I didn’t grow up with good examples of what marriage could be.
My father was my mom’s second marriage. The first was pretty disastrous. The one to my father was also bad, just in a different way. My father lied and stole and then ran away to hide in Mexico and leave my mom on the hook to pay back what he’d taken, under threat of being arrested herself as an accomplice even though she hadn’t known he’d done these things until the police showed up on the doorstep. She worked long and hard at her job, and in spite of that, in large part thanks to my father, friends wound up contributing toward diapers and baby formula for infant me so I wouldn’t have to go hungry even when she was. Women of her generation were still being taught that a large part of their value as women depended on being married, so when he came back from Mexico she took him back, and had years and years of misery, culminating in him putting her in debt again through credit card fraud. She had to declare bankruptcy and finally left him for good. I was in my early 20s by then.
My paternal grandparents were horrible people. They were self-centered, self-absorbed, lacking in empathy and conscience, physically and verbally abusive. They were miserable with each other, but devoutly Catholic and would not divorce because that’s a sin. They made their children miserable and warped in terrible ways. My grandfather did things like come home from work in a bad mood, and order one of the kids to hold their arms straight up over their heads and keep them that way. He’d demand they do that for an hour or more at a time. If their arms lowered at all as the muscles got exhausted – and of course, he kept them in that position long enough that it would inevitably happen – he beat them for disobeying his orders. He wasn’t any kinder to his wife. His wife, in turn, powerless against her husband, took out her powerlessness on the kids herself.
I never really knew my maternal grandfather. He and my grandmother had been long divorced by the time I was born, and had pretty much abandoned his daughter by then. I only met him once that I was old enough to remember. He made little impression on me, other than that I apparently inherited the ability to control certain muscles connected to the ears that are atrophied in most people, that let me wiggle my ears without all the facial contortions that most people go through. A minor and useless talent.
My maternal grandmother and the man I’d thought was my mother’s father until I was about 8 were miserable by the time I was born. I have heard stories about their marriage having been a happy one, but by the time I was around, my step-grandfather had been long affected by an abscess that had gotten into his brain. The abscess was removed, but it left him partially paralyzed, bitter, angry, and verbally abusive. My grandmother had been subjected to years and years of his verbal abuse, and had been racist to some degree all her life. She despised me for not being pure Caucasian. It was never stated out loud that she hated me partly for being the product of her white daughter and a Hispanic man. But there were many times that she told me that my mother never should have gotten involved with a Mexican and that nothing good ever came from their marriage. By the time I was 15/16, she had taught me that my very existence was a burden on everyone who had any contact with me, and that everyone would have been better off if I’d never been born. When I went about unlearning this lesson she’d drilled into me all my life, my mom told me stories about who my grandmother and step-grandfather had been once upon a time, and placed all the blame for who my grandmother was on the years of bitterness, anger, and abuse that my step-grandfather had piled on her for decades after the abscess.
My uncle was married to a woman who did everything she could to provoke his anger, and he had anger management issues. I have a couple memories of being there when he was physically abusing her. I also have a memory of being abused myself by him. He isn’t that person now, but that was what I grew up with.
Once I got past all the hatred of myself that I had been taught and began to develop at least a modicum of self-esteem, I still carried one lesson with me. That lesson was that marriage was a miserable state, a trap that put people in unrelenting misery, which extended to their kids if they had any. I grew up determined to never, ever marry or have children. When I was a teen, I didn’t even want to date or have a boyfriend. I developed crushes, but didn’t want those to develop into something more. Unrequited love was safer and less painful than a relationship.
When I graduated from high school and went off to college at 17, I did eventually start dating and have a few boyfriends. Because I had not yet unlearned hatred of myself (that wouldn’t come for a over decade more) I thought that what I deserved was abuse, and superficially charming men who used their charm to lightly gloss over the predator underneath. I looked for men to hurt me as I thought I deserved to be, since I was so ugly and such a failure, and boy did I find them. And since I’d grown up with examples all around me of how a relationship meant being hurt over and over, mentally, emotionally, verbally, and sometimes physically, I didn’t know that this was not how it was supposed to be. This was just normal, and the price you had to pay for the rare moments of feeling loved any at all. I even became engaged twice during that time. Not because I wanted to spend my life with those men. Only because they asked, and that was enough to make me feel wanted and say yes, because I wanted so much to be wanted. It made me, briefly, stop hating myself the way I’d been taught to, and that was enough for me to shove aside for a time my conviction that marriage was nothing but pain and misery.
Eventually, I began to unlearn that I was a horrible person who destroyed everything they even touched, was a burden on everyone who had any contact with me, and deserved to be treated like dirt. I got involved with a couple men who treated me well. We were incompatible in most deep and meaningful ways, but I was so overwhelmed by being treated as a feeling, thinking human being that this was all I saw. I didn’t see how, in the long run, we were not a good match. So when these men recognized that and the relationships ended, all I saw was that if I was miserable, relationships would last, but the happier I was, the sooner they were over. I finally decided that it wasn’t worth the pain to get involved with anyone ever again. It took years for the blinders to come off and for me to see what those ex-boyfriends recognized in weeks or months.
And then, about four and a half years ago, I met Yar. I was firmly in the camp that if I ever felt attracted to anyone ever again, I was running away from it as fast as I could. I tried to when I first got attracted to Yar, before he even knew that I was. I couldn’t stay away. I was drawn to him in powerful ways I couldn’t fight. It was far stronger than my fear of getting hurt yet again and overpowered my conviction that even if I was happy, it’d be over fast and I’d be devastated again. It’s the only time I was ever truly the pursuer rather than the chased. Once we were together, I was still convinced that I would never marry, even though I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. I was afraid that marriage would somehow change it from happiness to misery. I was still convinced that’s all that marriage was or could be.
But being with Yar these years has caused even that conviction to change. I have come to actively want us to be husband and wife. Not that I think it will somehow enhance my commitment to a lifetime with Yar, or I’ll suddenly, magically love him more somehow. Not really for any specific reason that I can put my finger on. I just want it, with my whole being, the acknowledgement and celebration of our love for and commitment to each other. I want the belonging. I want the official declaration of what we already are, a union, two people who are in some ways one unit to take on both the good and bad in the future together. In my heart, I already feel married to him, what marriage is touted as and supposed to be rather than the reality I’ve experienced all my life. I want the celebration of that, and sharing the celebration of that with the family and friends we love. I know it won’t be all roses and song. I know there’ll be times we’ll butt heads, rub each other the wrong way, bicker. But I want that every bit as much as I want the good times. I want all of it, good or bad, and I want it with him.