Everyone knew this was coming, and I mean EVERYONE. Any time I would talk about my views on the pointlessness and unnatural nature of marriage, the response was always “You’ll see. Some woman will come along and break your rules.”
So what did it take for me to finally pop the question? I had many barriers set up between me and married life, and it was no small feat to break them down one by one. This article will be written as something that I could pass down to a younger me.
Barrier #1: What does it mean to love someone?
A little under a year into my relationship with Kati, I came to realize that my concept of love was flawed (Reference: What is love?) to say the very least.
My previous relationships had mostly been lustful short-term affairs that ended uneventfully, with no one being hurt. These quick, fun flings were low risk and high reward for a college guy. I had one or two relationships that might have been more than that, but moving across the country from New Jersey to Arizona cut them short before anything more than friendship could develop. There was only one relationship that I took hard when it ended, and in retrospect it was a shallow, lust-driven, immature one that would never have lasted more than a few months if I weren’t a teenager when it began.
But as poor of a relationship as it was, it was nearly 3 years of my life, and my only previous experience with love. I had never felt the need to express true feelings of love to anyone since then.. until Kati came along.
I felt very strongly for Kati from the beginning. Our relationship was fun and passionate without being melodramatic. We talked with a liberating brutal honesty that was only possible for me because at the time I never thought I might marry this girl, and she probably felt the same way I did.
This relationship was very different than all of my previous ones precisely because of the lack of melodrama. She and I could speak in shorthand without needing to navigate some careful legal-style structure to avoid hurting each other’s feelings. I’ve said the wrong thing so many times but she would just get it. I’ve laughed at the way she’s worded things and just said “I don’t think you mean what you just said, but I have an idea of where you were going with that”.
Despite knowing the entire time that ours was a different kind of relationship than I had ever experienced, I still kept trying to define it using the same parameters as my previous ones (Reference: It’s Got What It Takes). Things like what Kati and I have in common and our similar beliefs were supposedly the primary reasons that I SHOULD love her. I thought I could explain loving someone with a list of features like a shopping list with checkmarks next to it. That article can be summarized loosely as “everything is perfect, but I just don’t feel it”, but I was wrong.
What I wasn’t feeling was the volatility that was ever-present in my previous (read: unsuccessful) relationships. There were no pointless arguments pulled out of thin air just so we could have make-up sex. There were no minor lies that threw trust for the entire relationship into question. She never gets mad at me when she has a dream of me doing something wrong to her. She doesn’t purposely make me jealous to get more attention. In short, she’s not a psycho.
Related: An interesting Q & A advice column post that I found when trying to word this last paragraph.
If I were to pass any wisdom from this experience to others, it is to let go of pre-existing definitions for what love feels like. If I had to define it now, it would be something extremely loose and subjective like: Wanting to share every piece of yourself with this person, no matter how vulnerable it makes you.
Barrier #2: The Logical Arguments
I had a whole list of reasons why getting married was a bad idea for me, but I can’t find the post. Maybe it was lost when I moved stuff over from my old MySpace blog. My objections to marriage can be boiled down to:
- Marriage is a religious ceremony, and I am not religious.
- Marriage places an unnecessary burden of vulnerability on the male in a heterosexual relationship.
- The freedom to leave a relationship and subsequent choice to stay in it has more meaning than the choice to stay in a relationship that’s less painful than divorce processes.
- The purpose of marriage is to strengthen the bond of two parents during the arduous task of raising children, and I don’t want kids.
Now I get to argue with myself, which would otherwise only be possible with a time machine.
Marriage is a religious ceremony, and I am not religious.
The ceremony portion of a marriage is whatever the bride and groom want it to be. If we want it to be religious, it will be. If we don’t, it’ll be the celebration of two families coming together. I’ll throw this quote from a great philosopher in just to seal the deal.
Any excuse for a good party is a good excuse.
Vince Barton beloved grandfather
Marriage places an unnecessary burden of vulnerability on the male in a heterosexual relationship.
The financial burden of the husband having to give half of his stuff to his wife in the event of a divorce is a popular misconception based on celebrity divorce stories seen all over tabloids and trash websites (i.e. not real people). It’s based on the wife not having her own means of earning money, and it protects women from being thrown out on the street if they don’t make their husbands happy.
Marrying someone is taking what both of you are and combining it. After combining families, households, and major long-term goals, why was it such a big deal to add my unimpressive bank account, video game collection and crappy furniture into the mix? (keep in mind that I was still waiting tables when I wrote this reasoning out originally)
Finally, knowing what attracts me to a woman, I wouldn’t ever marry someone who didn’t have a decent education, let alone a career of her own. Kati usually makes only slightly less than I do, and currently makes considerably more (not counting bonuses). Splitting our stuff up 50/50 seems like it ends up pretty good for me now, and even if that changed the difference wouldn’t be anything like Michael Strahan and his ex-wife.
