Marriage. This word has grown and evolved so much in the last one-hundred years. Today it is a word that means “adult”, “religion”, “entrapment”, and much more. It is a disposable word. The idea of marriage seems synonymous with the idea of divorce. It has become a warning to people of the younger generation that the “M” word will ruin your life. It will force you into a loveless life bound up with children you do not want and a spouse you will resent. And love? Forget that ever being an element of your future if you choose to wear a ring. Or so I have been told.
About three months ago my fiancé, Sergio, proposed to me. One month later I turned twenty-one. I was aware of the stigma surrounding marriage, especially marriage that occurs under thirty, but I was not prepared for the amount of judgment and negativity I was about to encounter.
I will tell you a secret, I did not believe in marriage. In fact at the age of eighteen I had sworn off dating. Of course this was when I met my future husband, but even then I was not convinced. Choosing to get married was a big deal for me. When Sergio proposed and I said “yes”, I took a large personal step out of my comfort zone because it was what I wanted. I recognized that I was more afraid of marriage than of Sergio; I knew if I was going to take this leap with anyone, he would be the person to do it with. Neither of us was going anywhere soon.
Marrying Sergio felt right. We had been living together for over a year and dating for twice as long. He had been with me through some crucial personal growth periods. Plus, he is five years older, out of college, and already in his established career. There was growing room for me in our relationship. It made sense that the man who had become my best friend would become my husband. I thought it would make sense to those around us as well.
Our families, both fairly traditional, were happy about the engagement, as were most of Sergio’s friends. The places I encountered the most negativity were among my peers at school and some of my friends. They looked at me like I was crazy when I confirmed that, indeed, the ring on my finger was an engagement ring. They could hardly keep their eyebrows from disappearing behind tufts of hair when I denied the presence of a pregnancy as our “excuse” for marriage.
One of the things I have frequently been warned of is waiting to get married until Sergio and I know each other better. If I am supposed to wait until we know each other more completely, then we will never get married. I know I am going to change throughout my life and that is part of the fun of having a husband. We will always be on a journey of exploring one another and rediscovering our spouse, if we work at it.
As I ran into more and more of this I began to question why more people were not happy for me. Sure, I am not the greatest person ever, but many of these people knew about my relationship. Nobody judged me like this when I said Sergio and I were getting an apartment together a year prior, so why were they judging me when I said we were going to permanently live together and throw in some legal binding as well?
The answer was simple: the evolution of society. Thirty or forty years ago I would be receiving this disapproval for moving in with my significant other. Marriage would have been “the proper thing to do”, as opposed to cohabitation. But now cohabitation is easier. It is easier to move out than file for divorce. It is easier to have a career and be independent than it is to change your last name. It is easier to fall in and out of love with many people than work at doing so with the same person for the rest of your life. This idea of “easy” makes me sad. Nothing is ever really as easy as we are told. Relationships most of all.
Many people seem to think that I cannot be a student and a wife at the same time. Apparently being a wife entails standing in a kitchen or pushing out babies. It could also mean being a businesswoman with a husband who is there for stability more than anything. Being a wife seems to mean fulfilling a role, and maybe for some that is all it is; but for me, being a wife just means a deepening of the love I have felt for my fiancé since we went on our first date. For me it just means getting to grow and learn and live every day next to the man who is my best friend.
This is not a new idea, but it is one that has been credited as a fairy tale fantasy. And the sad thing is that up until the last twenty or thirty years, a fantasy was all it could be. Yet today we have movements for gender equality and marriage equality. We have a space for women to do things they could not do easily before. I believe one of those things is the space and ability to have a marriage based on partnership and love, not just duty or procreation. We now have the space and ability to have marriages where kids are never thought of. We can just choose to commit to someone and live our lives with them. It is pretty cool when you think about it.
