Marriage and Relationships From a 20-Something's Perspective

Legally, marriage can be the means to an end. In 2006, I married my friend’s lesbian roommate to someone in the bar where she worked, because I am a minister of the Universal Life Church and she needed to get on her friend’s health insurance plan for some terrifying dental surgery. The bar was empty and dust floated visibly through beams of late afternoon sunshine, the worst kind of light. I asked them the legally required question and they responded with the legally required answer. Print name, signature, signature, signature, finished: united in purpose.

In a few months one of my best friends will marry one of her best friends and I have been asked to play a bridesmaid for the very first time. I remember listening to the older married women in my family reminisce about their days as bridesmaids: single, girlish, worried. This is why I hate the phrase “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” Emotionally, marriage is not a means to an end. It stresses me out when people expect that certain things will happen. How terrifying is the idea that the world owes one a wedding? It’s a freaky concept, but I don’t know, I could be the freaky one. A palm reader recently informed me that I do not have a union line. However, he also told me that I don’t have a life line. Obviously this means I am a rounded-out loner freak. Take what you will from the mystics, am I right?

A ceremonial union requires a lot of maintenance in order to exist. Some truth: a marriage is a story that is told by two people and teamwork isn’t exactly a natural thing for many of us. I do believe in marriage and I do believe in love, but I also believe that it is unwise to expect anything from anybody. Expiration dates are not only inherent but also necessary borders between life and death. It’s okay. A relationship will run its course, it will be completed, and that will be all. Individual life spans, however, will always be flexible. There are many relationships that have and will achieve a traditional ideal, when the end point of the emotional bond coincides with partners’ physical deaths. These connections are special, and in no way are they an average model. Some people fall in and out of love frequently, while others are hesitant when it comes to closeness. If a relationship isn’t working anymore, that doesn’t mean that it failed. It’s over, it’s time to go, that’s all. Love is easy and love is tedious. Love’s a draw.

The best moments in a relationship with another person can make me feel the worst. A little voice will say “Please don’t go away. Please be this good forever.” Emotional highs are brief and although I want to hold on for as long as possible, I know that some kind of downward slope is on the agenda. When the golden time does end, the only thing to do is memorize what it was and keep that feeling with you. Remember that good times cannot be recognized without bad times around for the foil.

Every marriage, union, commitment ceremony, or whatever begins with some silent hope. To whisper “I love you”, is to make invisible wishes: please work, please survive, please don’t go away. If it doesn’t work anymore, it never will again. This is very sad, but failed attempts to resurrect the dead will result in deep and excruciating pain. Anything special that ever existed will be invisible beneath a stupid, shitty mess. I have learned the hard way that best course of action is to turn, walk away, and allow your relationship to die and rest in peace. I know that I struggle with this process. Nobody will respond: Where did you go? I can see you but I cannot feel you.

Ideally, the death of what you had together is understood and mourned for. It’s best to sit alone and remember the love that you had once shared, because it does deserve some final homage. Beware of denial, because it is not cute. Absolutely do not try and get back together. Post-death relationship will be forced to exist in zombie half-life until finally there is nothing left except sick bitterness and a worm-eaten corpse.

Please remember that everything will be okay because it has to be. Tell yourself that none of this is really happening until it isn’t happening anymore. Remember that commitment is dark and morbid: “I am yours and you are mine until death do us part.” Not only is this an eerie oath, but a rare truth. Commitment is a strong thing, too; one that assures trust, stability, and protection. I imagine that going hard in a committed relationship for several years is fucking tough and this is why it is important to recognize the accomplishment of the good togetherness that did exist, even if it does disintegrate before both your lives are over. TC mark

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  • cazador

    makin' me cry and shit~

  • http://twitter.com/Erikhaspresence Erik Stinson

    probably the best written TC article on this topic

  • http://tattoosnob.com Julene

    The best moments in a relationship with another person can make me feel the worst. A little voice will say “Please don’t go away. Please be this good forever.”

