So, I went to the DMV last week to register personalized plates to my newest car. The woman behind the counter flipped through my stack of paperwork, squinting at it in confusion. “Ok,” she said, “let me see if I understand. These plates were originally issued to you under the last name ‘Monroe,’ then they were assigned to you under ‘Reynolds,’ then ‘Davis,’ and now you want them registered to your new car under ‘Monroe’ again?” I nodded my head, “Yep.” The woman arranged the paperwork into a nice, neat stack, leaned forward over her desk, looked me in the eye and said “Girl…you need to STOP!”
I’ve been married a few times now. Not a Guinness World Record amount, but enough that my friend asked me what my last name is “this week.” I’ve been known to joke and make light of my track record, saying that my marriages are a cover to conceal my identity, or that I plan to get married every few years to keep things fresh…things of that nature.
The reality is that, like the majority of people that get married, I really thought I could make it work. I don’t think that anybody enters a marriage thinking “Oh well, let’s give this a shot. If I’m not happy, I’ll just get divorced! No big deal.” I feel that the alter-bound folks genuinely believe that they’re ready, that they’ve found the right person and that they are going to beat the 50/50 odds. A funny side note, CNN.com posted that the divorce rate has actually fallen a bit since 2009, but said it’s likely that people just can’t afford to file the paperwork. Romantic, right?
While I have yet to have a marriage last beyond 7 years, I’ve definitely gained some insight from my experiences and I haven’t given up on the idea of marriage. I’d like to pass my thoughts on to you, in hopes that, should you choose to attempt lifelong partnership, you’ll have more realistic, marriage-supporting attitude.
1. Lose your sense of entitlement. When you’re partnered up, whether it’s dating or marriage, you’re bound to have well intentioned friends and family members that tell you that you deserve better. You deserve the best! You deserve someone that let’s you be who you are!! Well, no. First, you don’t “deserve” anything from anyone. Simply being alive does not entitle you to a partner who thinks you’re gorgeous, intelligent and commits to support your dreams of being an ice dancer, even though you’re uncoordinated and don’t look good in spandex. And I’m not talking about settling here folks; I’m talking about realizing that relationships, by definition, involve two people contributing and benefitting. So stop looking for someone that fits your criteria and start focusing on finding someone that is a good fit for you instead.
2. You are not a psychic. No matter what you do, no matter how much you plan and prepare, you will never be able to anticipate the hardships that will actually challenge you. I went through pre-marital counseling. I asked my family and friends their honest opinions before getting engaged. I have TWO Bachelor’s Degrees in Communications, one of them is in Interpersonal Relations…and I’ve been divorced multiple times. The hard reality is that no matter how much you plan and prepare, eventually the proverbial s**t is going to hit the proverbial fan.
Early on, it’s easy to look your fiancé lovingly in the eye and say things like “I’ll support you financially if you want to go after your Masters degree,” or “I’ll still be attracted to you if you gain weight.” But consider these…
- decides to become a stripper?
- decides they want an “open” marriage?
- changes their mind about having kids?
- punches your dad in the face before running him over with their car?
- quits their job and decide not to tell you for several months and you only find out because your car payment bounces and your vehicle is repossessed at 3:30 in the morning on Thanksgiving?
All of these things have ACTUALLY happened to me or a friend. Did we see it coming? Of course not! Nobody did. And guess what Miss Cleo, nobody can. One of my favorite columnists, Mary Schmich once wrote in the Chicago Tribune: “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.” I guess my point here is, be prepared to be surprised, so that the shock doesn’t kill you…or end your relationship.
3. Change isn’t just for Coinstar. Conventional wisdom tells us that you can’t change people, and I have news for you: You can’t. They change on their own. Think of who you were five years ago, or ten years ago, and you’ll find that (gasp) you are NOT the same person. You will not be the same person in a year, and neither will your partner. The challenge within relationships, specifically long-term ones, is that some use their change/growth as grounds to end the marriage, ignoring the fact that change is, and should be, continuous. Unless you’re on your death bed and making your way towards the light, you cannot say that you’ve finished learning, growing and changing. You’re going to be a different person in the future as well! The moral kids: Change is inevitable and if you choose to marry, you’re choosing to change and grow, alongside one another.
4. There is no Easter Bunny. Over there, that’s just a guy in a suit. (Couldn’t resist a chance to quote Mallrats.) What I mean is, there is no perfect person. There is no soul mate. There is no spoon. No matter what, if you partner with another human being, you absolutely must realize that they are imperfect, as are you. If you want to have any chance at long-term relationship bliss, this point is critical. Things are going to get difficult and you need to understand that yes, you can leave and move on to someone else…but that person is going to have their own set of faults as well. My advice is, learn to truly love all of your partner’s quirks, faults and idiosyncrasies. As comedian Chris Rock would say, “You can’t just love the white part of the bread! You have to love the CRUST of the motherf***er!” After all, it’s those things that make them who they are. Your partner is one of a kind, so be proud of the fact that they are yours and embrace your differences. That’s love b*tches.
5. There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team.’ It may seem obvious, but, seeing the high number of divorces due to “it’s just not what I want anymore,” I think it’s worth mentioning as my final point. Before you even consider marriage, really stop and remember what the concept of marriage is at its simplest form: becoming part of a team. Me = We. Mine = Ours. Legally, you become one entity. Joint debts, joint obligations, joint rewards. Spiritually, if you’re religious, you become “one flesh” in the eyes of God when you get married. It wouldn’t hurt to take an honest look at yourself and ask if you are genuinely ok compromising and sacrificing some of your individuality, not to the other person, but to your marriage, for the good of your union. If not, marriage may not be for you, and that’s alright. The payoff, however, is having somebody who, in theory, is always in your corner. They’ll work your nerves, and challenge you, but they’ll have your back as well. I realized a few months back that should I ever find the courage to marry again, my vows would include the following: “I vow to readily compromise for the good of our marriage, knowing that with you, I am stronger.”
So there ya go. Hopefully, my ill-fated romances will help you to avoid joining me in the name-change club. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of paperwork to do.