The freedom to leave a relationship and subsequent choice to stay in it has more meaning than the choice to stay in a relationship that’s less painful than divorce processes.
As valid of a point as this may be in a bubble of objective discussion, let’s point out what it really is: rationalization. The reason this concept even came up in my head was because I was looking for reasoning to strengthen a pre-conceived point. It wasn’t something I came up with and THEN carried forward to the idea of marriage being stupid.
To attack this on another level, I’ll use an argument device I love: algebra. “By that logic, each paycheck I receive should mean more to me because my boss refused to sign a contract that binds him to treat me fairly.” The fact that a good person has the power to harm or abandon someone, but chooses not to does not inherently make that contract invalid. It actually should make it a much easier contract to sign because it requires little to no effort if the signer were going to be a good person anyway.
I’d also like to point out how paranoid this and the previous points in my list make me sound. I get that I’ve been hurt in the past and that my parents are divorced, but what does that have to do with Kati? She had no effect on any of this, and this decision affects her nearly exclusively. Add to that the fact that both of my parents are re-married and happy now. Plus, their second marriages have already lasted longer than their first one did.
The purpose of marriage is to strengthen the bond of two parents during the arduous task of raising children, and I don’t want kids.
The purpose of a couple’s marriage is for them to decide. If we decide that it’s for children, then that’s our marriage. If we decide that it’s to show the world that we love each other enough to share everything, then that’s our marriage. Perceptions change over time, so what defines our marriage will likely change, too – even years after our vows are exchanged.
And who knows? Someday we might change our minds about having kids too.
Barrier #3: The Difference Between Hearing and Listening
While Kati and have always been honest with each other, we haven’t always communicated effectively. Things that we say to each other aren’t binary as to be judged as merely “honest or dishonest”. So much of a conversation is communicated by things like tone and body language that making sure the right message was received on the other end can be difficult at times. (Reference: Learning to Shapeshift see “Shape of: Communicator” chapter)
In addition to the things we’ve learned in therapy, we’ve both been working on being the way we were when we first met. I mentioned earlier in this article that one of the great things about our relationship was the ability to speak in shorthand. We had the ability to have faith in the other person to just get it and not have to deal with the drama of what I would call stubborn hearing.
Stubborn hearing is what happens when person A enters a conversation with a preconception, and whenever person B inevitably says something contradictory, person A becomes consumed by their need to “defend themself” against that perceived slight.
I’m still person A sometimes. I don’t even realize it until an argument starts, but the opening portion of that conversation has already poisoned any chance of a drama-free discussion. I’m getting better at stopping the runaway train by retracing our steps to get back to the original point, but I still need work to make that train never leave the station in the first place.
No matter how well we send out our messages, the receiver can still take creative license with it and distort it into something else. A large part of trust in any relationship falls on our faith that the other person won’t use the vulnerabilities we offer them to hurt us.
The Unexpected Freedom of Commitment
After I overcame all of these barriers, it was still hard for me to finally take the plunge. My logical mind had gotten past all of its grievances with marrying Kati, but I was still incredibly nervous about it. As I’ve done with all the major stuff that has comes up in my life over the past 8 years, I tried to talk it out with her, but with a less than desirable effect on her side of it.
I believe my exact phrasing was “Fuck it, why not then, right?”
This was at the end of a long and somewhat serious talk of course. I didn’t have the jumbotron at 49ers stadium light up with that phrase or anything. Nevertheless, it’s not exactly the proposal girls dream about. I later gave Kati a more appropriate and romantic proposal that you can ask her about if you want.
But after I got her [second] “yes”, it felt way better than I ever predicted it would. After all, I never really approached marriage as this treasured thing before. I always thought of it as something I would do for the sake of my wife, and not because I wanted it. I’ve come to interpret how good I feel about it now to a validation. My inner truth shone through all my past stubbornness at that moment. It felt like a heavy weight had fallen off of my shoulders.
With that weight, came other things too. I was relieved that I will never need to feel alone again. I felt gratefulness to Kati for being so patient with me over the years. I felt excited to plan a big party with both of our families coming out to see us. Most of all, I felt a strange sense that everything is going to be okay.
I credit these feelings with how long I took to make sure I was ready for this step. As much as I may feel like 8 years was a long time to make her wait, I will never regret that I took all the time I needed to get through my issues.
I think that our relationship has an excellent foundation that we unknowingly built the night we met. Taking all of these steps within myself may not seem like much from the outside, even to Kati, but they have made me so much more open with her. They have made me more dedicated, more content, and more loving. I’m a better and happier person with her near. She’s my impossible girl. I’m ready to go all in.