When I was a child, my parents were adults.
Hmm. Let me rephrase that…
When I was little, I thought my parents were the biggest people in the world. They had all the answers, they knew everything, and they were strong. Everybody seemed to look up to them, and they always knew what to do when something was wrong. My mom could practically read my mind (especially when I did something wrong), she was an awesome cook – even though she stopped making all the really yummy stuff about the time I turned ten, and started using weird things like leeks and spring onions in the kitchen – and always seemed to know what to do when someone hurt my feelings.
My dad was my hero – I really looked up to him. He seemed like a knight to me – gentle but firm, a great storyteller, strong and true. He used to make us go to church every Sunday, practically shoving us out the door – which we hated but grew to appreciate – and was my role model. I knew I could talk to him whenever I had religious questions, and he always seemed to have know what to do.
My parents never seemed to argue or fight, they were very generous to strangers – we always had random people staying over for months at a time – and I thought I was the luckiest girl alive. I thought my family was the greatest, ever.
Life is such a funny thing, you know. Here I sit, pondering my future, and I’m scared. My boyfriend and I are very much in love (though we never talk about it that mushily) and we’re preparing to get engaged, get married, and live our lives together.
I’m really, really, scared. I don’t know how to do this – how to switch from being a child, to being a grown-up. Age alone doesn’t cut it: I’m in my early thirties, but whatever switch was supposed to automatically transform me into my parents, seems to have short-circuited.
Part of it is that, looking back now, I see the flaws in my upbringing. For one – I’m sure my parents did, in fact, argue, but they did so in another language – my parents were from the same ethnic group, and spoke a language we never learned – and now I see what I missed: the opportunity to learn how to disagree with the person I love. I see also that my father, strong as he was, was unable to cope with failure, and unable to show vulnerability. Because of that, he lives a continent away from us, and we don’t hear from him very often. He was my role model for so long: how do I pattern myself now?
What makes marriages work? I look on Facebook sometimes, and read blogs, but all they say is the usual trite stuff – be committed, take the time to communicate, acknowledge your flaws, celebrate your partner. Et cetera. But what does that mean? What does it look like?
It’s not like being religious helps with the odds of success, much: half of all religious couples, just as half of all those professing no religious affiliation, end up divorcing. I wish there were some magic formula to guarantee success. But if there is, I can’t find it. And I suppose that wisdom lies in realizing that there are no guarantees.
When a couple stands in front of friends and family and commits their lives to one another, do they know that they’ll make it? Do the odds scare them? How do they get over their fears, and join their lives in harmony? And, for the half of them who end up divorcing, what went wrong?
I love my boyfriend. I want to be a good spouse and partner. I want, as Barbara Streisand said in Hello, Dolly!, to be a credit to him. And a very small, very timid part of my soul is afraid that I won’t be good for him, or good enough, or the right person. I think that my part in this is learning to face and banish those fears. My task, should I choose to accept it – hah – is to realize that despite how I may feel on the subject, I am a good person, and I will be a good wife. I will stumble and fall – probably numerous times – but that’s okay. We won’t be getting married because we’ve got it all figured out: we’ll be getting married because we want to find the answers, together. Marriage, at its heart, is a journey. Figuring out the logistics of who to take it with, packing up the car, and starting out – that’s just the beginning. There are miles and miles ahead. Neither of us is perfect, and it won’t be easy, but if we truly wish to, with a lot of prayer, time, dedication, and effort, we can make something truly beautiful.
That’s enough to get started, I think. Yes?
Chloe* wrote this piece for Flux, an online forum for those of us encountering adulthood. She is a choco-holic and booknerd who loves quoting random facts at people, sunlight, and trying new things (just once). Her dearest ambition is to figure out the ultimate question of life, since the answer, according to Douglas Adams, is 42.
*Chloe is a pseudonym – this piece was submitted anonymously.