I Would Be A Happier Person If I Never Got Married

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young marriage
Love, Self

Looking at the life I didn't choose: Would I have been happier?

I sometimes joke that my husband and I had an arranged marriage ... arranged by the universe. That's a flowery way to look at the situation for what it was: Getting knocked up accidentally and then marrying the baby daddy.

Of course, we didn't have to get married, but I loved my boyfriend very much (still do) and we wanted to be a proper family forever. We wanted to make this sh*t work for the long-haul, come hell or high water. No one forced us into our nuptials with a cocked-and-loaded gun — not a person, and not the universe.

But in some strange way, it does feel a bit orchestrated. If certain events didn't happen — our birth control didn't fail, I went and got the morning-after pill, I decided to terminate the pregnancy — I may not be married right now.

I was only 22 at the time. Without a family to keep together, without the higher stakes of a marriage commitment, without a reason to say "I do," I may not have. I may have bounced when times got hard, and no one would've faulted me for it.

I didn't leave, though.

Not when money was tight, or when doubt crept into my mind, or even when my partner's self-destructive habits started to chip away at my own life. Without realizing it at the time, those legal documents entangled my life with a man who was just about to spiral into the true depths of human suffering — a near-fatal drug addiction — and I was along for the ride.

My therapist recommended to get away from that toxicity immediately and let him implode on his own. If I wasn't already so invested in this relationship and if we didn't share a child together, I don't think I would've stuck around once money disappeared from the accounts and lies engulfed me in a soupy darkness.

But because he was my husband and the father of my child, I slipped into denial and enabling and all of the comfy co-dependent trappings I didn't know were inside me. I lived through hell. Absolute f*cking hell.

Things are much better now, now that we're both in recovery. Our bond is stronger than I ever thought humanly possible. But still, these have been some hard years of marriage. "Happy" doesn't come to mind, not in the least. It's been eye-opening and interesting and complex, but happy? Nah.

But because that turn to the path of motherhood and matrimony was so sharp and obvious, it's easy to look back at that exact point of divergence and think, what if. What if I continued down the route I was on — the one where my husband eventually turned into my ex? The one without first-grade soccer practices or stretch marks or seven years of marriage experience under my belt? What if. Would I have been happier?

Author Cheryl Strayed would call that my "sister life" — the path I didn't choose, but easily could have.

"I'll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don't choose," she wrote in her popular Dear Sugar column. "We'll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn't carry us. There's nothing to do but salute it from the shore."

When I stand on the shore and look out to that ghost ship, carrying my former self to a totally different life, I do think l would've had a happier seven years. That's terrible to say, but it's true. My marriage didn't make me happy. If anything, it made me downright miserable.

I wouldn't have cried so much.

I wouldn't have so many resentments to unpack.

I wouldn't have known how deep this well of unhappiness can go. Not yet, at least.

I imagine that sister life to be more buoyant and free, only responsible for my own needs and wants, which would've been lovely and in its own way, important. It sounds nice.

And yet, if I had been on that ghost ship avoiding the years of pain, I would've missed a lot of other things, too. I wouldn't have the strength and clarity that I was forced to develop, or the boundaries I learned how to build for the first time in my life (it was a matter of survival, after all).

I wouldn't recognize the deep co-dependence that unknowingly flavored every relationship in my life, and was the true source of my unhappiness — much more than my marriage.

I wouldn't have the compassion that comes from intimately knowing a struggling person fighting for his life, and peeking at the humanity behind the stigma of "addiction."

I wouldn't so clearly see the subtle addict in all of us, in myself. A good chunk of my marriage was marked with lies and delusion — such is the nature of drug addiction — but now, having lived through that I can better see the bullsh*t when it's right in front of me. Not just in my marriage, but in life, in my own head.

I now know how to protect myself from absorbing the issues and problems of the world, something I never recognized before this marriage.

My idea of happiness used to be contingent on another person. As long as my partner was loving/supporting/cherishing/fulfilling/[fill in the blank], then I could be happy. That wasn't available to me in this marriage.

But because I chose this route, I actually learned the most important happiness lesson of all: How to be happy when absolutely nothing is going the way I want. How to be happy while living with a person who not only couldn't deliver happiness to my feet, but was busy wallowing in his own pain.

And if I could learn to be happy through THAT — through uncertainty and heartache and fear — then I may have found a more sustainable happiness to keep with me no matter where this ship heads next.



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