    Hit the nail on the head with that one. Well done, Caitlin.

  • HEAT

    I am feeling this!

  • =)

    This is definitely one of the better articles posted on thoughtcatalog in the past few days. It's a sensitive, and personal account of one of the most fundamental aspects of life. Having said this, I would like to note that when something stops working, it doesn't always mean that it's the end, either. I feel like younger generations have a propensity towards giving up on the things that cause them to struggle or feel harder than they expected it to be. Working through difficulties can prove to be rewarding, fruitful, and bring two people closer together than they were before. Even those ideal relationships that end only at physical death could have gone through the worst kind of struggles…

    This is not to suggest that one should try and relive the past, but rather find new solutions to solve their problems. Unfortunately, sometimes it's difficult to see when it's time to let go and when it's time to try a little harder. To that end, I believe life requires a bit of trust and only experience can be the best teacher.

    Applause for sensitive approach to a personal and difficult topic

    • http://tattoosnob.com Julene

      It's easier to replace than it is to correct. Not that I agree with the approach of my generation, but that seems to be a quick summation of the mindset–be it re: computers or matters of the heart.

  • http://www.kathygambo.tumblr.com Kathleen Gambo

    Wow, this is hopelessly pessimistic.
    If you applied this “walk away while you still can” attitude, when would you ever learn from the hard parts in relationships? That sometimes a set back doesn't mean you have to fold in all your cards but rather an opportunity for some inflection of your own character?
    I don't know, these kinds of feelings don't come around often and shit, some relationships are just worth fighting for.

    • ENJOYING THE FLOWERS

      I agree! This article bummed me out. Perhaps it's because I'm recently engaged, but I think that relationships (particularly over the long haul) have a natural ebb and flow and there is a lot to be learned about yourself and your partner when things aren't all peachy. That said, I think falling in love with someone and choosing to spend your life with the one you love are two different things.

  • http://brianmcelmurry.blogspot.com/ Brian McElmurry

    Longterm monogamy scares us all, but what about love. To live is to suffer, so living with another is to suffer together. And have joy. I enjoyed this. I think relationships aren't static. They are fucking crazy!

  • Kel

    “If a relationship isn’t working anymore, that doesn’t mean that it failed. It’s over, it’s time to go, that’s all. Love is easy and love is tedious. Love’s a draw”.

    I feel this. The feeling of helplessness when you realize it's over. The excruciating pain of just wanting to hold on when you know ultimately it's never going to work out. Love is easy, yet tedious. Love's a draw. Well described.

  • padface

    I loathe women who obsess over having “their day”. People wonder why divorce rates are increasing, well my guess is that it's partly due to women believing they are the better sex when it comes to marriage. Sexism is starting to go the other way, just look at how stupid and foolish men are portrayed as being in media.

    I just thank God I'm gay, makes my life so much easier!

  • MLG

    Really enjoyed it!

  • http://twitter.com/ellie_rex danielle garza

    God damn.

  • EmiliaBedelia

    as my mom always says, “it's not over 'til you're dead.”

  • Kemm

    Sorry, but this is really crappy advice, particularly when there are children involved. Studies consistently show that married couples who stick it out despite their problems were far happier in their relationships 5 years later. Everyone goes through rough patches and giving up at the first sign of trouble is cowardly.

  • Rents1980

    this is such garbage. I don't know any 20 somethings who know a whole lot about relationships. As most 20 somethings are flighty people who only feel validated by their social circles, how can they be reliable when it comes to relationships?

  • annie

    When you've actually been married and know it from the inside – which is the only way to know anything really – write about it again. Until then, you know only what you've witnessed from the outside, read about in books, seen in movies or “experienced” secondhand. You're not technically a child anymore but you appear to be looking at commitment and marriage from that pov – where relationships are all about what you get and not about what is given or shared or built together. Endings are as much a choice as beginnings.

  • embonpoint

    It's been a while since I read a piece that I so wholeheartedly agreed with. Captures my thoughts exactly. Thanks for this!

