If your response is similar to the reaction of family, friends, acquaintances or — most surprising — absolute strangers, I assume you are offering some form of congratulation. Now what comes next will sound unappreciative, but I do have a point (which I get to eventually). I had a rather mixed reaction to people's universal satisfaction over the news.
It's cute that folks are so excited because of this commitment to be wed. Though I must say that in my 41-year life antecedent, nothing has ever garnered this level of approval — not a birthday milestone, a solid career choice or promotions, not any contribution, nor words on a page, poured out from the heart, not even a Fulbright. Nothing has ever secured such mass societal acceptance as this shiny ring thing.
If I channel my soon-to-be-mother-in-law, I would ask for a re-do, rewriting the above paragraph with a little less snark and a lot more conversation (fair warning — I do end up at a proximate conclusion). When I expressed my small irritations to the wise Mary H over the weirdness of a stranger's glowing attention, she subtly showed me to my better self by invoking one of my own values — a uniting perspective. "Not everyone will be a lawyer or a writer, but most people get married." While I had hyperfocused conformity, she honed in on common points of connection.
And she's not wrong. According to a Social Security Office of Policy report, only around 4 percent of the U.S. population are "never-married(s)." Those numbers, though increasing, do seem to reflect our general direction toward matrimony. This remains true despite those other numbers lurking out there which tell another part of the story — divorce statistics, which hover somewhere between 39 and 50 percent. Yes, nearly all of us will enter but close to half of us will part with the ideal of nuptial bliss.
Look, I know my attitude about facts and figures and folks' reactions have far more to do with me and my past than any of that. Subsequently, I sat down with myself to mull over what I could possibly find disquieting about someone else's best wishes, especially on my behalf. This is where I landed — I have not relationshiped real good, generally speaking — nothing horrific, just a string of some moderately benign disasters. (If love songs, TV dramas, anecdotes, research or every Fitzgerald story ever written portray insight into others' affairs, then I am not alone in those choices.)
Therapy, personal growth, accountability and autonomy are tools that have helped me improve on old patterns, but when people extend effusive congrats, especially those made without knowing the substance of my present relationship, I ruffle a bit.
Of course, I can interpret those laudations as shorthand for the underlying implied good intentions, but I also happen to think we can do better. It's time our conversations about love evolve. Our words are sacred. What we congratulate, we value.
Energy is a finite resource, and my recent interactions have shown me that societally, we spend an awful lot of it on a dress, a diamond or a day, which means not a whole lot remains for the less symbolic but more important discussions on the realities of marriages or the (hopefully) positive attributes our partners display or the kindness of the families we are marrying into.
So, from this day forward, I do solemnly swear to expand the discussion on love and devote myself to becoming truly engaged in the practice of honoring the range of people's healthy relationship choices.
The quality of a relationship — not merely its existence nor a well-intentioned commitment — matters. Somewhere along the way it seems like we let heading to the altar be our sole marker of success. I'm a little salty about that. So, from this day forward, I do solemnly swear to expand the discussion on love and devote myself to becoming truly engaged in the practice of honoring the range of people's healthy relationship choices.
Here's a huge shout-out to the couples in counseling, who recognize that renewing intention and continually improving communication and connection is crucial! To the individual who decides to stay single for the first time in a long time, stepping away to take stock, to heal trauma or to learn about the self, I am delighted for you. To those who ultimately end a union despite fighting hard to keep it because after all that work, you've realized it's the best solution for everyone, I see you. An extra big hand if you have created a constructive way to face the grief that comes along with those heavy losses of a previous joined identity. Forging a new version of yourself amidst uncertainty and heartbreak is incredibly admirable, I am immensely proud of you. To the enduring partners, going the distance and growing together throughout decades, y'all the real MVPs (also please share your wisdom). You have my sincerest admiration for your abiding commitment. To the folks being the village we so often heard was necessary for raising a child, ya gorgeous. To the single ones, slogging their way through Tinderesque apps (aka hellscapes), struggling to stay authentically you — forthright, ethical and true, I bow down before you, beautiful human. Finally, to the folks setting those boundaries, saying what you need, and meaning what you say — even when it's difficult, nice job out there!
I wish you all the best. ♦
Inga N. Laurent is a local legal educator and a Fulbright scholar. She is deeply curious about the world and its constructs and delights in uncovering common points of connection that unite our shared but unique human experiences.