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 ...

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