Not many people think about it though and the state of love is changing because of it. Commitment is becoming less of a component of modern love. Love is evolving into this fleeting element like fairy dust. The longevity of it is questioned or simply unbelievable. Since that is the case, marriage is considered less of a necessity. It is something people do as an afterthought. Or for legal reasons if the relationship has lasted long enough or involves children. Marriage is not evolving in the same direction as love.
In an age where minds are more open than any previous decade and equality is on the rise I expect these changes but I also expect that my choices be respected, even if they are not understood. Perhaps that is too much to ask, but I would hope in the year of 2015 our ideas about partnerships of any kind would be more accepting.
The “M” word should not be scary. It should not be a warning. It should be another option one can consider when one is in a committed relationship. No, marriage never will be for everyone, but it should be open for them. Marriage has the potential to be a great thing, if only it could be seen that way. This will take time. Stigmas and ideas and traditions do not die easy. They can be eradicated slowly through simple changes in ideas and belief, especially in a new generation. We can regain the permanence of the word, devoid of religious connotation. We can infuse the word with love once again, no matter the ages, genders, or any other factors that make up the people choosing to enter into the marriage.
And so here I am. My wedding is set for the end of October. I am excited and nervous, all of the expected emotions. I am also keenly aware of the fact that statistics are against us, but I am willing to take that chance to make a commitment to the man I love. It may not be understood by my peers but perhaps one day it will be. I do not know if time or maturity or culture will be what illustrates this concept to them, but hopefully something will. My generation is in a time of great change. We are trying to change the definition of marriage as it pertains to gender, so what is stopping us from also trying to change its definition as it pertains to the institution of marriage itself? Nothing.
We can make this change, but it has to begin with our very ideas about marriage changing. I believe this can be done and I hope through my story I can change at least one peer’s point of view. Even if Sergio and I end up divorced in ten years at least I will have given marriage a try, for what I feel are the right reasons. After all, that is what love is most of the time: taking leaps. I will take this leap for love and make the commitment I feel ready to make. Maybe through it all marriage will make its own personal evolution for me, but I will not know until I try.
It has been a little over eight months since my wedding. I am now twenty-two. I have learned more about marriage in this short time than I ever thought possible. This decision still feels right and that has been cemented even further by the events of the past eight months. In that time I have lost my great-grandfather, which was very hard for me. I dealt with crippling anxiety that forced me to take a semester off from school. I then found myself surprisingly pregnant. The pregnancy seemed like a magical experience and opportunity. It made my life seem full of purpose and meaning during a time when I felt I had none. But right before my twelve week check-up, we found out our baby had died one month prior. The details of the miscarriage are painful and violent. It was the most heartbreaking experience of my life. I never guessed that at twenty-two such a significant thing would happen to me, but it did.
My husband and I have been dealt more blows in eight months than some people are dealt in their entire marriage, but we have come out stronger because of it. I don’t know if some of these things would have been avoided had I not married young. What I do know is that these things did not break me because my husband stood by me and showed me the strength I held within. We have had rocky moments, of course, but we are stronger because of them. Right now our life is at a crossroads, do we try to have another baby soon or do we wait? What does it mean for either decision? The original plan was to wait a few years, but this has changed us so much.
We still don’t know what the future holds in store for us. Each event in our marriage could have been enough to drive us to divorce in and of itself, we not only dealt with one, but four major changes and events. The statistics are still not in our favor. I still deal with stigma from others about being such a young wife. I dealt with stigma when I was pregnant for becoming such a young mother. Maybe everyone is right and maybe I will still end up divorced. But so far I love being married, even if our first year has been less than honeymoon-esque, and I am grateful that I have had my husband through these trying months. The “M” word has become so much more than marriage to me, it has also become “mother” and “miscarriage”; and as I look around I see close-minded views on all of these things. There is still work to be done and I will keep telling my story until that work is complete.
Heidi is a writer, blogger, and student living in Arizona. She is working on her first poetry collection that centers on her passion for feminism and the female experience. Most days, if she is not writing, she is reading or cuddling up with her cat and spending time with her husband. She loves to travel and hopes to do more of it as she continues to pursue writing.