I was talking with a bunch of wedding photographers recently (we hang out in packs, yes) about this post I’ve been meaning to write but wasn’t sure it would be well-received. They encouraged me to go for it (because they want to see my business go down in flames?) so here I am. You’re going to have to hang with me for a paragraph or two – don’t leave on “your marriage isn’t special” – let me get to why on earth I would say this to engaged people.
[A note before I go: I want to say that I don’t consider “marriage” a very different thing than “exclusive for-life commitment.” I know some people either don’t want to or are prevented from legally marrying. But love is still the same.]
So, then, your marriage isn’t special. I think my generation and maybe some other generations that I’m not as familiar with, grew up with this idea that we are all unique little snowflakes. We march to the beat of our own drum; we are so different from everyone. Who could understand the uniqueness that is me? So when we think about our weddings and our marriages, we have this tendency to believe our love is special, our love is different. And somehow we revert back to being teenagers trying to convince our mothers that they couldn’t possibly understand how it feels.
I’m happy to say I think all this is bullshit. Your love and your marriage and your wedding aren’t special. It’s a whole heck of a lot like the wedding before it and your friend’s marriage and your grandparents’ love. And I find this thought incredibly comforting. It’s comforting to me to know that what I have with my husband – that amazing feeling of being simultaneously safe and unbounded – is something most people can and do experience. It’s comforting to me that most marriages get hung up on the same things – sex, money, children. It’s comforting to me that millions of people have been there and they made it just fine.
And it gets better. Because your marriage isn’t special, your love is pretty ordinary, really, it means you can talk to almost anyone for advice. You can ask your mother how on earth are you supposed to deal with X. You can ask your grandfather what he did when Y came up. Or you could ask a random person on the street. There’s not some magic formula to your love – anyone can understand – and this brings us all together. It also means there’s no bottleneck in your relationship. If you have this extra-special marriage that is based on some combination of factors others don’t possess, what happens when those things go away? It’s very comforting to me to know that love grows and it has its own trajectory and that trajectory is remarkably similar across ages, places and cultures.
This is solidified for me with arranged marriages. Yes, some of the weddings I’ve photographed have been marriages where the bride and groom didn’t have a great deal of say in who they married. Their parents chose for them. Most of my readers, Western readers, will find this thought abhorrent. How could anyone possibly decide something so important for me! But hear this – don’t our parents know us better than anyone else on the planet? Hear this too. Some researchers in India did a study with couples that chose their partners and others that did not. Then they polled them on marriage satisfaction. For the first few years, the couples who chose their partners were happier, on average. But those numbers flipped as the years passed. The arranged couples reported greater love, happiness and life satisfaction. There are tons and tons of factors here, but maybe it’s because our parents would be very good at choosing someone who is going to be compatible with us long-term.
And the great revelation for me is that here’s a couple starting from square one in the love game and, in time, they’ll come to be no different from any of the guests that have come to celebrate their wedding. At the wedding of an arranged marriage, many of the guests had their marriages arranged as well. I don’t see unhappy, grumpy aunts, uncles, grandparents gathered around. I see the same love, devotion and joy that I find in Western weddings – of course I do! Because arranged marriages, and marriages like mine and marriages between high school sweethearts and marriages with huge age differences, and marriages uniting different cultures – they all are more or less the same. It’s the beauty of knowing no matter where you start, you’re headed to the land of hanging-out-with-one-person-all-the-time. Your love isn’t special. Your love is just like everyone else’s love.
I trust in the institution of marriage, in the system. My marriage isn’t special. There’s nothing so great about what George and I have. It’s just as great as what other people have. And that is really wonderful. Because if we fight, we haven’t destroyed some magical, unintelligible thing. If we fight, it’s because married people sometimes fight. And married people normally make up and go on with the loving thing. I believe that we are all mostly the same. And if it worked for my grandparents and my aunt and uncle and millions of arranged marriages, then why shouldn’t it work for me?
My marriage isn’t special and that means I can relax and just go with the flow, trusting that it will work for me too.
[And some more notes: I am an unrepentant optimist but yes, I realize there are unhappy marriages, marriages that end in divorce, abusive relationships, downright unhappy people. Not every marriage is perfect, no. Some people shouldn’t be married to each other. Some people shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place. I’m two years into my marriage and 100% unqualified to speak to divorce. But I will say this: many of the divorced people I know remarried and have been with their current spouses for longer than they were with their first spouse. The second time around they were a lot better at picking a mate. Maybe they knew themselves better and knew what they needed in a partner. In either case, they still trusted in love and in the system, enough to give it another go.]