I’m sorry I don’t have a new book to review for you, but today is our first wedding anniversary, and we’ve been out-of-town celebrating, so I’m a little behind. Given the occasion though, I’m going to point you toward a book that gave me a great perspective on marriage as a cultural institution.
Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, by Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) was given to me by a good friend who was also planning her wedding last year. She and I both fall into the “women who aren’t into wedding planning” end of things; in the depth of our frustrations, when we were trying to sort through the sparkle of the wedding day in order to find some marital bedrock on which to build all the days after the wedding, we found this book.
I’m fortunate to have many role models for great marriages. My parents were even kind enough to clue me in when I was a teenager to the fact that marriage is wonderful but hard (really, really hard). I remember them telling me, each in their own way, how there could be months, or even years, that were incredibly difficult to get through as a couple or for each individual. They were also invaluable resources for me when it came to things like learning to compromise, or being empathetic, or sometimes just biting your tongue. They modeled healthy disagreement and compassionate support. And of course, they loved, loved, loved…even (no, especially) the craziest parts of the other.
There was one idea though – something I didn’t realize I didn’t know much about until I read a book written by a woman burned by a horrible divorce who was struggling to reconcile herself to the idea of marriage. It was from her that I learned that while marriage is important, it’s not everything. In the United States, we put so much pressure on the couple as a unit – your partner is supposed to be all and do all and listen to all – when what Gilbert discovered is that in many other parts of the world, the idea she’d grown up with here (that couples should rely on each other for all of their emotional, spiritual, and physical support) wasn’t even on the radar.
Instead, in many of the places she visited, she realized that the primary support system was a community of other people, typically of the same gender. That’s right! Women were talking to other women, and men were talking to other men, and everyone was getting a much wider range of needs met this way. It didn’t mean that marriage wasn’t a special relationship – it just meant it wasn’t the only one.
I thought I knew this, but until I read her book, it hadn’t really solidified for me. It’s okay, and in fact healthy, for me to call up my best friends and talk to them for two hours about a situation that my husband and I might discuss for only a few minutes; it’s good for him to go out with friends and dissect an issue from work that I might not be particularly invested in. It’s wonderful that every night we feel happier having spent time talking together, but it’s also crucial to our marriage that we have friends and family we can turn to when we need to. I cannot be everything to him, nor he to me. Expecting that either of us should would invariably lead to disappointment – we’re only human after all.
When we were getting ready for bed last night, I told my husband I couldn’t believe how much more I loved him this year than last, and it’s true; I find it incredible that my heart still has room to keep expanding. The thing is, I also can’t believe how much more I love and appreciate my family and friends now, how I value their support and advice, and how I know that being part of such an amazing community has made us stronger separately and together.
To find out more about Elizabeth Gilbert, go here.