Confession: I’m a huge hypocrite when it comes to marriage. I don’t believe in it, first of all. I think it’s a bizarre, outdated tradition that tries to slap structure on something as intangible and fluid as love. Lifelong monogamy is unreasonable from a psychological and a biological standpoint.
And I don’t think a relationship is any more or less valid just because both parties sign some paperwork and start wearing special rings.
And yet, here I am, eight years into a thriving marriage that somehow has only become healthier and more stable with time. Hypocrite alert!
None of this was ever in my “5 Year Plan” (I don’t believe in those, either) and the method I took to get here is not one I’d recommend if I heard anyone else considering it.
When my boyfriend and I learned we were expecting a child together the week before college graduation, we objectively looked at the situation and said, “OK, how do we want to do this?” We loved each other a lot but had never even brought up hypothetical plans regarding our future as a couple; our time together had mostly been spent finding moments of reprieve from the academic rigors of senior year.
Realizing we both wanted to be parents together, we went ahead and got engaged both as a means of curbing the input of “concerned” busybody relatives and, mostly, as a symbol of commitment to giving this thing a real try. Our 18-month engagement consisted of moving in together, having a baby, getting five separate jobs between us, moving again, and surviving a global economic crash.
After weathering all that and still excited to snuggle at the end of the day, I got the feeling that he and I were probably going to be together for awhile. We figured we might as well get a tax break for being in love and got married in autumn of 2008.
Despite what some people had to say about it, I went into this union with complete earnestness and shaky optimism. However, an older relative gave me some sound advice that we’ve always kept in mind, which is to always have our divorce papers ready to file. That sounds fatalistic, but it ensures that we are always making a conscious choice to stay together and keep working through our issues.
Along with exchanging vows, my husband and I solemnly promised each other that, the minute we realize we are unhappy together and have exhausted our efforts to improve the situation, we’re walking away without resentment.
This doesn’t mean that every day has been blissful in the years since. We’ve had a few phases in our marriage when I was positive we wouldn’t make it, but somehow the knowledge that we were both actively choosing to wake up next to the other gave us each the optimism to keep working on our problems. It sounds like something out of a gross rom-com but at the moment, we are having a bit of a reverse 7-year-itch in which we like each other more than ever.
I’m still a bit bewildered by all of it, to be honest. Marriages as a result of a surprise pregnancy don’t statistically work out so great, especially when the couple was as young as we were. Even now, when my early-30-something friends tell me they’re getting married, my internal knee-jerk response is, “NOOOO!!!! WHY!?!?!?”
But I always attend weddings with a smile, a gift, and my well-wishes to the bride and groom, because if me being a giant marital hypocrite all these years has taught me anything it’s this: Sometimes, a completely illogical scenario has the potential to work out if love is involved.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted in June 2018.
Elizabeth Z Pardue is a creator and polymath based in the South. Her words have appeared in Huffington Post, Time.com, XOJane, Ravishly, and in a bunch of Letters to the Editor columns.