Why are we so skeptical of the things right in front of us? “Turns Out It’s Pretty Good” is a series that examines the path from resisting the well-known to wholeheartedly endorsing it.
I was never ambivalent about marriage. My disdain was so vehement that when I read books or essays, I’d skim over the parts where the author referenced their spouse. How dull! Marriage was unrelatable and for people who, unlike me, didn’t have purpose and meaning in their lives. When I was hanging out with female friends and their spouses came home or joined us at the bar, it felt like a buzzkill, as though their romantic partners interrupted the true intimacy of female friendship. Marriage, in short, was for suckers. I had zero respect for or knowledge of what goes into it, and wasn’t curious, either.
Now I cringe at my naïveté. Sure, much of this was informed by being a child of divorce. If you never got married, you’d never have to get divorced, which sounded just divine. According to divorce expert Judith Wallerstein, this is a common refrain among adult children of divorce, so I’m hardly unique.
My nightstands were stacked with books in the single-woman genre: Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single, and All the Single Ladies. I’d flip through them, post them to Instagram, noncommittal, but never actually read them. I figured one day I’d write a book about being single, too: It was both my fear and my goal, a walking contradiction. I was even featured in Elle magazine’s 41 Hottest Singles article in 2017. Being single felt like an important piece of my identity. I felt comfortable in it.
Being a serial single had its tough times, of course, like attending weddings solo and shoveling out the car during upstate winters, but it was worth it! No one judged me when I came home and ate a block of cheddar after too many drinks, and I could watch TV in the morning if I wanted. I loved the feeling of having no one to report to. Occasionally, I’d meet a woman whose goal was to get married, or be in a partnership, and I am ashamed to say I thought she was weak.
Luckily, my perspective broadened. Once in a while I’d meet a woman around my age and presumptuously assume she was single — like me, like my friends, like all cool women — and if she casually dropped the word “husband,” it gave me pause. Wait. This woman had a husband? But she was cool! Was marriage … actually … cool?
When I first met Tony, I remember telling a friend, “I’d have a baby and get married to him,” and her response was, “You’re gonna get married, dude?!” The baby didn’t faze her, but imagining me married was a challenge. My relationship with Tony made me realize that marriage could be whatever we wanted it to be. I didn’t have to have the same marriage my parents had — I could learn from their relationship and do mine differently.
I began reading books like Attached and Mating in Captivity. When I took Passionate Marriage, by David Schnarch, out from the library and read it while we were still dating, Tony didn’t even flinch. We got married two years after we met, and I was the one who proposed. Proposing was like exposure therapy to the thing I feared most. I didn’t want to be passive and wait for marriage to either happen or not happen to me. I wanted to go for it; and it turned out to be the most empowered I’d ever felt.
Is marriage hard work? Yes, of course. But there are some epic aspects to it, like having a witness to your personal growth. You can achieve this in long-term partnerships as well, of course, but for me, getting married was a way to examine my fears around commitment and divorce.
Turns out, marriage isn’t as boring, miserable, and torturous as I assumed it was in my 20s. I was being shortsighted, and you married people were actually onto something. The words “husband” and “wife” don’t make me want to throw up in my mouth anymore. I used to think marriage would stifle creativity, but I’ve found the stability and emotional support actually gives the creative mind space to thrive. It takes strength and vulnerability, not weakness, to build a life with someone. It’s true that if you never get married, you never have to get divorced, but I don’t want to make decisions out of fear anymore.
I mean, I’ve only been married for two years, but it is already a point of pride. I’m glad the judgment I carried with me in my youth has lifted, because I didn’t see how much it was holding me back. Do I feel like a sellout and a hypocrite now, reaping the benefits of marriage? Absolutely.
There’s a lot to be said about the institution of marriage and its shortcomings. Marriage is a personal choice, and I know I could just as easily remain unmarried and create a fulfilling and successful life that way. In fact, I already had.