I have a confession to make, I have always been the girl who believes in fairytale endings, that love truly does conquer all, that you can redirect your life at any moment, and that saying “I do” means forever. I am, by all accounts a hopeless romantic and raging optimist, but I am also, a realist.
I entered into marriage eyes wide open, fully knowing that marriage is hard work, that it is give and take, blissful evenings, angry dawns, it is fraught with bills, mortgages, kids, in-laws, lonely nights, quickies in the shower before the teens get home, and sometimes marriages don’t always have happy endings. I saw my parents marriage dissolve before my eyes when I was 18, and I think that was the fear I always had deep inside, the fear that kept me from saying I do, until I was 31 years old. It wasn’t that I was afraid of commitment, it was that I knew people change, perceptions distort reality, and if you or your partner aren’t in it heart and soul, no amount of wanting and love is going to make it work.
My parents were both very loving and affectionate people, my mother probably more so then my Dad, as she had a strong nurturing way about her. I grew up seeing love, kindness, and their unique brand of levity, that seemed to keep them bound to each other in hard times, but I also grew up seeing hints of discontentment and resentment that built up over time a maddening crescendo, until the best solution for my parents, at least from my mother’s perspective, was to leave my Dad. Now don’t get me wrong, I agree with my mother’s decision. My father, was a wonderful father, who doted on his daughter’s and loved us to a fault, but as a husband, his insecurities and controlling ways became repressive for my mother, especially as she was beginning to carve out a career for herself. She had devoted her years to being a stay-at-home mother, and June Cleaverish wife, and as her daughters’ started to grow more independent and were able to care for themselves, she wanted to go to work and go back to school. I suppose my father deemed this sudden independence as a rebellion of sorts, and in an act of desperation to cling to what he felt he was losing control of, he tightened the reigns and sought to stop my mother in her path of personal growth. I don’t believe that he viewed his actions as such, but the fact remained that he did this and in doing so pushed my mother further away, until she saw no choice but to leave.
Like so many couples something happens in a marriage or any long-term relationship that becomes obscurely dysfunctional. One partner begins a period of personal growth, and the other partner is not prepared for the transformation. To a partner who does not fully understand the importance of growth in a marriage, both individually and as a couple, and that it is their obligation to support their loved ones, and ensure that they have the freedom to be who they were meant to be, this becomes a time of confusion, resentment, and anguish, because suddenly the rules have changed so to speak, and this other person is busy pursuing their dreams and fulfilling their destiny and may not be available the way they once were, they may be spending time working or going to school during hours that once were devoted to couples time, or time that was once spent having dinner together or pursing joint hobbies. In addition, the partner may start becoming more independent and exploring interests more inherent to their likes and less inherent to the other person’s, not as an intentional disconnect, but as a means of fulfilling their soul’s destiny. Pretty soon however, this discourse is seen as almost adversarial in some ways, this partner whom you have known for many years, is suddenly a stranger whom you barely recognize, and now seem only to pass in the middle of the night between bathroom breaks and brief periods of sleep.
Here’s where the dichotomy of illusion, perception, and expectation, seem to intersect and create the most strife. It is the idea of what we each perceive marriage SHOULD be. You ask any two people the question what should marriage be, and you will get at first glance, seemingly the same answers, love, compassion, caring, compromise, being faithful, supportive. Yes, those things are absolutely important, no doubt about it, but what lies just beneath the surface of what the “politically correct” response is, truly is, the substance, the gold! What the fuck happens when these things are shattered, obliterated by the fact that what should be… ISN’T? What happens when how marriage should be, turns into, what it actually is? Confused? I’m not surprised, I was for a long time too. It’s because there is so much contradiction, false information, and just plain bullshit surrounding what should be! We have been lulled into a false perception of what marriage looks like. You go on Facebook, or Instagram, at any given moment and you will see a couple whom you are friends with engaged in some harmonious, loving, playful, selfie, having the time of their lives, yet what’s not visible is that in reality, this couple is seething at each other for all the injustices and idiosyncracies each can’t get past. It’s an illusion, smoke and mirrors. I am certainly not suggesting that every couple is faking it for the sake of social media, or keeping up appearances for the family, or even for the sake of themselves. Most are not. What I am saying is that sometimes love doesn’t conquer all, sometimes you deeply despise this person you once loved, maybe they betrayed you, maybe they are stifling you, or maybe you imagined a better life then what you presently have being married. Whatever the case, the sad reality is that not everyone is destined for longevity.
So how do you begin to see beyond the veil that obscures reality? First off, get rid of the idea that you can love enough for the both of you to make marriage work, this is one of the biggest lies we let ourselves believe. You CANNOT make someone feel something they don’t know matter how much love you envelop them in, if someone loves you, truly loves you, they will change and grow in a marriage through the seasons of life, being present, being kind, being supportive, and being there, no matter what. Now this is the aby far the most important thing to understand, love is shown in many, many, ways. Romance is subjective, but love is authentic, if, you see that it is not in the words. Love is a verb, it is in the way someone listens, the way they know you are hurting and seeks to take your pain away in any way they can, it’s in the way they care for you, making sure your car is well maintained, it is in the way they hold your hand, it is in the way that they know how to make your coffee, what your favorite color is, your favorite band, the way they put your happiness before their own at times, and it is in the insignificant moments that mean everything. A kiss goodnight, a hand to guide you in the dark, and shoulder to cry on when you lose faith. Love is by all accounts, as much in the act of doing and being, as it is in the feeling of wanting to spend your life with a partner who cares for you, values you, laughs with you, and makes you want to be a better person, because of the safety of their arms and the shelter of their being.
I believe that we arrive at marriage full of great expectations. We want to be loved, cared for, valued, accepted. We want to build a life around each other and have a family to share what exists between each other in the hopes that we will be fulfilled, we will have a companion, and we will create a legacy based on the love between two people. We take our vows, dance our first dance, toast our union, and we expect the happiness we feel that day to sustain us in our dark days and nights of quiet desperation, and the reality is that often times things happen, people change, and marriage is not what we imagined it to be at all. When the illusion is shattered beyond repair, sometimes the best thing to do is walk away, hoping that you both find what it is you are seeking next time around. But should you stay and remove the veil, maybe the great expectation will be not in your marriage, or your partner, but in the absence of any expectation.