And we're back, with another great contribution to the What Marriage Means to Me series! When I saw Elizabeth (aka Sister Salad Lizz)'s latest YouTube video in which she detailed how she and her husband started from scratch planning their wedding by "spen[ding] several months discussing the meaning of marriage," I knew I had to get her perspective for this series. And she did not disappoint! Here she shares how the two of them dug through all of their preconceptions and expectations of marriage to figure out what their marriage was going to mean.
Although my now-husband and I had been dating for less than a year when we first started talking seriously about marriage, by the time we actually decided to go for it there were family members on both sides exasperatedly exclaiming, "Just do it, already!"
I think a significant reason for this over-extensive analysis stemmed from the fact that I sensed, lurking within my psyche, a motivation for marriage which I feared was a dangerous one, and I wanted to root it out before it became ensconced in the foundation of what I intended to be a lifelong commitment.
Specifically, I realized that a deep, dark part of me saw romantic relationship in general, and marriage in particular, as an end in itself – an important element of the Satisfying and Meaningful Lifestyle I wanted to secure, with my romantic partner as placeholder/facilitator of this idealized existence – rather than an interactive experience with a particular individual.
A large part of my initial desire to get married had to do with a picture I had long held in my mind of myself as a Wife and Mother, of various activities and experiences which required a Husband and thus a Marriage to bring into being. And I don't think there's anything wrong with those activities, or with the relationships out of which they grow. But I do think there's something wrong with entering into a relationship – especially a proclaimedly permanent one – for the express purpose of manifesting a particular vision of the future.
First of all, I think it's problematic because life is unpredictable, people are constantly changing, and just because someone currently seems like the perfect match for the carpet and curtains with which I would one day like to adorn my living room doesn't mean they will stay that way forever.
And second of all, even if my selected partner did manage to remain the type of person who could make all my anticipatory imaginings come true, it just doesn't seem like a very nice way to relate to another person. Who wants to be little more than the satisfactory means to an end?
So when the time came that I felt ready to take the marital plunge – the moment at which I saw my visions of a Glorious Married Lifestyle at long last within my grasp – I forced myself to take a step back and rethink my most fundamental reasons for wanting to plunge myself into matrimony.
Thus began our lengthy process of defining what, as two unique individuals coming together in a particular relationship (rather than generic instantiations for one another of largely interchangeable Husband/Wife Accessory Figures), this ostensibly universal institution of marriage might mean for us – and whether, in fact, it was something we actually wanted to undertake.*
Much as both of us held cherished visions of what married life together might offer, we realized that what we both considered most important in life was what we believed to be our God-given purpose to express love (not in a stereotypically romantic sense, but rather through acts of caring for all kinds of people, whether partner, family member, friend, or stranger). We saw marriage as one way in which we might seek to fulfill that purpose – through supporting one another in loving other people, and also through enhancing in various ways our ability to love each other.
In fact, ultimately we decided that our marriage was simply and solely a commitment to love one another – and we acknowledged that that might not always end up looking like a traditional vision of marriage. We could imagine circumstances under which we could best love each other by living separately, by not having children, by having no contact with one another whatsoever, and in those cases, we would choose the path of love even if it conflicted with a coveted life vision.
Which was a scary reversal for someone who had long dreamed of marriage precisely in order to facilitate that vision. And yet, thus far at least, I am exceedingly glad to have traded in my rosy pictures of Conventional Wedded Bliss with a Perfect Paperdoll Partner, for a vision developed jointly with a real, live, unique, complex, and ever-changing human being.
*Note: Because I do believe firmly in the notion that romantic relationships should emerge out of the particularities of the people engaged in them rather than culturally prescribed scripts, roles, and stages, I share our conclusions not as universal truths that apply to all people who make the decision to commit to one another in a mode they define as "marriage," but rather as one example of the infinite myriad of possible such definitions.
~~~Elizabeth Corinth is a teacher, anthropologist, writer, and vlogger. She and her husband recently celebrated their tenth mooniversary (in other words, they've been married for just over ten months).