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Marriage: When Pre-Engagement Hopes Meet Reality

Mar 16 2012
I used to think a husband would save me from loneliness. Now, engaged at age 39, I believe he'll save me from my self-centeredness.

Words are my life. As an avid reader and an English professor, I can easily get carried away by their magical power to evoke emotion and crystallize conceptions. But sometimes my enthusiasm for language leads me to idealize a word so fully that it conceals rather than reveals the reality behind it.

For some time now, marriage has been such an idealized word for me, a never-before-married-but-currently-engaged 39-year-old. Over the years I've gotten so caught up in the positive associations attached to the word that I have succumbed to the temptation of misunderstanding it, or even oversimplifying it into something banal.

My idealization of marriage derives from sources both external and internal. I'm well aware of the many laments about America's declining marriage rates—warnings about what this trend promises for society collectively and for singles personally. Statistics detailing the emotional, physical, and domestic toll of marriage's decline, often coupled with dire predictions for the future if marriage rates continue to decrease, always made me feel disheartened and apologetic. Without a husband, how was I to avoid such doom and gloom? Marriage was the ticket. A magical word indeed that can conjure up happiness and security.

Personal motivations, too, fueled my ideal of marriage as panacea. Affection, companionship, commitment: even without the pro-marriage spokesmen telling me of its financial and sociological benefits, I knew marriage's selling points. Marriage would change my circumstances for the better; it would bolster not only my income but also my emotional support, would provide much needed intimacy, and would affirm my life's purpose.

Such big promise in such a small word. But as I've learned more fully every day during my engagement, words can often hide as much truth as they reveal—many times I had taught such a lesson in the classroom, but lessons in the classroom do not stick as well as lessons learned in the crucible of life. Marriage is no exception: beyond the news reports, the political talking points, the innumerable depictions of marriage on the small and big screen, and my own daydreams lies another, more complex world than I conceived. While I anticipated that marriage would change my circumstances, I did not anticipate how much it would change me.

Yes, my relationship is full of plenty of romance and laughter and companionship, but it's also full of difficult conversations, compromise, and sacrifice. In my pre-engagement idealistic daydreams of marriage, my fiancfamp;copy; was simply "husband," a generic abstract entity that made no demands on me, who simply provided for me and met my needs. Surely I knew—somewhere and vaguely—that marriage would call on me to make sacrifices, but making sacrifices in the abstract? Piece of cake. Making actual, concrete sacrifices? Anything but. My fiancfamp;copy;'s very presence in my life challenges me to expand my perspective, to direct my attention outward, and to seek the good of someone else. Instead of rescuing me from my burdens, my fiancfamp;copy; actually rescues me from my self-centeredness.

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Marriage: When Pre-Engagement Hopes Meet Reality