ON THIS DAY one year ago I knelt at an altar, gripping the hand of my best friend who smiled across from me as I took the greatest leap of faith I have ever taken in my life. I remember walking out of the temple to a crowd of supportive friends and family who enveloped us in hugs and cheered as we exchanged rings and stated vows. I remember the yellow flower girl dresses, the unusual weight of false eyelashes, the touching speeches, the globe centerpieces and baby’s breath in mason jars, the mad dash to set up table cloths with my grandma, and the feeling of grass on my bare feet. I remember getting the wrong cake and my amazing family and friends who jumped in when the curry spilled and the toilet clogged and who cleaned up the heart-shaped confetti in the dark. I remember the whirlwind of excitement and my deep admiration and appreciation for community, but more than anything I remember being surprised. After months of paralyzing fear during my engagement, this marriage thing so far was turning out to fun.
I have been a cynic about marriage. I’ve also witnessed the pain that comes when relationships sour. I felt oppressed by the pressure of the whole notion and suspicious of Hollywood’s love culture. I never dreamed of my future wedding dress or fantasized about a Prince Charming coming to sweep me up. I wanted to travel. I wanted a Ph.D. I wanted to experience falling in love with many people. I was terrified marriage meant discontinuing core parts of me.
Despite my many questions and fears about the institution of marriage, today is my anniversary of not surviving, but thriving as a married and very authentic me. I gained new perspectives traveling the world to research these motivations and traditions from different marriage paradigms in various cultures. In some ways my findings make me even more skeptical of marriage and in other ways they make me want to attend every wedding on earth. But for all our flavors of marriage, no one out of the many interviews I conducted across Colombia, Peru, Thailand, India, Spain, and more said this:
“Marriage is easy,” or, “Marriage isn’t work.”
I am grateful for the Inca’s example of switching shoes as a commitment to serving each other and for the blue and black beaded bridal shirts of the Karen tribe in Thailand symbolizing the difficulty and needed strength for the commitment. I am overwhelmed by the intricate Indian wedding ceremonies and their deep devotion to extended family and for my friend who juggles raising twins with housekeeping and an ambitious career. I am honored to have witnessed the mutual admiration and selflessness between a U.S. couple married for almost 20 years who called each other “sexy” and continually inquired about the other’s feet as they walked 500 miles across Spain together. I feel privileged to have met the New Zealand man who gave up his American dream to spend more time with his wife and daughter. I am awed by my grandpa who took me to my grandmother’s grave for the first time and showed me how the new grass is greener surrounding her headstone because he comes over with lawn fertilizer and talks with her. This is the framework, and these are the examples, I have used to make meaning of my own first year of marriage. A level of sacrifice is at the heart of many of these stories, often in hope of something greater and unknown.
I doubt marriage is right for everyone, but for me I am finding joy as I learn and grow in this kind of love. I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend forever with anyone, but as I watched the sun sink over the Atlantic in Finisterre, Spain, or “the end of the world”, I looked at the man next to me. Here was the man who couldn’t walk across a bridge without stopping to look for fish, the man who ran his fingers through books to crack the pages, the man with one shirt to his name who squeezed my hand and told me this has been the best year of his life. This was the same man who said “yes” with love and absolute adoration for the real me across that altar, symbolizing the sacrifices he too would have to make in hope of a greater, unseen good.
I feel absurdly lucky for this first, fun year of marriage. I am grateful to know that of all the sacrifices marriage requires, my identify is not one of them. Forever is a long time, but I know I want to spend tomorrow with my sweetheart and my co-conspirator in all things. So why not the next day, and the day after that?