In a billion dollar industry which makes money selling us false stories, this is how we’re told it goes:
You wait for The One. You fall hard and get carried away on the wings of all the butterflies flapping about your stomach. You date. Within reason, you stay on your best behaviour. You want to be loved by them, after all. You give them your best self. You keep dating. He proposes. You get married. Congratulations! You’ve crossed the finish line! Yeah, yeah, it might be hard sometimes but: he’s The One! It’s True Love! It’s Happily Ever After! We Have So Much To Look Forward To!
I blame Disney because it’s always nice to blame someone. Not even just Disney. The entire movie industry, actually. But listen, who cares who is selling us that story? The point is that we hover to the side of each shiny Love And Marriage Story our children digest and loudly and boldly preface it with: Actually honey…
Because how it goes, for me, is more like this:
Wait for a Special One. Feel the Butterfly Feelings. Date. Give them your best self, commit to one another, have children, get married, buy houses. Realize shit now gets real – that there are nappies to change and nights to not sleep in and laundry to wash and each other’s families to navigate and pressures to sort through. Recognise that he is not who you thought he would be, and partnership is not what you thought it would be, and having children is not what you thought it would be and additionally, you are not who you thought you would be. Notice The Butterflies have flown away. Notice that not even Love Feelings are there. Panic. Keep your head down and notice how exhausted you are. Fixate on the mess and the long, long tunnel out of it you have to crawl. Panic some more. Wipe a child’s bottom. Crawl into yourself. Wonder why no one talks about how hard marriage is. Decide it must be just you both. Watch your friends and listen to the way they talk to their spouses and compare the things they do with the things you do and conclude you are doomed. Consider separation.
Congratulations! You’ve crossed the starting line!
Stay open and read a lot from folks who have been here. Talk to good, honest friends. Ask them how their marriage REALLY is and not just how it looks on the outside. Consider the modelling of marriage you’ve received from both sets of parents as the only real ‘inside a marriage’ experience you’ve had. Find unhealthy dynamics in both. Wonder what the hell marriage even is. Go to counselling. Have hard conversations. Learn that you are actually now, beginning the IN LOVE process. Understand what The Process Of Loving actually requires and become exhausted at the thought of it. Panic. Consider separation. Become exhausted by the thought of separation. Freak out about losing your kids. And splitting up your family. And moving house. Lord, no, please don’t make me pack boxes. Consider trying the Love Work, if only to avoid duct tape. Begin.
Understand that marriage is a tough professor – its syllabus Forgiveness, Vulnerability, Self-Awareness, Compassion and Truth. Commit to becoming diligent students. Reframe thinking that Love is about feelings. Understand that Love is about Work – it’s about adding things to a box over and over again, so you can both draw on the box full of marriage type things like support and friendship and forgiveness. Realise that Love Work is always, like every other freaking thing, about the little things. One friend of mine folds her husband’s underwear even though she despises doing it. One friend makes herself curl into her husband’s lap every night on the couch even though she wants nothing but to go to bed. Love changes from Butterflies to Acts Of Sheer Will as we offer gifts that make our spouses feel loved, in whatever language they speak. Watch our partners doing the Love Work with their heads down and their bones weary, too. Understand that they are offering YOU gifts, that they are also working hard for you. Feel something like Respect crawl into your heart. Wonder if this is actually Love, like, what real love, what it actually means to love, is like. Get curious. Keep going.
Step forward, step back, trip up, smooth out. Begin to peel the onion layers – the ones you both protect and hide, and have done since the beginning of forever. Start addressing the Most Vulnerable of Vulnerable Things. Become terrified. Get help. Fall apart. Do the work. Let yourselves Be Seen. Begin to trust. Actually see each other for the first time. Actually KNOW WHO YOUR HUSBAND AND YOU ARE FOR THE FIRST TIME. Become protective over it. Feel privileged that you get to witness each other’s transformation. Allow it to bind you. Understand that this is true intimacy. Begin to feel the Love Feelings. Not butterflies. Something deeper, more grounded, more mature. Feel like you are beginning to get it. Wonder how on earth you are going to describe all this to your children when they have their head full of Disney crap and rom-coms and begin to navigate romantic love. Panic about the day they discover pornography and decide that is much, much worse. Become tired. Take a nap. Wash the dishes.