As the invitations to this summer’s weddings roll in, I’ve noticed that I get more sentimental with each one. I get a little teary, even, especially when the bride and groom are especially young, or so in love that the raw and bright emotion radiating from them is blinding.
Reasons become clear and half-formed thoughts come to fruition in my magical rocking chair, and today was no different. I sat and rocked the baby, thinking of weddings, and realized that my sentimentality is rooted in joy, for obvious reasons, as well as something bittersweet, because while marriage itself is wonderful, it is also a marker of a changing life tide. Life will progress in much the same way for everyone regardless of marital status, but in marriage, just as the triumphs are shared, so too are the trials.
Marriage marks the last time one can focus solely on self, the last time chores will be done with only one person’s preference in mind. The last time it’s okay to wash only your own socks without considering the sock needs of another. The last time you can collapse into an exhausted heap at 6pm without feeling the need to explain. The last time finances are relatively uncomplicated, and that it’s okay to consider only one travel option for holiday plans. The last time you can throw up your hands and say “enough is enough,” open the door, and walk away without spending $10,000 in the process.
Lives being bound together in marriage typically begin carefree and beautiful, marked with amazing seasons of joy — wedding, honeymoon, job, house, perhaps pregnancy and beautiful children. But as the joys come in clusters, so too do the sorrows. Arguments over nothing and everything. Misunderstandings of unbelievable proportions. A child lost, a parent aged, a house foreclosed, bills mounting. And as we all know, while we tend to take our triumphs lightly, we are hit full force by trials, and after marriage that force will be felt times two.
Chores once done in love will become harbingers of resentment. If there are children of any age in your union, sleep once taken for granted will be a much fought-for commodity. Bodies will become marked by pregnancy, childbirth, lost sleep, and the inevitable stress of life.
Part of me wants my children to get married young — getting married and having children tends to bring out in people all the good things their parents taught them. They return to how they were raised, and shed many of the habits that need shedding. Part of me wants my children to marry later in life, so they can know more fully who they are, live a bit, and put off this marker of change.
I already know that when I talk to my children of love and marriage, they will smile and nod when I tell them they can’t live off love. That they will need a firmer foundation than that to build a marriage on. As I prattle on, they will be feel certain that they will be different, stronger, better. They will say that they know of the hardships and sleepless nights they will face, but they will never lose sight of love and passion. That they will never argue over selfish things, or fight over holiday plans, or worry about money because that is just so unimportant in the face of glorious love. As they smile and nod at their mom’s incessant ramblings, they will know with all their heart that the little fights they have during courtship will never grow larger, or will somehow resolve or become unimportant once they are under the same roof.
And maybe they will be right.
But when the time is right, I will try to explain, so they will be prepared, that someday soon love will be measured by how many times he got up with the baby last night,
or how many times she let you eat first.
That there will be fights over 15-minute increments of sleep, whose computer time is more important on any given day, and who left the bedroom light on, again, when no one was in the room. In these moments, you must remember you are on the same team, that your spouse has only good intentions. That your spouse is human and imperfect, just like you are.
You will be too tired, on occasion, to feel the things you felt on your honeymoon. You will also get tired of eating only broccoli because there’s no other vegetable you both like.
You will not understand how no one else can see that improperly loading the dishwasher is a divorce-worthy character flaw.
You will, occasionally, not ever want to see your beloved’s face again.
And that’s normal, I will tell them, but you have to have a plan. Otherwise, the bright and shiny thing held early in marriage will tarnish and fade.
Your plan should include not buying into the notion that you will be different. Stronger. Better. You won’t be. You will instead be awful, and selfish, and wonderful and horrible all mashed up together, and you will need to know how to draw the wonderful out of that big tangled ball. Your plan should include realizing that your marriage is just the first of many expositions, but there is only one resolution: each other. You have, as my Aunt Lucy would say, moved beyond “playing house,” to where that option from before — the one where you walk out the door — is no longer available. Marriage is the tie that binds as the waves of joy and sorrow and passion and stress wash over you and it would be easier to just give up, think only of self, run away.
As you and your partner discuss this, start detailing your plan. Discuss children, money, religion, politics, job goals and theories on parenting (and trust me, I will have much, much more to say to my children about parenting). Start talking about how you would handle it if date night happened only once every six months, and that that date night might just be 20 minutes in front of a movie while someone else holds the baby. Or maybe a drive in the minivan to drop off food for a friend. Discuss what you will do when your spouse feels down on life and you’re bursting at the seams with happiness. Hopefully you will address these issues in premarital counseling. If you do, and you realize there are just too many differences to move forward, than by all means, don’t.
But if you discuss it and plan it and realize you want to move forward together anyway…. well, there’s not much else in life that is sexier or more romantic than that.