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Archive for the ‘Introductory Stuff’ Category

(Sorry about the weird format.  I’m not super computer-savvy yet.  But if you haven’t read parts 1 and 2, you may want to read them — listed under the category “Introductory Stuff” — before moving on to part 3).

The reasons that I didn’t want to get married were many and varied.  I hardly even know where to start.  But one of the primary reasons I didn’t want to get married was that I was already completely happy where I was.  I didn’t want anything to change.  To begin with, I was very happy living with my family.  I loved them all.  It was basically like I lived with all my best friends, except two of them were grown-ups who made rules about when I had to be home at night and three of them were kids.  The other was my age and my best friend – my sister Susy.  The seven of us had dinner together every night and had no secrets from one another.  We all watched television together, since we only had one TV to share between the seven of us; we also had to take all turns using the family computer, and to negotiate what to play on the CD player on the main floor.  We went on summer vacation as a family every year.  Of course we fought a lot, but we were never slamming doors or walking out on each other or anything like that.  We mostly bickered about little things like who was entitled to sit in the rocking chair during movies and whose phone call was more important at any particular moment – you know, normal family stuff; but on the whole we were a pretty peaceable bunch.  One of the best things I like about my family is that we all loved to dance.  It was something we often did together spontaneously – Mom, Dad, me, Susy, Maggie, Joseph, Becky.  We didn’t all like the same music but when someone cranked a fast song on the family radio, regardless of genre, anyone who was around would come into the living room and start grooving or at least would move to the beat while setting the table or washing the dishes.  Ben, on the other hand, did not dance.  He never danced in his life.  He didn’t even tap his toe to music.

We were so communal, my family; we were loud and expressive and in tune with one another.  My parents were very talkative and energetic and involved in our daily lives.  But they were still parents – they had rules and demanded respect and made all the major family decisions.  I loved them like crazy.  They were the best parents I could ever imagine.

My family lived on a miniature farm, and I loved that.  We raised animals and tended a garden to provide for our ourselves; and we all helped mom with the gardening or the canning or the freezing in the summer, and we all took turns bringing out the table scraps to the chickens in the back throughout the year.  We were a team, surviving together.  We kids hated to do some of the chores of course and grumbled often but we never protested very seriously.  We just worked together as a unit because we had to – we loved each other.  We were a very happy rural family living together in our bustling country home.  I felt completely – well, at home in my home; I wasn’t about to walk out on that.

My best friend in the world, as I have mentioned, was Susy, who happened to also be my sister.  I was lucky like that, getting to live with my best friend.  She was only a year and a half younger than me, and we shared everything: our room, our books, our socks, our CD’s, and even our bed.  We slept together in a queen-sized bed for as long as I could remember, and it never bothered me, not even as a teenager.  Susy and I worked at the same job, went to the same school, and had the same group of friends.  We went on all the same trips and ate all the same food and watched all the same movies.  It was like we were twins, except we didn’t look at all alike: I was tall and dark and skeletal; she was shorter and fairer and healthier-looking.  She looked like Mom and I looked like Dad.  We were very different people, too, and I think that’s why we got along so well.  She was fiery while I was broody and contemplative.  She was industrious and assertive while I was artistic, absentminded and compliant.  She was studying to be a social worker while I was studying to be chronically unemployed (i.e. I was studying English literature).  And we had our own hobbies – I painted and wrote stories while she jogged and took on the household responsibilities I was too inattentive to notice.  Since we were always so different in our interests we never had to compete with one another: we had different goals for which we were striving.  We didn’t often get in each other’s way.  We were each other’s companions, confidantes and supporters.  We always talked to each other late into the night, sharing complaints and telling jokes, whispering to each other in the darkness under our shared comforter until we both fell asleep.  We always laughed, too.  We found each other hysterical.  And we understood each other completely and thoroughly: I didn’t always agree with her or even like her all the time but at least I knew where she was coming from.  I couldn’t imagine life without her – we had never been apart for longer than a day.  My identity was so closely interwoven with hers that I felt I might suffocate and die if the cord was cut between us.  I did not want to leave her.  I did not want to move out of this house.  I did not want my life to change.

When Ben asked me to marry him, it was like he was asking me to divorce my family.  And I was still very, very happily married to them.   By marrying him, I was afraid of encountering true loneliness for the first time in my life with the loss of my family.  I would no longer be able to live with all my best friends, but would have to isolate myself with some guy I had only known for two years and who was the source of so much anxiety and uncertainty.  I just couldn’t do it.

