Get a cookie & a coffee and settle in because this got long.
I warned you here
that there would be more to come from the phenomenal inspiration I have received from reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s follow-up to Eat. Pray, Love
There’s a part near the beginning of the book when Liz (again, I call her Liz because we’re that tight now) is first beginning her journey to understand the institution of marriage. She was in a village in Vietnam and she began speaking to a family of Hmong women about their marriages. She realized quickly there was a disconnect between her Western concept of marriage (for want of love & companionship) versus a more Eastern concept of practical/arranged marriages. As she further ponders this she says:
[the Hmong woman was not] placing her marriage at the center of her emotional biography . . .
In the modern industrialized Western world . . . the person whom you choose to marry is perhaps the single most vivid representation of your own personality.
And this gem:
Your spouse becomes the most gleaming possible mirror through which your emotional individualism is reflected back to the world.
Read that last one two or three times to let it sink in. That is so true. So crazy, unbelievably true.
As Liz next states, and I fully concur with, Western women cannot wait to share the stories of how they met their husbands. In detail. With pictures, if possible. It’s true. Because we (we, because *I* am one of those women) consider choosing our husbands as one of the singularly most important things we will do in our lives. Until we have kids, or a divorce, it may be the SINGLE most important thing we do. We value choosing our partner much more than choosing a profession, a place to live, or a dog. Why? Because those things are fairly changeable and usually lacking in broken hearts and shattered crockery. Husbands & marriages, and divorces, especially, tend to be high in the broken hearts and broken crockery category.
(I know this from personal experience. My husband still reminds me of his favorite cup that I threw at him and broke about 5 years ago when we were going through the hardest time we’ve had in our marriage. Yes, I throw things. These days I try to limit it to things that don’t break or hurt if they hit their mark. Like pillows. It’s who I am. My biological father was a redhead. Fiery. I have bad aim though.)
For these Hmong women their husbands play a role, or position, in their lives but have no bearing on their lives as a WHOLE. Not in the way that we Western women wrap ourselves up in our menfolk and then, later, when things get real or turn sour we have to unwrap ourselves and remember who we are again. For them, it appears that they remain who they are inherently as individuals without needing or even wanting validation as a woman, wife or mother from their husbands. (And vice versa for the husbands as well, it seems. (Bear in mind these are my observations from Liz’s observations so there is a fair amount of interpretation happening here)).
Liz is quick to point out that just because husband/wife roles appear to be be a little less all-encompassing than we expect in the West that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a notion of romantic love. Romantic love is everywhere and crosses all cultures. In their culture, however, it may not be tied to the actual mechanics and necessities of marriage. Interesting, no? I believe these kinds of “pragmatic marriages” can breed a type of love – especially those long-lasting marriages of many of our grandparents. It’s just a different love than love born from passion first.
Love is love. Marriage is marriage.
But we, the greedy Westerners, we want it all. Wrapped up in a pretty package with a bow on top. We don’t really want to work for it. We just want it to appear – perfect and complete the moment we say “I will.”
I think there’s a point in marriages – maybe it’s the infamous 7 year itch – when they will either break or bond. Some of them may string out past the 7 years due to some efforts from one or both parties to keep things together – but generally the writing is on the wall at some point.
But in other marriages this may be the point when the partners actually start effectively partnering. They start actually learning to listen, really listen, to each other and learn that marriage and love must be nurtured. A wife must water and fertilize her husband’s love and he must absolutely do the same to hers. That can’t be done without respect.
I think marriage years can be compared with individual growth in terms of maturity. So:
- The first 7ish years of marriage is like being a teenager. Instant gratification, I want what I want and I don’t want to compromise. Classic teenager behavior.
- The next 7ish years is that really, really important time between being a teenager and fully-fleshed adult with responsibilities and decisions. So much growth and change in a small, compact time frame. If we aren’t careful we grow too quickly. Other times we don’t grow enough. It’s a balancing act to make sure one does not outgrow the other.
- The next 7ish, or more, may be the cementing of that mutual respect and maturity. At least that’s what I’m hoping because we’re heading there next. I’ll keep you posted.
What does it all mean? It means I’m a Western woman. I want LOVE with my marriage. I want to be the deliverer of his happiness and the nurturer of his soul – but I’m mature enough in my marriage to know that it CAN’T all come from me. It has to come from within him. Just like some of my inspiration, self-awareness, confidence, and individuality MUST come from inside me. Because I’m still me and he’s still him and we just share each other.
And, since I’m a Western woman – here’s our story:
It was ’98 and I was 22. I worked at the student newspaper at my university. We had a cartoonist that I knew of – from reading the paper we issued – but I had never met. We called him the midnight cartoonist because he ALWAYS turned his cartoon strip in at midnight the day it was due. So I never met him until one day he came in during the daylight hours and our editor introduced us.
He had long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. Earrings. His face was red because he had just ridden his bike to the office and it was wet outside. There was a line of water that had kicked up from his back tire onto the back of his anorak type jacket. he was wearing holey khaki pants and had on leg pegged (due to the bike riding). He had a huge warm smile.
I didn’t see him again until January ’99 when we had a class together. I smiled at him but he didn’t remember me at first and I had to remind him that we both worked for the paper.
Then he started walking me back to the newspaper offices every day after class. One day I told him my BFF was coming to visit and asked him where should I take her? And did he want to go out with us? So, you see, *I* asked *him* out. I did it.
So she came up and we all went out. At the end of the night he leaned over and told me how cute my freckles were. Then he kissed me.
The next day I left for Spring Break and thought of him most of the time I was gone. I came back A DAY EARLY from Spring Break because I wanted to see HIM. We spent every day together from then on. But I had already planned to move back to California in 2 months and I did. I moved away. Honestly, I kept telling myself it was just a fling. His hair was longer than mine for goodness sake!
I was wrong. I moved back Cali in May of ’99. He came to visit me in July. I went to visit him in September and he proposed. Scarcely 6 months had passed since we had started dating and we were engaged. WE JUST KNEW. It was another 4 months, and 2 visits, before he moved to California to be with me. We got married 6 months after that in July 2000. See, proof:
And we lived happily ever after.
Remember, I throw crockery. AT HIS HEAD. (Once, about 5 years ago. And I missed.)
We live, more or less happily, and we try hard and we WANT to be married to each other. Should we ask for more than that? I don’t think so. It works for us.