Imagine this. I’m walking through the aisles of my local super market, an overflowing grocery basket hanging on my arm, when I spy an old friend walking towards me either stealing a cantaloupe or quite pregnant. “Oh, my gosh!” I gush as we delicately hug, “you’re having a baby?!”. She beams in response and as we both rub her belly, I look up and say, “Wow, are you in for a long road! Kids are so hard!”.
This is probably not the most ideal way to greet someone who has just embarked on a life-odyssey, like child-rearing. To amplify the challenging side as if it were going to be the entire experience or their experience. It would be particularly insensitive to lead with this before the journey has even gotten underway. Spoiling a moment meant to be filled with joy and excitement, with my fears and worries. I am sure my fictional friend is well-aware of the upcoming hurdles and has spent nights up thinking about them. It is not my job to bring light to her anxieties, especially upon hearing news meant to be celebrated.
So why do we do this with marriage?
I was engaged for almost 10 months and in that time, I was told the following:
“All men cheat”
“You wait, everything that annoys you will be amplified by a thousand”
“Sure, you like each other now”
“Everything, that annoys you will be amplified by a million”
“You’re in the honeymoon phase. That’s why you still like spending time together”
“Did I mention everything that annoys you will be amplified by a trillion?”
Once a ring went on my finger people suddenly felt inclined to pull back the veil on the darkest aspects of marriage. Even complete strangers think it their duty to counsel me about all the horrible experiences I get to look forward to. Like my Uber driver recently who congratulated me by saying, “I hope your marriage is better than mine.” It is as if my husband and I are finally in the tribe, but the tribe members are warning us to get out. Now, obviously, not every single married person we know has these viewpoints and there are many friends and family who lovingly celebrate our new union, but it is astonishing how many people forewarn us with the woes rather than exciting us with the rewards. As someone who was grappling with my own fears around the whole institution, these warnings started to seem ominous.
Let me start at the beginning. I was not one of those girls who dreamt about her wedding or marriage. In fact, I was totally resigned to be ‘Auntie Mame’, a fictional fabulous, independent single woman living a life of excitement and luxury, with a lot of great clothes and lovers. Netflix it. Being a child of divorce and of my parent’s second marriage, I was not sure if this whole marriage thing was even legit. Sure, my grandparents were together from birth to death, having first met in their “Mummy’s tummies,” my grandpa would say. They were “womb-mates”, get it? But for the rest of us mere mortals, the statistics are none too promising.
At some point though, after running around the world and trying to be fabulous, I felt a yearning desire to have a stable life and partner. The reality is being alone gets lonely. I didn’t want children necessarily. I’m still not aching for that crazy ride! (Oops! I just dissed child-rearing. See? It happens without even being aware!). However, I continued to live with the limiting belief that I was not deserving of love or a family of my own. The limiting belief that disguised itself as negativity around marriage. That perhaps my destiny really was to be alone and single and I found myself toggling between hope and resignation. Plus, as many 30-something women in Los Angeles can attest, the prospects were none too promising.
So, I was literally swept off my feet, when I met a man who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Who I showed my crazy to and he to me and we were both like, “let’s do this”. A man, I am pretty sure, I manifested from years of repeating mantras and posting images of tall, handsome, loving men on my vision board (Hint: use pictures from wedding magazines that clearly depict commitment. I have used GQ and manifested those guys, too and well, they are not meant for the long haul). And before I knew it, I was talking Princess-cut this and Cushion-cut that. Ogling every engagement ring I saw. My google search laden with wedding venues and dresses. Merrily following the traditional steps that most of my closest friends had taken many years before. The traditional steps I balked at and secretly made fun of (sorry, girls!), because, I just have to ask: does anyone really like bridal showers???
Still, in the background an old marriage-gremlin remained (Apparently, you need a Netflix-binge night to fully appreciate this article). Gremlins thrive on being fed and my marriage-gremlin grew more malevolent with fear and anxiety. “This is a sham” it would whisper. “Why does everyone want to get married if it is so awful?” it would ask, it’s claws yanking on my earlobe. I was using all my powers (i.e. meditation, therapy, more therapy) to sit with and understand the fear I had around the idea of marriage, because when it came to being with Ben, I had never been so sure of something in my entire life and that is a lot coming from a Jewish girl whose blood runs mainly on doubt and neuroses.
New Year’s Eve 2016, on a brisk windy day at our favorite beach in San Francisco, we sat beneath a shaded tree and Ben asked me the question I knew was coming, but still sounds surprising when you hear the actual words, “Will you spend the rest of your life with me?”. After the flood of joyous tears and a five-minute hug, I said “yes”.
Some say they get engaged and immediately feel more settled in the relationship. As if the ring were magic warding off their personal gremlin. That was not my experience. My old beliefs were just that – old. This meant that I had 35 years of programming to re-edit and that takes time, so I was definitely triggered when people began to “warn” me how hard marriage is and give me sage advice like, “you’re getting a prenup, right?” Luckily, I have a partner who has a wonderful way of seeing life clearly and unfiltered. A partner who I could talk to about these feelings if I were brave enough, so I took a big gulp and started approaching him with what I was hearing and how it made me feel. As we began to dissect what people were saying, we realized two things. First, it was those most unhappy in their own relationships who pushed negative viewpoints on us. Second, it is ultimately up to me/us whether we let those negative viewpoints taint our experience.
A person’s bashing on marriage is not a warning, but a projection of their story. This is called a ‘projection’, because that person will literally see their stuff being played out through you. When we are in a place of strong emotion, like anger or negativity, everything will be seen through that lens; reality is warped. We perceive the world as we believe it to be. This is why two people can see the same movie and have very different opinions. If someone is in an unhappy marriage, they may see all marriage as unhappy. It gets particularly dangerous when they push those personal beliefs on others, as if their experience was absolute. That is why it is my responsibility as the one being projected onto to not to absorb other people’s stories.
As a receiver of negativity or unwanted opinion we must stay present to determine what is real. Rather than being a blank canvas and allowing someone else’s projections to become our story, we must instead be a mirror. Being a mirror means we are calm and secure, anchored to the present moment. Being a mirror means that when we look at our own stuff, we see clearly. And being a mirror means reflecting other people’s behaviors back to them through that clarity. People will continue to share their opinions, but ultimately it is up to us whether we take them. We can absorb their stuff and let it determine our reality or we can stay present in our experience.
When I am present, I can differentiate between old story and truth. Here is what I know to be true: Ben felt like family from the minute I met him. We love each other deeply and have incredible communication. We have the same core values. We are both self-reflective people who are willing to work as a team when things get hard. We make each other laugh. When I calmly look at these truths I see that we have the tools for a great marriage! This is not to say that we will be immune to struggle.
Honestly, I have no idea what our marriage will be like. Frankly, I have no idea what the next five minutes will be like, but I recognize that in every moment there is a choice. We can choose to either fall victim to the negative voices playing in our heads or speaking directly to our faces. Or we have the choice to get present and look at the facts of our own experience. We can choose to wake up every day resentful or we have the choice to practice gratitude. We can choose to focus on our compromises or “sacrifices” or we have the choice to cherish the gifts that this relationship has given us. We can choose to focus on fear or we have the choice to focus on love. We have no illusions marriage will be easy, but then again, nothing worth it is.