I stuff my mom’s old wedding dress into my suitcase, and force the zipper closed. Even my suitcase is protesting the idea of marriage.
The celebration? My parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. The emotions? Mixed. And I’m not exactly sure how to deal with it.
On the one hand, I feel incredible warmth. These are two people that I love deeply. And Jesus. They’ve shared a journey and a half together! They met when they were teenagers, for god’s sake. And although I’ve only ever witnessed a quick peck here and there….I hear stories about make-out sessions they used to have….my dad’s younger sisters peeking through the crack the in the door. An “education” they called it.
When I was little, I was well aware of the phrase, “opposites attract,” and I always felt that it applied to my parents, perfectly. My dad….tall, quiet, stoically hilarious, and extremely athletic. My mom…..short, boisterous, and could easily make friends with a fly on the wall.
They never seemed “in love,” to me. But love was there. In a kind of….yin yang respectful way. They did their own shit. They settled into their own roles. And they never wavered from them.
To this day….my mom bakes….because my dad has a sweet tooth. My dad calls when he’s gonna be late….because my mom is a worry wart.
They watch tv on different floors of the house. Her? Y&R. Him? Survivor.
But I think I’ve always wondered……have they always been happy together? Like….TRULY happy?
I don’t doubt they would say “yes,” if I asked them. Or some kind of wise variation of “yes”…..you know….the kind of bullshit that people write on post-it notes at a wedding shower. The secret to a long marriage is…..(pick your cliche).
How marriage defines us
When I lived in BC, my dad would come to visit on business. Just him. And we’d go out for dinner. It was a rare occasion to get the guy alone, and it always surprised me that he’d pick Indian, or Thai, or something with bold, bright flavours. My mom hates spicy food. And she’s got a solid rotation of roast beef, stew, meatloaf, and tuna-noodle casserole.
I’d tell my dad about the plans I have to travel to Bali, or South Korea, or Portugal….and he’d chime in, and say…. “You should go to Africa! I would go there in a heartbeat!” But my mom is a homebody. She hates to travel. And so they don’t. Travel, that is.
I’d mention….I’m kind of getting into Buddhism. I like the principles. He’d tell me…. “I actually think there’s something to the idea of re-incarnation.” And yet, he goes to the same Christian church he’s gone to for the last 35 years….with my mom.
As a kid, you always sort of wonder about your parents’ sex life (as vomit-worthy as it is to imagine.) I can remember “walking in on them” once. When I was 5 or 6, I barged into my parents’ room after a bad dream, only to be met with a panic of blankets being tossed into the air (“Lindsay! What do you want?!?”). The next day? My parents installed a lock on their door.
Smart move. And yet….I’m not sure how often it was actually used after that.
Older couples often tell you that everyone goes through a transition in their marriage. You go from being romantic partners…..to companions. Sex stops altogether, and you just…..enjoy growing old together.
And maybe that’s true. But is everyone happy with that?
Fuck marriage….I think
After my own divorce, the idea of marriage has left a bitter taste in my mouth. I can no longer fathom evolving and growing alongside a single person….through ups and downs, twists and turns…..for the rest of my life.
I mean, fuck. I thought I could do it. I followed the formula. I created a replica of my own parents’ marriage (or so I thought)….
And yet, it left me feeling hollow. And unfulfilled. And unhappy.
In the weeks following the initial break of my marriage, I can remember stuffing my brain with books by Esther Perel and Wednesday Martin…..convinced that human beings weren’t meant to be monogamous at all.
“We’ve got it all wrong”….I thought….”These rules of marriage….this promise we force everyone to make….it’s archaic!”
I took a hard swing towards the side of polyamory. Certain that love was not finite. That the heart could withstand connection without ownership, labels, or a sense of possession over someone else.
Turns out….that kind of love is incredibly hard to pull off, and requires monk-like levels of enlightenment that, frankly, I just do not have.
And so, I am left with all kinds of skepticism about marriage. Not sure if I just didn’t do it right, or if no one is doing it right.
Not sure if I want freedom to roam, right now….or for the rest of my life.
Can marriage support personal development?
I can remember the conversation I had with my parents, telling them all the reasons I wanted to get a divorce. None of them making any sense to them.
“You want freedom? You want independence? You want to be inspired by someone who can keep up with your growth (and push you to grow even more)? What the hell do you mean? Those aren’t ‘irreconcilable differences,’ are they?”
For me, levelling up, expanding, pushing the boundaries, realizing your own potential, and evolving….it is the PURPOSE of life. And I think sometimes, marriage can restrain that.
Personal growth is…..personal. And when a shift happens in a dramatic way, it can feel like the other person you are sharing a life with, is no longer walking beside you. And THAT is a scary feeling. Because you don’t know if the person will EVER catch up. And if it’s even possible for them to catch up at all.
It is my worst nightmare to settle into the La-Z-Boy version of who I am. Comfortable. Domestic. Reliably familiar. To no longer reach for a higher version of myself. Simply because, well, my husband needs me to fulfill a certain role.
I think about the life my dad could have had. The way he could have pushed himself outside of his own comfort zone. The way he could have lived with boldness, and abandon. Backpacking the world. Learning how to cook exotic dishes. Becoming a Buddhist.
And yet, he’d probably be the first to tell you, that trading that life….the life he could have had….for the one he was now, would be a definite no.
But then again, his definition of happiness is probably very different than mine. His definition of the purpose of life, is probably very different than mine.
How do we measure the success of marriage?
I raise my glass, and cheers my parents. “To fifty years!” we all say.
I stop and wonder, if there is a different marker of success we can use, when it comes to marriage. Rather than simply….the passage of time.
To me? A successful relationship would be one in which both people grow and evolve…..so much so, that they look almost nothing like the individuals who first entered the relationship. A simultaneous yet independent evolution….like a game of tennis.
But is that kind of relationship even possible?
I’m not sure I trust that it does.
I wander up to my parents’ room, at the hotel we’re all staying at for the big celebration. I chuckle at the locked door, knowing full well that there’s no way in hell I was interrupting anything.
I knock. My dad opens the door. And it’s hot and stuffy in the room.
“I hate the sound of the air conditioner at night,” says my mom.
I wonder……but does my dad?
Maybe he doesn’t give a shit. Maybe I’m projecting my own ideals onto their relationship, and casting judgment in the meantime.
If there’s one thing divorce has taught me, it’s that no one has ANY right to decide what is “right” or “wrong” for another couple. In fact, I’ve begged my family to grant me that same level of acceptance.
Happiness…success….fulfilment…..it is truly your own to define. Even if you struggle to define it.