I remember when I walked down the aisle on my wedding day. My heels sunk into the grass as I passed rows of family and friends on my way to the harpist playing a wedding processional. My future husband waited for me, flocked by his groomsmen and my bridesmaids on the other side of the white, flower-strewn altar. We stood on a lawn overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The breeze whipped my hair into and around my face, but I didn’t care so much about the pictures. I cared about studying Robby, how his eyes watered as he watched me, how his voice broke as he read me his heartfelt, beautiful vows. I wanted to remember everything about that day. And I do, often.
Not only because reflecting on this memory brings me happiness, but because I consider what that moment represents, and everything that came after it — being married to my husband — an accomplishment.
Before I explain why I feel this way, I want to address why I think others may not view marriage as an achievement. The choice to get married in our society is often obsessed over before it happens — as many of us can attest to well-meaning loved ones harassing — I mean asking — us about when we plan to tie the knot. Following a wedding proposal, other events leading up to the wedding, such as showers, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and the like, often become the discussion topic du jour.
The wedding can become a huge focus, more so than any other milestone in a person’s life — although it’s simply supposed to be a declaration of commitment and the celebration of a union.
When we work tirelessly — sweating as we push ourselves to reach the top of a seemingly never-ending staircase of achievement — and our educational and professional successes aren’t commemorated the way weddings are, it can be disheartening.
It can feel like educational and professional accomplishments aren’t valued enough in our culture, especially for women.
And I can see why that would bother many people, myself included. I worked hard to graduate college and earn what professional success I’ve had so far. That matters. Individuals are defined by more than marital status.
All that being said, I’m still proud to be married to my husband.
I’m ecstatic that someone with his integrity, intellect, work ethic, kindness and ambition loves me. I’m thrilled that my husband, who I admire and respect greatly, wants to share his life with me, everyday. I like who I am now better than who I was before we met.
That’s not to say he took an active role in changing me, but that I grew and we grew (and continue to grow) together. This kind of relationship did not fall in my lap — it took years of working on myself (and my husband working on himself) to get here.
Given that our culture often teaches young women that we are to be objectified by men, it should come as no surprise that many of us grow up allowing ourselves to be treated poorly. From the time we are young, generally speaking, we are sized up as if we are items in a buffet — are we too big, too small, or otherwise good enough to be consumed? In addition to this, I came from a broken home and experienced abuse as a child, so I didn’t have the kind of self-worth that I hope my daughter, if I raise one, will have someday. I allowed people, men especially, to treat me badly.
It took years to unlearn the way I saw myself. That was work. If I hadn’t wrestled with this challenge through self-reflection, therapy, and discipline in the choices that I made, I would have chosen to be around what I was used to –people who seemed to delight in beating me down, calling me names, or even physically abusing me.
Even when I was in healthier relationships, it was no easy feat. I struggled to know myself well enough to understand what values are paramount to me, and to choose not to settle for less. It took strength to close the door on relationships that weren’t right for me. And I’m so glad I did — otherwise I wouldn’t be married to the man who brings me breakfast in bed just because, who respects me, loves me for who I am, and supports me to chase my dreams every day.
I admit that it didn’t take years of hitting the books and sitting in a univeristy lecture hall to qualify me for marriage, although I do have a college degree. My marriage to a loving person — who feels like the home I never had but always wanted — isn’t proof of my ability to succeed professionally, although I think I haven’t done bad at meeting many of my professional goals. And should we celebrate educational and professional achievements more? Absolutely! I celebrated high school and college graduations, complete with cake and toasts bubbling with the promise of a bright future. But it’s up to the person doing the accomplishing to decide that standard in their life.
I’ve been married for less than three years — that hardly qualifies me as a marriage expert. I am in the beginning stages of learning through sharing myself and loving the good and the “bad” in my partner, through thick and thin.
I’m not saying being married is better than not being married, or that putting a ring on it is the only way to commit to a person. That’s a choice we each have to make for ourselves. But I consider my marriage (not to be confused with my marital status) an accomplishment.
I’m happy it was celebrated as one of the most momentous occasions of my life, because it was. It was the culmination of personal struggles and dating battles hard-won, and the beginning of sharing my life with someone I adore. Getting to the point where I am ready to do so, for me, has everything to do with how I’ve developed into a healthier and stronger person over the years. And I’m proud of myself for that.