Five years ago, I did something I thought I'd never do: I said "yes" to marriage again.
It goes without saying that things didn't pan out so well the first time I said "yes" to marriage. Then, part of the problem was that I didn't really think through what exactly I was saying "yes" to. Marriage was just something I expected in my Midwestern, middle-class life. I expected it the same way I expected to go to college, and to always have a roof over my head. I willingly took marriage at 22, like a magic pill that was certainly good for me and would produce the life I had always imagined for myself.
When that marriage (along with its so-called "ideal" life) crumbled around me, my belief in the institution of marriage crumbled with it. Sometimes, when you're standing in the rubble of your life, the first step toward figuring out what's next is figuring out what isn't next. I decided I could definitely rule out marriage, and not just in my near future. The form, I reasoned, had failed me. Being free meant walking away from it, toward something completely different. After all, the definition of insanity is trying the same thing again and again but expecting a different outcome, right?
That no-marriage stance suited me just fine as I recovered from the trauma of divorce and focused on my two young children. It was like a protective armor I wore through my days, providing the sense of security I craved. Even when I eventually began dating (the wrong people, I might add), my decision never to marry again was comforting -- something in my life I could control.
Meeting Jason a few years later didn't instantly change my perspective, but it did broaden it. I began to loosen the cinches on my battened-down hope, and to bravely stick my neck out and look around, taking a longer view. I began to wonder about life again -- to ask "What if?" about possibilities I had never dared to consider before.
I had never imagined, for instance, that someone like Jason existed, let alone lived right in my city. I had also never imagined that I could be more myself with someone, rather than less myself. And I had certainly never imagined that love could feel positively exhilarating, without feeling the least bit scary. What if these surprises were signs that something as old as marriage itself could surprise me as well?
It's tricky, five years after our wedding day, to trace the exact logic that led me to saying "yes." After all, I was in love, so the calm voice of logic could hardly be heard over the din of happiness. But I know these guiding thoughts were at play -- even if they weren't fully articulated at the time -- and I know they continue to inform how I live out my marriage, and my life, today.
- I want to actively shape and define the institutions in my life, rather than passively allow them to shape and define me. Walking away from the idea of marriage would have meant allowing it to have the final word on that part of my story.
- I want to act, decide, and live my life based on hope and courage, not defeat and fear. While ending my first marriage was a brave act, avoiding marriage as a whole, at all costs, would be nothing more than a protective response to fear.
- I want to broaden, not narrow, my children's understanding about commitment and love. In other words, by marrying again, I've given them a full, honest picture: Yes, sometimes marriage looks like that -- broken and painful -- but sometimes it also looks like this -- full of forgiveness, support, trust, and wholeness.
- I want to live a life that is focused on constructing, not deconstructing. I want, in every way possible, to see what I can create from the scrap heap before me, recycling and upcycling the valuable parts and pieces of my life, rather than adding them to the landfill and starting from scratch. Because there is value in what I have already experienced -- there's potential to use it to create something new. Recreating my understanding of marriage is a constructive, creative act.
This is not to say that a second marriage is the best option for every divorced person, or that they will find the right person to partner with as they work to redefine marriage. My basic hope is that others can have the courage to shed some of that protective armor, and to avoid backing themselves into those "safe" corners we gravitate towards post-divorce. Because ultimately, our efforts to protect ourselves often end up holding us back. The corners confine us with our pasts, and the armor weighs us down, keeping us from openly exploring what might lie ahead, waiting for your "yes."