  • R.

    I am married and I am “twenty-something”. When you are having trouble with your partner, you can either choose the relationship or you can choose yourself.

    And if you're married, you choose the relationship. Despite how hard it is, despite how righteous you may feel and despite what problems you may have, you choose the relationship because that is what commitment means. I wish that you had not titled this “marriage and” because I think that marriage is something very separate from the kind of relationships you capture here.

    • ScottInAL

      R.

      I'm 46 years old and about to divorce my wife of 22 years. The problem I have with what you write is that nothing can be so soul destroying as choosing the relationship over your own needs over and over and over for decades. What you have in the end is a desiccated shell of a relationship filled with bitterness and pain.

      One of the things that helped me break free was listening a lot to Dan Savage, who says “Every relationship fails eventually, until one doesn't”. The fantasy of lifelong monogamous bliss is a fairy tale.

      I totally loved and agreed with this blog post, but I think the best thing in it is THIS

      “There are many relationships that have and will achieve a traditional ideal, when the end point of the emotional bond coincides with partners’ physical deaths. These connections are special, and in no way are they an average model. Some people fall in and out of love frequently, while others are hesitant when it comes to closeness. If a relationship isn’t working anymore, that doesn’t mean that it failed. It’s over, it’s time to go, that’s all. Love is easy and love is tedious. Love’s a draw.”

      Just wow.

      • R.

        I see what you're saying. I thought to include this refutation to my original comment but I didn't feel as though I could adequately capture the sentiment. I am not a writer. Sorry.

  • ScottInAL

    Caitlin,

    I just wanted to say thanks for this. This idea that you can make a lifelong commitment to one person in your 20s built on nothing but the fairy-tale hope that they're “the one” is, frankly, ridiculous. I think most 20-somethings can't choose the right car for themselves, given their age and stage, much less their lifelong partner. Not enough life has been lived and most people dont know who they truly are yet.

    I think the trend toward waiting for marriage until later is a really good one. But I also think having a deep understanding of the transience of love and relationships is also healthy. I dont think this piece is pessimistic so much as its realistic. It's not saying we can't have deeply satisfying relationships. Not at all. It's just pointing out from the perspective of an outside observer that many of the core assumptions that are made when we enter into a relationship ought to be questioned. An idea I totally agree with.

  • jackandspider

    This is one of the best things I've ever read – ever. I'm going through a divorce and am amazed at the wisdom here.
    Thank you.

  • gretchenp

    I read an excerpt of this in Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, and knew before I saw the title that it was by someone in their 20's. Someone whose longest relationship is a few years hasn't had the experience of long years enmeshed in someone else's life and family, and of the seasons a long relationship goes through. If you walk away after a couple of years when it's not fun anymore, you'll never get the experience of the deeper involvement in another person and family's life.

  • Old Lady

    Relationships are more worthwhile when you work through problems and find solutions. Love becomes stronger and holds you up when you need supporting. Having someone by your side as you walk the difficult walk into old age is a wonderful thing. Try not to walk away too often!

  • oldboyama

    i'm sorry but whoever wrote this has no idea what they're talking about.

    if you think that a healthy relationship over an extended period time has an expiration date, you haven't been communicating with you partner as well as you should have. You just desperately wanted the relationship to last forever while you were in the “honeymoon phase” that you compromised your own character in the end for it. i.e. you fucked up. so learn from it.

    like you said, not a lot of us are team players. your “rounded-out loner freak” ass certainly don't come off as one. Hence all this b.s. you wrote so you can feel good about yourself when people post compliments about how wise you are for a 20 some-odd-year-old. Get a clue moron, they're not team players either! put your chips on the table, play a hand, and eventually you'll win a hand.

  • http://theaveragepoet.tumblr.com Abe

    “Every marriage, union, commitment ceremony, or
    whatever begins with some silent hope. To whisper ‘I love you’, is to
    make invisible wishes: please work, please survive, please don’t go
    away.”

    I love these lines. Thank you.

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