Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: pexels.com
A few days ago, my partner and I spent the afternoon with a lovely couple. We had tea, a delicious dessert and interesting conversations. When the topic of marriage arose, they mentioned they would be married for 55 years next year, and they pondered why so many couples that are in a long-term relationship after their first marriage, decide not to marry again. It got me thinking…
My views on marriage have changed quite a bit over the decades. As a teenager, I actually thought I’d never get married. Somehow, I couldn’t really see the point of it. It seemed old-fashioned and a way to put yourself in the center of attention, which reeked of egotism, and I was very much against egotistic behaviour (as an 18-year-old, oh the irony).
And then, I met my future husband at the age of 20. I was in university, he was half-way across the world. We spent a few months talking online, he traveled to Belgium, and we clicked. In the year after, we did the long-distance thing, which was really rough, so after a year he moved, and a few months later we got married. Between the decision and the actual wedding we waited the minimal time of 2 weeks. We needed to get married if we wanted to stay together, but we both also realised that we were really young and hadn’t lived together for that long.
Still, our marriage lasted for 11 years. There were great times and trying times, as in most marriages. We learned a lot from one another, and helped each other grow up to become the people we are today. Unlike my teenage self, this 20-year-old version of me really liked being married. There was a certain pride in being able to call him my husband. Being married made me feel more mature, and more secure. From that moment on, we were a team, we were family.
The fact that my in-laws gave me such a warm welcome and took me into their family as well only made that feeling stronger.
And then, in 2017, I ran head-first into a (figurative) wall: I fell in love with my current partner. The end of our marriage was, in many ways, as crazy and intense as the beginning, though we did take a year to figure out if and how we could still save our relationship. We owed this to our two children. When it eventually became clear that staying together was just not feasible anymore, we divorced.
After the marriage ended, for a long time, I was 100% convinced I would never marry again. I had broken my vows and was completely disillusioned with the idea of marriage. Suddenly, my teenage self seemed like a very wise little lady. She saw right through all that crap from the onset. She knew that it was all just a façade that people put up. I was now sure that I never wanted to make a promise again that I could, apparently, break, even though I felt horrible about it. To be honest, even the idea of ever going into a relationship again was ludicrous for a while. I had so much guilt and shame to deal with. I didn’t feel like I knew myself, recognized myself or even liked myself. It took years to heal.
With healing, slowly but surely, I learned to open my heart to love again. I still continue to battle some dragons, but I no longer feel I have to live out the rest of my days alone. And with that slowly adapting reality, my views on marriage have shifted again as well. There are benefits to being married that I would like to experience in my life again: the feeling of having a home with the other person, not just emotionally but also culturally; the clarity of the message: ‘He’s my husband’ or ‘I’m his wife’; and the joy of declaring to the world that we belong together. There are tax-benefits as well, and traveling certain countries as a woman becomes easier when you are married, but those aspects don’t really carry that much weight for me.
In the end, if I ever do marry again, the decision won’t be taken lightly. I’ll have to be ready for it, and prepared to make vows that I can stand by.
What it comes down to for me now, is that a marriage is much like everything else in life: the value it holds is the value you grant it, and the energy and work you pour into it. I think it quite likely I will one day have a husband again (the prime candidate is up for it as well, which is encouraging 😉 ), but I’m also not the romantic anymore that I was at 21; I realise that a wedding day does not make a marriage. Those vows aren’t just a one day promise, you have to live by them, actively protect them and renew them, often (if not daily).
In the mean time, we are slowly but surely building a relationship that supports not just us, but also our children, careers and family. It’s a fair bit of work, surely, but also great fun. What the future brings is unsure, as always. All I know is, when it comes to marriage, I’m leaving all doors open, and that feels like the ultimate freedom to me.