When I first mentioned this subject of this blog series to a friend they retorted with ‘Well, that won’t be snarky at all, will it?’. I was a little dismayed by the response. Not every divorced person is angry and bitter toward the institution of marriage. Not every heart walked away without learning any sort of lesson or making any observation of the fault they carried. My thoughts on marriage are not the sad, horrid, spitting rants of a scorned woman. They are more like a warning, a beacon of hope and a cautionary tale all wrapped up in one lovely Cat Lady package (note that ‘Cat Lady’ is presented as a proper noun. #CatLady).
I definitely have spent a fair amount of time straddling the fence of guilt and blame from my divorce. I was far from perfect, as was the former spouse. We were really young and complete strangers to one another (we barely knew each other’s middle names when we said our vows). We were in love with a lot of things, including the idea of one another, but we were not in love with the deep, complicated person we held behind the puppetry form that courtship takes. No, we had not taken things slowly, we had not yet had time to pull away the gauzy, black curtain and find the messed up little person operating the glorious figures for which we had fallen.
I can’t speak for him with total confidence, but I can guess he was in love with the idea of ‘Wife’ as presented to him by the society of his parents, peers and house of worship. A lovely, apron-clad woman in the kitchen, a matronly figure to care for him at the end of the day, a hellcat in the bedroom and a saint on Sunday. I was just as guilty, for I had placed upon him the heavy burden of handing me a purpose, defining me as a woman and giving me a life, I thought at that time, of which I was completely unworthy.
So with my background laid open for harsh judgment, I will now give a list of my unsolicited and unqualified thoughts on relationships, engagement, marriage and so on. Let’s just call this a list of observations.
BEFORE THE NUPTIALS:
- If you ‘can’t wait’ to be married – wholly examine your reasons for the sense of urgency.
- Is it because when you close your eyes and think about the future, you cannot imagine your life without this particular person? Is it because when they say your name there is a sense of deep, inexplicable comfort in the tone and inflection of their voice? Is it because the two of you share something intrinsic that is hard to explain and precious to you? Do you want to face all the challenges of life with them? Are you actually AWARE that life is challenging?
- Are you clocking your life on some ridiculous calendar that might as well have been put in place by a game of M*A*S*H in 5th grade? Are you watching all your friends get married? As they one by one they have babies, buy houses, start SAHM blogs and just GLOW with
the perception ofmarital bliss… are you consumed with the feeling that LIFE is passing you by?
- Is it because your person makes sense on paper and fits everything you thought you would ever want and all your friends would tell you that you would be crazy not to marry them? Is it because they line up with everything it seems like someone should want?
- Be sure you have some life experiences under your belt.
- FINISH YOUR EDUCATION. In today’s culture this may seem kind of like mute advice, but it’s important. Never turn your back on investing in yourself. You may have aspirations to be the best stay-at-home-mom/dad that ever lived (which is an amazing aspiration if that’s what you truly want!). However, the experiences you receive in your college years, the lessons you learn, in and out of the classroom, will prepare you for your role in life in ways you never could imagine. FINISH. COLLEGE.
- TRAVEL. No, South Padre for spring break with 15 of your closest friends does not count. I mean real travel. Take a semester abroad. Spend a summer working at a mountain resort. Road trip to some beautiful destination and spend some time doing something other than what college life and your early 20’s consists of – a party. Really. Go somewhere that you would not be ashamed to tell your parents, your boss or your future-in-laws about in great detail. It is so very worth it and you might even find a piece of yourself out there.
- Live all on your own. Economy might dictate whether this is possible or not, but if you can swing it – DO IT. Having no one else to rely on – no parents, siblings, roomies or otherwise cohabiting humans – for the bills to be paid creates confidence in your capabilities. Each month that you are able to keep the electricity on, the rent paid and the giant slobbering wolf pack of student loan debt collectors away from your door is like getting to know yourself just a little bit better. You learn how to manage your finances, create a solid future for yourself and you prepare yourself to be a partner in the business of life as well. Cats optional, but highly recommended.
- Unload the expectations and talk about the tough stuff.
- Expectations are relationship killers. Especially the expectations that remain unspoken. You have to unload your expectations in front of yourself first and examine them. Are they realistic? Can you see your partner fulfilling these things? More importantly, can you see yourself voicing these desires openly? (Remember this for married life, because those nasty expectations continue to creep up, evolve and grow larger the more your lives become intertwined). Once you understand what you want, communicate these things to your person. Clearly, maturely, but without demand, express your desires. If you have truly inspected them for yourself and found them reasonable there is no reason you should be afraid of speaking up.
- If you find something is difficult to discuss with your chosen one you better find a way to get it out there. It’s usually something of great importance that gets caught right in the hollow of our throats. No matter what, we can’t seem to get it out. While we waste time struggling to find the right words those important and often life altering conversations seldom ever make it past our larynx. For whatever reason – cowardice, fear, compassion, pride – we rarely utter those things that are so hard to say and we suffer for it. Don’t set yourself up for that. Your unspoken words could save you from an unhappy union or could possibly make for the best relationship of your life. Say the hard thing.
I am no one to give advice on relationships, engagement or marriage – obviously. I’m a 34 year old divorced woman with a penchant for felines and an unhealthy attachment to a piece of furniture. Take my words for what they are – the musings of someone who has walked a few miles into something, made an unexpected and enormous mess of things and is simply trying to be better for it.
In case you missed it, these observations are from my own life, my own mistakes and errors in judgment – they are my own hard learned lessons. I am not ashamed to say it – I messed up, I messed up real bad. However I think it’s important to share your faults and your mistakes with others in the glorious glow of hindsight, so maybe they won’t stumble in the same way you did.
Life is beautiful when we share ourselves, our stories and our aches to make each other better, don’t you think?