makes me laugh, and he’s an excellent father. There’s the perfect amount of love and space between us now because we’ve learned each other through trial and error. Plus, both of us are equally invested because we’re formally bound together.
That effort is why I don’t want him as just my lover and father of my child. I want him as my husband, and he wants me as his wife. He’s gone through great lengths to prove that to me. As sappy as it sounds, I dig his kisses on the forehead, our pillowfights in the king-sized bed with our son, and that acknowledgment in front of God, community, family and state. No; all of those things aren’t sexy and fun. And yes, some are things I can get from a long-term relationship. In truth, the things I mentioned aren’t even a safeguard against infidelity and other marital failures. But for me, there are some actions that would feel counterfeit without our legal contract. In short, there’s more at stake because we’re married, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But I get it. Some people aren’t built for marriage. They look at people’s imperfect situations and deem themselves better off alone. And while staying married is certainly not an extraordinary accomplishment, it’s not altogether ordinary either. Choosing to love someone through their shortcomings is not for the faint of heart. Luckily, my choices are colored by the type of woman I am. I’m a woman who tries new things even if others tell me they’ll fail, a woman who has and would climb mountains at night just to see the sunrise from the very top. Even if it means that I’ll get injured on the way up or back down, and have to swallow my pride for the naysayers who played it safe at the bottom, I’m still the type of woman who’d rather risk the pain of that trek to witness something that beautiful, and I’ll always be this way because I know how ridiculous it would be for me to tell another person how sweet or saddening a journey is if I was too afraid to see it for myself.
So if you don’t want to get married, that’s fine. But shut up about it. It’s toxic. Even couples who try and fail can say they tried. Even a woman who ends up scorned can say that she was chosen first before she was put last. Also, people who try and fail at marriage know something all the lonely trash talkers don’t. They know that even if things don’t work out, they only have to get the marriage thing right once. It’s a rocky trek for some, but instead of giving up and being bitter, most know that in the end they’ll be able to say it was worth the climb.
“Plus we got our little boy, my little joy and pride
He got my nose, my grill, your color, your eyes
Next go round I hope I pick the truest type
And watch me do it all again – it’s a beautiful life, aight?