Did you guys read Meg's post yesterday at A Practical Wedding about the harmful expectations the outside world states (and re-states) about the value of marriage and children? It's the same conversation that's been infuriating me for a while. Men seem to think it's okay to (semi) joke with Jason that he should run now because marriage is the old ball and chain. Meanwhile, women gush with me about the wedding, even while they complain incessantly about marriage itself and give me dire warnings about the kids. As usual, Meg managed to eloquently point out that these cultural expectations are neither funny nor okay, because what they end up doing is reinforcing caricatures of marriage and gender roles that can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
As frustrating as these BS expectations are, the wedding has made me think a lot about where these expectations come from, and which grain of truth they are based in. And my unscientific hypothesis is that much of the cultural disappointment in marriage is based on the unrealistic hope that marriage will "save" us from the drudgery of everyday life. In other words, there are a whole lot of women running around with Prince Charming fantasies who are holding on to ridiculous notions of happily ever after. I also bet that many of these women are the ones who get so wrapped up in planning a fantastic wedding that they forget about planning the marriage. And I also think there are a lot of men who haven't thought about why they want to get married, but just that it seems the next logical step. Well, no wonder they, and their partners, are frustrated with the outcome. Because let's say it upfront - life is hard. Marriage is hard. Kids are hard and they WILL do a number on your relationship and body. And it's going to be a challenging adjustment (the kids more so than the marriage, I imagine). But you know what else? Marriage is going to be wonderful. I am genuinely happy in this relationship, and we've managed a load of life-is-really-hard stuff together already. I know we can manage this life thing and be better for it all.
We're one of those couples that was obviously right for each other from the beginning. Even so, we were both cautious about jumping into the relationship and then about deciding to get married, even though everyone around us knew it was a forgone conclusion from early on. I think we were both particularly careful about deciding to get married because we both understand exactly what marriage means and that it's often times hard. Neither of our set of parents have had sugarcoated lives, but they have had each other. Their marriages aren't perfect, but their commitment and the richness the commitment adds to their lives, is. So neither Jason nor I have any expectation this will be easy, even though we seem to have an easy relationship and a lot going for us upfront.
We know what love is and isn't. In part, it's making a lot of gooey eyes at each other, but in much larger part it's the decision to stick by your partner even when things were harder than you could have possibly imagined and finding ways to laugh about it anyhow. It's finding ways to work through the complications instead of running. We have a close family member who's in a wheelchair, and her husband has not only stuck by her but risen to the occasion and they are frankly inspirational in their ongoing love, affection, and laughter. No one pretends it isn't hard, but the real essence of Prince Charming is in those uncomplaining late night hospital visits and quiet hand holding, and not just in the romance of it all. The little things - the way that someone leaves their clothes on the floor or they can't cook anything that doesn't end up burnt are ultimately unimportant in the context of a life together. I wonder if the people making "run now" jokes to Jason really understood that before they jumped into marriage, or whether they were hit with a brick of disappointment when life actually happened and they hadn't worked on the foundation of how to get through it together.
So maybe, once we drop the Prince Charming nonsense and look at what we really have and recognize that every day is effort - worthwhile effort, but effort nonetheless - then maybe we're going to be alright with this marriage thing. Because my eyes are wide open here, and that's precisely why I'm so excited, grateful, and completely head over heels for this partnership.