Yet another reason I didn’t want to get married was that when Ben proposed to me, I had just finally realized what I was meant to be in life: an academic.  I loved school.  And I excelled in it.  I was only in my second year of university but I felt like I could happily continue doing it for the rest of my life: learning, discovering, reading, studying, writing, thinking.  Knowledge, I had discovered, was indescribably delicious.  I was finally learning how the human mind worked.  I was finally piecing together Western history – I was starting to figure out when the Romantic period was in relation to the Victorian period, and when the printing press was invented in relation to when Shakespeare was alive.  It was remarkable, it lit my soul ablaze.  And best of all, I finally fit somewhere, I had found my place in the cosmos: university.  It was where I belonged.  There were other people out there who thought like me, and it felt glorious.  Before I had started post-secondary school, I hadn’t even known what university was – I just knew all my friends were applying, so I did too.  I knew I liked reading and writing so I went for English.  When I got accepted and actually won some scholarships, I thought I might as well give it a go.  By year two I couldn’t believe I had ever not known about this.  It was everything I had ever dreamed of in life.  I was allowed to do for credit what I had always done privately in my spare time: read old stories and mull about what they meant.  I didn’t know where it would lead me – as far as I know my education in English literature would never help me to actually make a living – but I didn’t want to have to care.  I just wanted to keep studying.  If I got married I would have to start thinking about money and careers and all that.   I felt that when Ben proposed to me, I had two options before me: I could either be a scholar or I could be a wife.  The two were mutually exclusive.  And if I had to choose between the two, it was a no-brainer for me: I was much rather write literary essays and conjugate Latin verbs than mop floors, cook dinners and balance checkbooks.  No question.  Ben, it seemed, was asking me to give up everything I had just discovered I loved.

He was also asking me to give up my youth.  Right now I was young, vibrant, and enthusiastic about life.  I felt instinctively that when you got married you had to permanently put aside all youthful things and step fully into the dull, tedious world of adulthood.  Adolescence, in my mind, was associated with vitality, energy, creativity, novelty and adventure; adulthood, in contrast, was monotony, predictability, constraint.  Adulthood was all about responsibility, modesty and politeness; adults had to be respectable, tight-lipped, and proper.  And the entry into adulthood was marked by marriage.  If I could have assigned colours to the various stages of life, adolescence would have been fuchsia, lime green and cornflower blue; adulthood would have been beige and grey.  I was just in the bloom of adolescence, blazing brightly in my newfound selfhood; I wasn’t ready to step out into the beige abyss of adulthood.  I thought about all the fun and zany things I did with my teenaged friends: making goofy videos of each other skateboarding in grocery stories; going to rock shows; playing an old banjo and singing by the side of the road in the middle of town; dressing up in funny hats and wigs and walking around in the mall snapping photos. . . all of that would have to end.  It killed me.  Thinking about all this one day, I finally spilled it all out on paper, writing, “The future disgusts me . . . I want no part of it. I want to run barefoot and put couches on roofs and roast corn over bonfires with hedge clippers and jump around in mosh pits.  I want to eat Skittles and wear Ring Pops and laugh loudly at movies.  I want to wear my hair down and hang out with my friends at the marina at night and sing along to music on the radio as the night sky deepens to black.”  These were the kinds of things I would have to leave behind if I got married, I thought.  From now on I would have to sit around in stuffy coffee shops with other married couples and talk about mortgages and recipes and inflated insurance prices.  I would have to hang out with other adults now, and as far as I knew adults had no passions or quirks or appreciation for silliness.  I would have to wear heels and eat entrée salads and attend church meetings and shake hands with people.  Ben and I would have to go home early on weeknights to prepare for our busy work days ahead or to get back to our whiny kids.  At least, this was the vague impression I had of married life.  I imagined that married life would make me somber and boring and sad.

More odious even than becoming an adult, however, was the thought of becoming a woman.  In womanhood all things repulsive and dull converged.  The tedium of adulthood was conjoined with the dreariness of domesticity: women stayed home to cook and clean while men went out and at least had careers.  Such was the life of a Mennonite woman, anyways, and that was the only type of woman I knew from real life.  These women bored me.  The only other type of woman I was aware of was the kind I saw on billboards and television ads for makeup, shampoo, and menstrual pads, and their lives were no more appealing: these women were merely empty shells of human beings.  They didn’t have brains or imaginations or opinions beyond “I love this botanical body scrub; it makes me feel oh-so-sensual.”  These women disgusted me.  I wanted nothing to do with them.

