I adore actor and comedian Aziz Ansari and love watching him on Parks & Rec, but to me he really shines during his standup routines. Scott is obsessed with standup comedy so, shortly after we got engaged, I sent him a link to one of my favorite Aziz bits, knowing he would appreciate it. You can watch here:
I laughed when I first watched it and Scott and I both laughed when we watched it together a few weeks ago. But the sentiment is true on a deeper level: what incentive is there to get married in a culture that places decreasing importance on tradition and increasing importance on the self?
There’s nothing that will incite the unsolicited advice and opinions of others more than making a major life decision. I’m all too familiar with this; when I chose to join and then was accepted into the Peace Corps, I stumped a good deal of people who didn’t understand why I’d choose to do such a thing rather than, say, go on a mission or find a husband. If your life doesn’t “make sense” to someone then they’ll inevitably fill in all the blanks with their own assumptions. I know because I’ve done this…A LOT, mostly with people younger than me who have chosen to get married relatively quickly—as I have just chosen to do myself! My days of rolling my eyes at my Facebook feed in the advent of another engagement status are done. I’m “one of them” now.
The point I’m trying to make is that in this world of endless choices, there’s nothing you can pick that will please everyone. I promise. Two months in to Scott’s and my relationship, people started asking why we weren’t engaged yet. Now that we are engaged, other people are scoffing that we didn’t date long enough before we chose to get engaged, or that our wedding date is too soon. Still others want to know why we’re waiting so long to get married. And lo and behold, those who were anywhere from silent to skeptical about my decision to join the Peace Corps are now fawning over me and my beautiful, silly ring, and the progressive types who cheered my decision to serve in Albania are shocked over my decision to settle down and get married. See what I mean?
Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, but it seems that choices surrounding marriage and romantic commitment in general have become increasingly scrutinized in recent years. The way people relate to each other is developing, expanding, and in some cases, exploding. I can’t go 24 hours without coming across some article on Elite Daily describing the new relationship trend: “Why Your Polyandrous Domestic Partner Won’t Follow You Back on Instagram!” “What Your Bisexual Webcam Sidepiece Really Thinks of Your Cleanse Diet!” And let me go on record to say I think it’s GREAT! I love the idea that people are challenging tradition, that they’re willing to explore new ideas, that they’re trying to get more in touch with who they are and what will make them happy. Relationships are important, arguably the most important thing ever. And everyone’s idea of a fulfilling relationship is going to look different to him or her or whatever non-gender-specific pronoun you want to use.
However, I feel that this relationship choice that I’ve made—one of plain old, boring heterosexual marriage—is becoming out-of-style. And that’s fair; I am doing literally the same thing that people have been doing for thousands of years. I’m not part of a hip social movement. There’s no one rallying to my cause other than the oldest, whitest, male-est politicians. So, to some extent I can understand the underwhelming enthusiasm.
What I have a more difficult time understanding are people who have decided a certain way of life isn’t for them—either through trial and error or judgmental preconceived notions—who then choose to condemn anyone who makes different choices than they do. I recently spoke to someone who, in the same breath as he congratulated me in, claimed, “but I don’t really believe in marriage.” This man had been married over three times and each had ended in divorce. So, let me get this straight…your marriages didn’t work out, therefore the institution itself is inherently flawed? You don’t notice a common denominator in each of those relationships that might point to the underlying problem? Is the issue in “your marriage” the “marriage” part, or the “your” part?
What I don’t think people who make these types of comments, share these types of articles, or assert these beliefs realize is that I stay up at night thinking about them. My hands shake when I drive my car or type on my keyboard or wash the dishes. My heart beats a little faster than it normally does. I’m cautious and defensive and terse when I discuss my wedding. I am terrified of marriage, because it is, indeed, insane. The prospect of choosing someone, legally binding yourself to him, and bearing with the inevitable ups and downs of a human relationship whilst trying to stave off the stigma of divorce is very intimidating. I can understand why people don’t want to do it. It places you in a very vulnerable position.
But the worst part is, I think that for the most part I’m just doing this to myself. Today I broke down and Googled “marriage anxiety,” and came across this article that really spoke to me. Whenever I find myself suffering from anxiety, I find it helps for me to write down the things I worry about and then point out how ridiculous they are. I did that today, and here’s what I found. Nearly ALL of my fears about marriage are:
- Completely hypothetical or abstract. Some people I know who are against making marital or romantic commitments use the reasoning, “Well, what if you marry someone but there’s someone better out there and you never have the freedom to meet them?” Well…what if? I’ve done enough boyfriend-hopping in my life to know that “the grass is always greener” theory is 100% true. It’s all new and exciting at first, but if you spend enough time with any person, you’ll find qualities you don’t like. (Unless you are Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.) I cope with the less-than-desirable qualities my family and friends have, and they do the same for me. Why should I expect my romantic relationships to be any different? I don’t just ditch my friends and tell them, “You know, there might be a better friend out there for me, I just don’t want to be tied down to you so I’m gonna move on with my life.”
- Reinforced by cultural misconceptions. For some reason, we as a culture have decided that you can’t be with someone unless he or she or ze is a completely and utterly perfect specimen, and that there’s such a thing as “The One,” and that every fleeting second of a good relationship has to be filled with passionate fireworks. Occasionally Scott will forget his wallet and ask me to pay for our boba tea or wear a pair of pants I told him I don’t like and my mind is filled with magazine articles telling me that our relationship is DOOMED!!! When, really, he’s pretty great, but he’s also a human being just like I am.
- Causing me to overlook what’s really important. What’s really important is that I’m doing what I want and that I’m happy with the decisions I make. I would give the same advice to someone who doesn’t ever want to get married, or is in a same-sex relationship, or prefers having multiple partners instead of one. Scott and I made a decision together, and he’s someone who has agreed to love me and stick by me no matter what. How does it get any better than that?
So yeah, marriage is definitely insane. But so is everything else I’ve ever done and it’s paid off tremendously. I can tell you just during the time I’ve been engaged, I’ve learned so much that wouldn’t have been possible had I not agreed to something as insane as this. I’ve become a softer, gentler person in the face of a hardening world. I’ve come to realize things about myself that I hadn’t had the opportunity to face before doing something like this and have become more introspective in the process. And more importantly, my relationship has improved and progressed.