I think people imagine that a successful marriage has to look a certain way. And while they probably can’t articulate what that is, they seem very confident about what it’s not.
For example: people are often very incredulous of the fact that I semi-regularly travel without my husband. But if we had to compromise on when we could travel and where we would go, odds are that I would die having never completed half of my bucket list. Likewise, I would have never become a lawyer if we had not made the unconventional choice of living separately for our first year of law school so that I could attend school in another City. And for no other reason than a belief that it’s inappropriate to be apart.
And it makes me wonder what a “good” marriage means to the people who level these criticisms. Is a “good” marriage a tool? A commitment which gives each party the confidence and support to pursue their goals? Is a “good” marriage a set of ideals? Loyalty, respect, love, forgiveness? Or is a “good” marriage one which conforms to a set of rules? Living together, sharing the same friends, sharing the same hobbies?
And, if a “good” marriage does come down to conforming to a set of rules, it seems unsurprising that marriage has gotten such a bad reputation! After all: the idea of tethering yourself to another person for the rest of your life is not only conceptually mind-bending, it is also just so weird in practice. Sometimes it hits me how weird it is to involve in consultation another person in the minutiae of my life, from what I have for dinner to what time I can take a bath. Not to mention the fact that every little change in him has ripple effects on me. For example: I see so many videos of deer because my husband became a fan of an Instagram account where a guy is friends with deer. Which adorable and great, but it’s just the tiniest example of the endless ways that our lives and personalities shift to accommodate the ways that our partners change. And so it’s crazy to think about the implications of sharing your whole life for its entire duration with another person. It seems to me that if individuals need to be so flexible to accommodate marriage, then marriage should be flexible to accommodate individuals.
When I was writing my marriage vows, I wasn’t asking philosophical questions about marriage. I was focused on the fact that my husband is the best person I’ve ever met, and I felt that my job was to make sure that his goodness is properly rewarded and is not taken advantage of. I believed then, as I do now, that I am doing my job as a wife if I am providing him with the support and encouragement he needs to pursue his goals without compromising his ideals. Of course that conception of marriage would not be appropriate for every couple. In fact, it wouldn’t even be ideal reciprocally within my own marriage. Because while Matt needs someone to propel him to his potential, I need someone strong and stable enough to keep me from spiralling out of control.
And, in that way, we created a definition of a “good” marriage which is entirely our own.
It doesn’t make marriage any less strange, but it makes it work.