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Mable Chan Headshot

Fearless Love

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MABLE CHAN
Helen Makadia

Truth be told, I never thought I was marriage material before I met my husband. But four months ago -- and for the first time -- I became a wife in midlife.

The speed of our romance surprised all of our friends and family.

We met in the spring, got engaged in the summer and got married in the fall -- it all happened within six months last year.

Many longtime friends in America and my family in Hong Kong expressed a sigh of relief.

"The long wait is over! Mable's married -- finally!" screamed a close friend. Seriously, they never thought they'd see this day. One former TV colleague openly predicted many years ago that I would never get married. Why not? Well, they saw me as too career-focused, too independent, too picky. All that is true -- partially. But what they don't see is the underlying layers of fears about marriage.

Yes, I had been cautiously picky, fiercely independent and perpetually curious about what's next in life.

Yes, I had previously structured my life around my career as an American network news producer -- always chasing the next great story, seeking a new and different challenge, putting work before friends, family and community.

And yes, I was mentally married to my work, living like a network nun. The more time I devoted to work, the less I had to develop a meaningful, life-long partnership.

But deep down, I feared the trappings of marriage. Don't get me wrong; I longed to be with someone in an exclusive and committed relationship, but marriage is different.

I feared that marriage would make me give up independent thoughts and ideals.

I feared losing the freedom to pursue new career interests, to find new ways to express myself, to discover fun things to do with my time. Meanwhile, my mind was also trapped by a traditional leaning towards an ancient Chinese concept of marriage that mandates a dutiful wife who serves not only her husband at home, but also his business and social circles. I wondered if I could ever live up to these expectations.

But what I feared most about marriage was perhaps the prospect of divorce due to infidelity. Infidelity had been the culprit for numerous break-ups in the past, inflicting unbearable emotional pain, as well as self-doubt and shame that I wasn't good enough.

Marriage as a legal pledge of love and commitment may also break down due to irreconcilable differences as couples grow apart over time and distance. Oh, how I dreaded that prospect of falling out of love, but staying as a wife.

Divorce is common in America, but it remains a curse in the traditional Chinese cultural environment in which I was raised. My parents, my parents' parents and their grandparents stayed together until death set them apart. They did so out of loyalty and love, but they also shared the view that divorce is immoral. Sometimes, deep-seated cultural bias against divorce prematurely blames the woman for failing to keep the man happy -- regardless of what the truth of the matter is.

Magically, all my fears about marriage began to fade over time.

Since last spring, when Ken and I met during alumni weekend at Harvard, I have been touched by a kind of love that is refreshingly liberating and nurturing. As someone who'd been through the midlife phase of soul-searching and career change from Wall Street to the academia, Ken understands firsthand the importance of opening one's mind to uncharted terrain. And as a widow who'd lost his wife of 30 years to a long illness, he cherishes sharing his stable life with an equal and devoted partner. He's urged me to be bold, to take risks, to re-configure my life, to re-launch my career. In essence, he makes me realize that in our marriage, I can be free.

His generous love expands my vision of marriage, allowing me to adopt a brand new attitude about the endless possibilities on the horizon. There are no hard rules of do's and don'ts in a marriage, no room for fear in true love.