Sometimes, I catch myself being pulled into the abyss of happily ever after.
It’s embarrassing to admit it. Shouldn’t I be more evolved and aware than this? But, when you are with a partner who feels like a soulmate and your days are drenched in laughter, it’s hard not to dive headlong into the heady myth of forever.
At the same time, I strongly feel that marriage in its current iteration (and really, most of its past ones) is a broken paradigm. More than half of marriages still end in divorce (including my first one), there are millions of unspoken affairs, and uncountable partnerships with undercurrents of resentment, misunderstanding, and overt communication problems.
The majority of us do not have a model of marriage that actually works.
Yet, even after my 7-year marriage experiment (which only recently ended), I still find myself being pulled toward the idea of husband and wife. It’s understandable: I’ve been sold heavy doses of happily ever after ever since I emerged on this planet as a woman.
Every fairy tale, Disney movie, and romantic comedy tells the same narrative with little variation: boy meets girl, they fall in love. They have a falling out, which gets resolved toward the end. Their story gets wrapped in a pretty package of assumed or outright happily ever after. End scene.
Of course, this is inaccurate on so many levels.
What about boy meets boy? Girl meets girl? What if you never have a fight? What if there is no such thing as happily ever after?
These questions might result in answers that feed the soul, but certainly not the franchise of not-enoughness that runs our economy.
We need stories of happily ever after to anchor us because we have absolutely no idea how to go about building an every day partnership. We pursue an endlessly attractive ephemeral idea that completely misrepresents the daily reality of building a life with someone.
Our souls are hungry for answers that we don’t know how to find.
We think we know what we want.
We want to find “the one” and build a life and home together.
But the predominant example of marriage is an obsolete idea crafted by kings and priests to remove us from tribal collaboration and grounded connectedness and into a state of ownership, fear, and profit.
We don’t see that over the last few thousand years, we’ve been moved from small cultures of cooperation into one giant corporation: Marriage as its currently defined fits nicely into the ideas our industrious civilization sells us.
We have a deep yearning to be seen and loved… To see and love someone whollly until death do us part. But the marriage we are taught to desire is based in a pervasive untruth: that forever actually exists. It’s no surprise that we are still getting divorced; we are still getting married!
We have numerous examples of happily ever after to aim for (mostly fictional) and then we struggle to create it because no one is teaching us how to actually do it.
Questioning how to create a new partnership paradigm is a frightening, potentially lonely process.
It requires a depth of inquiry that is generally not acceptable. What IS de rigueur is to spend 8-24 months planning a wedding, to invest tens of thousands of dollars in an event that socially + legally legitimizes a partnership, and to keep quiet when we see ourselves, or our friends and loved ones partnering up with the wrong people.
What is normal? To have doubts six weeks before the big day, but not BIG ENOUGH doubts to stop the unstoppable train. At least, that’s what happened to me… It’s normal to put our best foot forward and show the world our beautiful selves. It’s normal to bury the “ugly” questions where no one (least of all ourselves) can be infected by them.
There are other ways to define partnership.
There are deeply satisfying long-buried rituals and teachings that we can come home to, if we are willing to shed our desires to be defined. They are not less than marriage. They are more.
I don’t regret my marriage, experiments opening the relationship, and resultant divorce. All of it was a massive education in what I do and don’t want. Through that process, I learned to love myself. I learned that loving myself was the only precursor to loving someone as deeply and passionately as I craved.
I had to learn that love is something I give, not get. Love is who I am. Love is boundless and free. Love does not require definitions to make it legitimate.
Love lives outside of the economy.
Love is far deeper and vaster than the narrow spaces we try to fit it into.
The only type of “marriage” we can truthfully commit to is one that we refresh every morning – because the only true time we have is right. now.
This is harder than it sounds. Taking things one day at a time requires an almost constant battle against my programmed desires.
But if I really dig deeply into what it is I’m actually seeking, I recognize that being an OFFICIAL WIFE won’t bring me any more gifts than I already have. I am more intimately partnered now than I ever was as a wife. I am risking putting down actual roots for the first time ever.
Even though I used to have a mortgage and retriever. Even though I already have a child. The roots of naked truth that grow from my feet, entwine with my lover’s, and plunge into the earth are deeper than any mortgage or document I possessed in my former life.
You see, I recognize that I can’t posses or be posessed. I cannot own my partner. I cannot lock him into me and expect him or us never to change.
True marriage is a choice you arrive at every morning, together.
True marriage looks like an open face, baring the beautiful ugliness of questions. It’s terrifying to live inside the questions.
True marriage looks like lack of judgement, even when you’re afraid.
True marriage makes no promises it can’t keep.
I can’t promise to love him forever: Forever is a fantasy.
But I can promise never to lie to myself. Never to lie to him.
I can promise to take responsibility for how I feel.
The new definition of marriage is an agreement between two people to be brave together.
In that sense, I am already married. I have found the love of my life, because my life is today.
Some days the programming kicks in and I start to crave the safety of answers. Those are the hard days. But it’s a battle I alone must fight – I cannot place my desires onto his shoulders and blame him when his set of yearnings are different than the ones I think I should have.
Together, we agree to be brave. Again.
I am deeply, hopelessly, madly, poetically in love.
It looks a lot different than the movies. It looks like honesty and trust. It feels electrifying, unknown, and the vulnerability makes me afraid.
I’m leaning in.