Is saying ‘I do’ saying ‘goodbye’?
When I got married, it felt like a dream. Not the kind of fairytale dream little girls grow up envisioning, but a stomach-churning kind of rollercoaster ride.
I never imagined myself being anyone’s wife. The idea of being tied to any one thing for more than a few months terrified me; I can barely buy a coffee most days without getting immediate FOMO—I should’ve picked the inordinately less healthy peppermint mocha frappacinno advertised on the specials board. A college lecturer once likened my inability to stick to something to Greek philosopher Plato’s examination of love.
In a conversation with his mentor Socrates, Plato asks, “What is love?” to which Socrates tells him to go forth into the wheat fields and, without turning back, walk until he finds the one leaf that looks perfect to him. Much like my many fruitless pre-marriage dates, Plato is unable to decide on a leaf he can stand to look at every day, and returns home empty-handed.
So when I unexpectedly found myself in love and uncharacteristically planning a wedding in my mid-20s, I was hit with a rush of insecurities, predominantly, that the end of my wheat field wandering existence would equal the end of my fun, frivolous, carefree adolescent lifestyle.
I had married friends. I saw the way people referred to them as a joint entity, the way they slowly lost their identities to their union, trading independence and spontaneity for joint bank accounts and mortgage payments, and talk of career and dreams to conversations garishly fixated on one another until they eventually dropped off the invite list to social events.
It bothered me that I would soon be one of them, an “other half” instead of a whole, a “wife” before a “woman” and someone who’d eventually be cut from the list in favor of more fun, frivolous friends who weren’t yet lost in paint swatches and family planning.
So when I returned to my summer job after the wedding, I put my left hand in my pocket and didn’t announce my news. And when the guys at work asked me to join them for our usual salubrious post clock-off drinks, I flung my handbag over my arm and headed toward the bar down the street, neglecting to mention I had someone at home waiting for me.
I was no less in love with my husband, but I was terrified of the very real idea of being seen as a wife, and all the baggage that came with that. I still felt like the single, carefree girl everyone wanted to be around at parties and after-work drinks, and I feared the knowledge of my new relationship status would erase that forever.
It wasn’t that I was being regularly hit on, more the possibility that someone might look at me in a way that still made me feel noticeable, viable, relevant. It didn’t matter that I was already all those things to my husband. As far as I was concerned, he was contractually obligated to acknowledge me.
I began to secretly long for the life left behind me. One filled with possibility and unpredictability in which I could be looked upon as still possessing pertinence. One where I could still catch a male peer’s eye, engage in playful flirtation, and look to my evenings not being entirely sure what they would bring.
Writer Isabelle Tessier speaks openly about this inner conflict in her poetic essay, I Want To Be Single – But With You, in which she describes her ideal relationship as one that allows her to maintain the freedoms of singledom.
“I want something that will be both simple and at the same time not so simple…To be in a relationship that is anything but clear. I want to be your good friend, the one with whom you love hanging out. I want you to keep your desire to flirt with other girls, but for you to come back to me to finish your evening…I want to live a single life with you. For our couple life, would be the equivalent of our single lives today, but together.”
It was a bold statement that saw Tessier verbally abused when it was published on Huffington Post last year, from readers who declared her unconventional relationship goals were nothing more than thinly veiled commitment phobia and immaturity. However, Tessier’s not the first woman to identify with the turmoil of wanting to have her relationship cake and eat the single frosting, too. A 2015 paper published in the Journal of Family Issues found almost 50% of brides suffer from postnuptial blues, ranging from temporary melancholy to full-blown depression.
In her groundbreaking book, Emotionally Engaged: A Bride’s Guide To Surviving The ‘Happiest’ Time Of Your Life, author Allison Moir-Smith describes this phenomenon as a result of undergoing a critical life transition.
“There are many layers to leaving single life, I discovered. During my engagement, as I made Jason and our marriage-to-be number one in my life, I noticed how that impacted all my other relationships…While I was happy and hopeful about our future, the strongest emotions I had were nostalgia for my single days and anxiety (Who am I now?). My essential self—my personality, independent spirit, heart and soul—remained the same of course. But the part of me that was a single woman, was in flux.”
In our increasingly FOMO-driven society, where it’s become more acceptable than ever before to prolong adolescence well into adulthood and delay marriage and child rearing, our concept of marriage has evolved from the ultimate mark of a successful life to a hurdle to overcome on the path to achieving one. As such, we’re compelled to second-guess our relevance to the world as married people and devalue our vows.
But why is it we see marriage as the final scene of the film before the credits roll, a rulebook that has to get in the way of our individual pursuits, or worse still, our happiness, as a writer recently anonymously confessed on SHESAID? Why have we been conditioned to believe coupledom and singledom can’t coexist, as Tessier describes?
It was six months into my marriage before I confronted my husband with my fears and came to the realization we didn’t have to go by the script.
Though I’m not shy about admitting I’m a wife today, people still largely refer to my husband as my boyfriend because of the way we conduct our relationship. We’re careful not to be people who only have one another as conversation fodder or reliably turn down social invites apart for nights in together. We’ve decided to be childfree and we live largely separate lives, but ultimately, live them together. We’re still making the rules up as we go, rather than playing out someone else’s idea of how our lives should look. In fact, after six years, we don’t even have a joint bank account or a mortgage, rarely spend a night in and up until a few months ago, still had a flatmate we lived with like college students (the living like college students part still holds embarrassingly true).
There are still times I miss my single life, but more often than not, I’m glad I took the plunge and got married; because I finally understand why my college lecturer told me that story: on returning empty-handed after his quest to find the perfect leaf in the wheat fields, Plato explains to Socrates why he failed to pick one.
“Actually I have found one extraordinary leaf, but I don’t know whether there’s any other leaf more extraordinary, so I didn’t take that leaf. When I walked further, I realized that the leaves I found are not as extraordinary compared to the leaf I’ve found earlier in my walk. In the end, I didn’t take any single leaf.”
Thankfully, I didn’t let fear hold me back. I picked my leaf, and it takes pride of place in my life today.
This originally appeared on SHESAID. Republished here with permission.