Yesterday, I got totally sucked in by the New York Times' "Modern Love." This week's story was a subtly suspenseful, beautifully written essay about one woman's marriage. Here's the part that hooked me:
I was 29 ... and had spent my 20s reworking my definitions of ambition, fulfillment and potential (and its unpleasant but ever-present twin, unrealized potential), which had produced only a few intermittent teaching jobs, three-quarters of a novel and a reservoir of self-doubt. Those years had offered a crash course in learning that I wasn't so special. I felt as if at any moment I could drift away, a balloon you have to squint at to see as it disappears.
That resonated with me, as maybe it will with almost everyone who has ever wanted to become a writer--or anyone who is particularly ambitious in any way: We strive to achieve things that will confer, with some kind of permanence and public recognition, our specialness. (What do you guys think?)
But, as the writer indicates, she wasn't quite achieving the things she wanted to achieve--so getting hitched seemed like an alternative, even an escape route.
As she puts it:
And then along came marriage, where there was safety in being like everybody else ...
(This reminds me of the whole trend of women "opting out" of the workplace.)
She goes on to talk about how nice it was to feel "rooted to the world" by all the trappings of marriage--the in-laws, the wedding party with a band that plays Mustang Sally, the china. Oh, and the ring! The writer meditates on her ring by describing a moment, shortly after getting engaged, when she walks into a yoga class:
... rows of women [were] in various stages of flexibility, their torsos folded, arms reaching for the sky. On almost every left hand was a band indicating not only that they belonged to someone but that they belonged, period.
That last sentence makes me a little itchy--I'd never want to "belong" to anyone. Or to be like everyone else, for that matter. And yet I've caught myself, at certain moments, craving a big glittering ring--I hate to admit it--because it is such a symbol of power and status and being able to have whatever you want in the world. More than that, there are so many times--when I go to a cocktail party, or to a wedding reception, or to a dinner party--when I just feel weird for being single in a world where so many of my contemporaries are hitched.
It's interesting how the writer helps us to see how her desires to be unique were sublimated into these desires for conformity and a conventional life. And, of course, when you're married, you are special--you are the one person (in an ideal situation) whom someone else has chosen to spend the rest of his life with.
It's a really fantastic essay.
And I read it as something of a cautionary tale saying, among other things: Don't count on marriage to answer your cravings to be special.
This makes me wonder: What are the wrong reasons to get married?
Should you NOT get married if:
-you're hoping it will confer some kind of special value on you?
-you want to get rid of your feelings of discomfort about being single?
-you simply feel like "it's time"?
-you're hoping it will improve your self-esteem?
-you're hoping it will bring happiness into a life that is unhappy?
-you have some serious doubts but think that making the leap of faith that is marriage will help to cure them?
What are some other reasons I'm missing?
(Keep the conversation going on my Facebook fan page.)