Yesterday author and blogger Rachel Held Evans ran a thought-provoking and (as per her usual) at-times amusing article entitled, “10 Marriage Reality Checks (from 10 Years of Marriage.” In it, she briefly examines ten myths of marriage, with its accompanying reality counterpart – and I’ll let you read the rest of the piece on your own, but as RHE always does so well, she invites her readers to be a part of the discussion. What are some marriage myths and reality checks you’ve learned along the way, she asks.
My response was immediate, for its myth poured over and into and onto me for years before its actual ceremonial day:
Myth: Marriage makes you a better person.
Reality: Being stripped down to the core of who you are as a person, relationally (no matter what or who the relationship), makes you a better person.
For years I held to the belief that with marriage would come a more complete version of me, Cara 2.0, Cara Perfected, Cara Fully Redeemed. With future mate in mind, I looked forward to that day when those broken, ugly parts of me would be stomped out and overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and power of love. It was as if we stood as two negative numbers – and by pure mathematical strength alone, with negative times negative, our less-than-perfect selves would somehow magically equal a positive.
And when I’d find myself needing and desiring a man’s fulfillment (and a husband’s specifically), I’d scoff at my own silliness and I’d stomp out mere musings of the very thought, mumbling that week’s version of I am woman, hear me roar! I’d look at friends who were married, and I’d see imperfections here and there (and everywhere), and I’d realize that they were far from having all their shit together. But then that evil game of Compare & Contrast would cyclically wind its way into my mind again, and I’d see the house they owned (vs. she who could barely make rent), and I’d see that they never had to worry about their Saturday night plans (vs. she whose social life and identity depended on it). And I’d think to myself, It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter…
But like that annoying, pesky fly trapped on the windowsill, I couldn’t swat the thought away: I wanted marriage because I wanted to be a better person. Because truthfully, that’s what I’d been told. By the time I finally got to a “marrying age,” the message was stagnantly, repeatedly the same:
“I knew he was the one for me when I realized that he made me want to be a better person.”
“There’s just something about marriage, for you’re stronger together than you would be apart.”
“Just wait, Cara – marriage is just around the corner, and you’ll find that just by him being him, and you being you, it’s good. It’s better. It’s the best.”
And while each of these sentiments stated as truth, innocently and purely enough at one time or another, there is an absolute untruth communicated to our single friends in particular when such words are said. Whether someone has chosen singleness as a way of life, or yearns for a life partner, whether recently divorced or widowed or found loveless in the confines of a relationship, marriage in and of itself doesn’t make you a better or stronger person, just as the ceremonial donning of an Mrs. Degree doesn’t suddenly elicit the best life has to offer.
But it’s in the reality of being stripped down to the core of who you are as a person, its fullness found in relationships, that you are made a better person.
This happens at 3 in the morning, when Baby wakes up for the third time that night, and you find yourself frustrated – so utterly frustrated and tired and exhausted – that he won’t go back to sleep, that he just wants to play, that he screams every time you put him down. But truth is found in the nighttime, so how then will you respond to his needs?
And this choice of response, because of this profound relationship, somehow, makes you a better person.
This happens with that friend whom you’ve called Friend for years, when over a salt-rimmed margarita and chips you have a hard, but good conversation. You love each other so much that she’s willing to call you on your crap – she’s scared and she trembles, but she’s willing to say the hard thing, because this is what Love Does.
And this hard conversation, through true friendship, makes you a better person.
This happens when you’re sitting on the creaky wooden pew, two rows from the back, just close enough to the edge to slip out quickly after Communion. You’re singing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” when suddenly a gulp wells in your throat and you can’t sing anymore because you realize you’re engulfed in something bigger than yourself. This Love envelops you.
And this Love (from which love began) stills and transforms and makes you a better person.
And, truth be told, this does happen most significantly day in and day out in the relationship with my husband. Because he knows me – he knows the good and the bad and the ugly of me – and he somehow chooses to love me just the same. He chooses to love me when anger and sadness and hurt overwhelm my heart, when the roots of those core emotions cause me lash out at him like an animal scratching at the corner of my own confining cage.
And it is in the day-in, day-out, beautiful, messy grind of this relationship that I am made a better person.
But it’s in the relationship, not the institution, and it’s merely part and parcel of the bigger picture of this whole idea of “betterment.”
So friends, let’s be careful with our words. Let’s think about how we phrase our well-intentioned advice, and let’s stop romanticizing the perfected ideal of marriage. Let’s lean into the many, varied relationships in our lives, be it our family and our friends, our community and our places of worship, and let’s let it be honest and messy and real for a change.
Let’s do this.
What about you? What beliefs about marriage have you clung to, whether myth or reality? And who (or what) has made you a better person?