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Hoping for ‘Happily Ever-After’? Go for it!

Here in the U.S., tomorrow is the first day of June. In the Northern Hemisphere, June is a month that usually brings (or promises) more sunlight and warmth, and a renewed sense of optimism. June is also the month when, statistically, most couples in the States choose to have their weddings. Besides being considered an ideal month for outdoor venues, there’s something inherently romantic about June. A wedding is a celebration that lets all participants feel caught up in romance and believe. June is a month of Hope.

Not long ago I watched an interview on television with a high-profile media personality. The host of the talk show which featured this guest asked questions that allowed the 40-something woman to discuss her lifestyle (single, well-traveled, super-fit and aging well); her many outward accomplishments (author of a few books, and another in process); and her plans for her future. In a pause for breath in this impressive review, the host asked about the guest’s love-relationship. The woman (clearly delighted to be asked) described an “amazing, fiery love affair” with her younger (20 years) lover that was entering its fifth year. The host asked if there were plans for marriage. The guest’s facial expression changed from beautifully serene to something I’d call ‘fierce’. I stopped vacuuming, turned off the closed-captions, and listened.  The woman began by saying, “I’ll never marry.” The host asked, Why not? She answered, “Because I want to wake up every morning with ( —) beside me, knowing that he’s with me because he wants to be, not because he’s in a contract with me.” The host, whose trademark is her outspoken nature, was now fully engaged (in defense of marriage) and the two women gave viewers “ a rollicking good time” for about ten minutes.

I would never criticize another woman for feeling any way she chooses about marriage. According to the CDC (which tracks this data for its impact on general health and longevity), however, in 2018, roughly 2.25 million people became legally married. Also in 2018, almost half, or 850 thousand people got legally divorced. My conclusion:  a “contract” is not what’s holding married people together. Believing that someone is with you because they are legally forced to be, could be someone’s reality I suppose. But most of the marriages that I’ve observed, and the one I lived as my own experience, were entered-into with abundant love and high hopes, not cynicism. The “contract” was considered a religious and/or practical necessity, totally redundant to the belief in The Happily Ever After clause in our minds.

Romantic love is often opined as the ultimate in lunacy:  a total reliance on the heart, the senses, instincts and emotion. I think of it as a mist; a fluffy pink cloud that we enthusiastically step-into, believing (no matter what  age we are) that the mist is magical (it is, actually) and will never become diffused (it does). There are other moments in Life when our brains get fuzzy with love and our hearts fill with joy – some women would describe gazing at their newborn like this – but the feeling that we’ve found The One, which causes us to enter into marriage, is the precursor to everything else.

Believing in True Love and the idea of living Happily Ever After is absolutely necessary in our existence as humans. I’m here to report that love is enduring. Being happy and staying happy in a union is not fantasy or illusion, but totally possible. In the most unfortunate circumstances, where illness, tragedy or some other external issue beyond our control presents changes that ship-wreck a marriage, a union may crumble. But the most common and the most difficult to define (or understand) changes that impact our unions are the ones that occur inside us, changing us as people; people who come to see themselves differently. ‘ Aging’ is just one form of change that produces a ripple-effect: “I wanted that when I was 30; it’s not ‘me’ at 50”. Education, career, travel, the birth of a child (or children), a change of job, a new hobby, weight-loss (or weight gain):  this is just a small list of potential triggers, changing our view of ourselves. We come to think and feel differently:  about ourselves, about what we want and need, and about what we need and expect from our partners.

When my own marriage began to disintegrate, the trigger was the death of my husband’s father. My husband was ex-military, and a true “stoic” in terms of his emotions. When his father lay dying, I wanted – and expected to be – with my husband throughout the process. My spouse, however, was so overcome with emotion (and quite a bit of anger, which was partly his PTSD), that I was literally banned from the hospital room. In the aftermath, I tried to discuss my feelings with him, but I began to see a larger picture of feeling shut-out and wanted things to be different. I’d changed. I wanted to share those changes. I didn’t give up for 4 more years, but eventually (for my own mental health) I had to let go. The love never died, and the belief in life-long happiness has stayed with me. I’m ready for that pink mist  cloud whenever it next appears.

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