The first one is obvious – divorce. I don’t know the exact figure these days but everyone and their brother seems to have two Christmases to attend. Which is totally cool, but also not super promising. The thing that weighs on me most is thinking about all those couples when they first got married. They were probably just as confident as I am. Certain their love would last. Certain that forever meant for ever and for always. The fact that I know that so many couples were certain and yet split years later boggles my brain. And not in a good way.
The second is The Bachelor. I mean, honestly, that show has produced like 3 lasting couples in 20 seasons. And maybe it’s because no one is really there for the “right reasons,” but Chris Harrison always seems so earnest and tries to do his best. And if his best isn’t good enough to keep people together, what hope do any of us have?
The third is the old piece of wisdom – love is hard work. I don’t know about you, but I spend most of my life avoiding hard work like the plague. So the idea that I’m signing up for a lifetime of servitude, well, it has me wondering. And the more I wonder, the more scared I become.
The fourth is Grey’s Anatomy. For sleep deprived surgeons, they sure spend a lot of time in bed. Or Scandal, where mistresses are commonplace even for the president. Or insert pretty much any other television drama here. The message is clear – fictional monogamy is dead. And I get it, it’s great television. But, at a minimum, it suggests that a life devoted to another is too boring to watch.
The fifth is compromise – the worst version of give and take. They say compromise is an essential part of a lasting relationship. But I say compromise sucks. I want a life where I get what I want. Not half. Not sometimes. Everything. Always. And maybe that’s unrealistic. Even single people don’t get that. But do I want to vow to spend the rest of my life compromising? Nope.
The sixth is change. People change. Generally not overnight, but over a year or ten or fifty. It’s encouraged even, under the guise of personal growth. We learn new things. Want new things. Become different people. What if she’s not the woman I fell in love with? What if I’m not the man she fell in love with? That scares the bejeebus out of me.
The seventh is a slow decline. You know the one I’m talking about. Caring less about our physical appearances. Lust to love to comfort to familiarity to annoyance to resentment to bitter indifference. Okay, maybe that’s pessimistic. But on some level, we are all aware of the notion that things go downhill. Appearance fades, tension builds, and sooner or later, it all goes to hell. It might take twenty years, but the idea that slowly things will get worse, bit by bit, breaks my heart.
The eighth is not enough. We are constantly encouraged to want more for ourselves. To want bigger and better things. What if, in the end, I’m not enough? What if she’s not? What if we’re both left wondering if we could’ve had more? I don’t feel like that now. Right now I don’t believe I ever could. But sooner or later, will that thought pop up? Will it slowly creep into the back of my head? Will it eventually pervade her every thought? I don’t know. I hope not. That’s dark stuff. Scary stuff.
The ninth is Jumanji. And by that I mean to say, anything could happen. You go in saying for better or for worse, whatever happens, we’ve got this. But then you end up trapped in a board game with Robin Williams and suddenly you begin to realize you didn’t fully appreciate what for better or for worse could actually entail. Sure, that was a movie, but the fact is crazy things happen in life all the time. There’s nothing certain about it. And so saying I’m certain freaks me right out.
The tenth is that fairy tales end with happily ever after. That’s just the way it is. You watch the initial excitement, the bubbling romance, the fiery passion, the lust, the chase, the good part. What happens after, no one wants to see.
Why? Because we think it will tarnish the perfect picture of love. We’ll see Prince Charming become a real guy with real flaws. We’ll see the Princess in her pyjamas. We’ll see them grow apart. We’ll see them fall in love with other people. We’ll see the good thing come to an end.
After happily ever, we assume will be worse. We assume that at best it will be filled with hard work and compromise, a struggle against a slow, but inevitable, decline. We assume that because the only thing that outnumbers fictional divorces is real ones. We assume that because The Bachelor can’t get it right. Because we believe that Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy aren’t so farfetched. Because we think people are more likely to grow apart than together. Because everything we know and hear and see and believe tells us that when love lasts, when it truly and eternally works, it’s in spite of the odds, not because of them. It’s the exception that proves the rule. It’s because two people were willing to work harder than most. That they compromised on things others wouldn’t. That their fairy tale is simply not yet over.
That’s why I’m scared to get married. I’m scared that it might mark the end of our happily ever and the beginning of an after I’d rather not know.
That’s why I decided to write this post. Because the way we think about marriage sucks. Because the only thing more depressing than thinking marriage is the beginning of the end, is thinking I might be right. That the numbers are right. That The Bachelor is right. That what they say about soul-crushing compromise and inevitable decline is true. That there is no such thing as happy endings, only unfinished stories.
I decided to write this post because I think that’s wrong. I believe that true love is an ideal worth fighting for. That the ideas we’ve been given to think about love are broken and in need of revision. I want to revise them. To think of new ideas. To discover and share them.
I want to spend my life proving that these fears are exaggerated, overblown and inaccurate, not living in fear of them, resigning myself to a mediocre marriage. In three weeks’ time, I’m vowing to do more than that, to build a relationship stronger than that, to live a life together that’s better than that.
We say it’s okay to be scared before you get married. That’s how you should feel, some would even insist.
But that sounds crazy to me.
When I stand up to say “I do” three weeks from now, I am going to do so with enthusiasm, optimism and confidence. I’m going to say “I do” to a life of love and excitement. Of incline, not decline. Of change for the better. I’m going to say “I do” to an after that’s as happy as ever.