And then, when Ben proposed to me, he brought to my consciousness that inexorable, ominous but unacknowledged monster ever looming ahead in the shadowy distance: sex.  It horrified me in every conceivable way – sex was just a bundle of anxieties all wrapped up into one.  I was horrified at the thought of being a sexual being – I didn’t even like to be looked at in a sexual way.  I could hardly even acknowledge to myself that I had breasts and hips and thighs (which wasn’t much of an imaginative stretch, as skinny as I was) – I hid them all under loose-fitting band t-shirts, baggy jeans and men’s sports coats.  I covered up my womanhood with bright prints and angular shapes and funny graphics.  At the same time, though, of course, I was worried about not being sexy enough for Ben if I married him – I was afraid of being a disappointment.  I was nervous about nakedness and anxious about potential physical discomfort.  I just didn’t even want to think about it.  It was all too horrible.

Marriage, then, embodied all of my greatest fears in life: loneliness, disorientation in life, monotony, boredom, sex.  I feared becoming everything I had hitherto hated in life: responsible, dependable, predictable.  I just couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t.  I wasn’t ready to give all that up.

Besides, getting married was totally impractical at that point in our lives.  We had no money.  He worked for minimum wage as a labourer at a label-making factory, and I was a full-time student.  We were young and had no savings to speak of.  All I had in my possession was a rusty, nine-year-old Pontiac Firefly that I drove to school every day, and a used bike.  All he had was his old car, a Playstation and a stack of DVD’s.  In our current financial state I was pretty sure we couldn’t buy a house or furniture or appliances, and we couldn’t pay for a wedding.  And I didn’t have time to plan the biggest event of my life or search for places to stay: I was too busy with school, even in the summer because I always took summer courses.  It was ridiculous.

Ben wanted to get married in eight months.  What could I do?  I loved him.  I wanted to be with him.  I couldn’t stop being with him.  So breaking up was out of the question.  But so was prolonging our dating relationship.  We had obviously reached a new point in our relationship: both of us were ready to make a lifelong commitment.    What do two people do when they know they want to be together for life?  It would be absurd to continue just seeing one another casually when we both knew we loved each other and were committed to staying a couple forever.  A love like that needs to be consummated somehow.

Simply moving in together was obviously not an option either.  Cohabitation would have been the same thing as marriage, rife with all the same anxieties; the only omission would have been the ceremony, and that was the least of my worries.  I had no qualms about the ceremony or the institution of marriage – for me, they were both the natural expression of two people’s undying love for one another.  I, for one, knew I wanted the ceremony to happen eventually.  I just didn’t want it to happen yet, because I didn’t feel ready.

* * *

Of course I married him.  There was no other option.  I couldn’t break up with him and I couldn’t just keep dating him like nothing had ever happened.  What else could I do?  I went through with it.  The next eight months were some of the most difficult months of my life.

To read more about my harrowing engagement, check out my “Reasons Why Engagement Sucked” series.

(Question: Have you ever had, or do you currently have, similar anxieties about marriage?  Have you had different ones?  I’d love to hear from you!)

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(If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, check it out before moving on to Part 2).

I was faced with a terrible dilemma when Ben asked me to marry him. The problem was, I loved him desperately, but I did not want to be married.  Not for anything.

When Ben dropped me off back home after having taken me out for breakfast and then proposing to me, I had to study.  Most of my family wasn’t home so I was alone, because it was still morning and they had school and jobs while I was a university student in the middle of exam week.  My sister was taking an exam at the moment herself.  But I wasn’t exactly in the mood to study for some reason.  I think it had something to do with the fact that I had just agreed to turn my life upside down.  I decided to call my mom at work at the apple orchard and tell her the news.  She was happy but not very surprised – Ben had already asked her and my dad if he had their permission to propose to me, so she had known it was coming.  But she was a little surprised to hear that he had picked this morning, of all days.  Our two-year dating anniversary, and Christmas, and a number of holiday banquets, were all coming up in the next few weeks.  Wouldn’t it have made more sense to pop the question at any one of these events?  I would at least have been dressed for the occasion, or at least not in the middle of cramming for finals.  I shrugged uselessly on the phone and said that that was just the way Ben worked – he didn’t have any foresight like that.  He just did stuff impulsively.  Also, he had never heard of romance.  But that was okay because I wasn’t really into romantic stuff myself.  She congratulated me anyway and told me she’d see me when she got home.  We hung up.  That being settled, I went into my dad’s wood shop, as he worked from home, and told him too.  He smiled and hugged me awkwardly.  He had been in on it too, of course.  Then I went inside and sat down at my studying table and wept.

(Continued in Part 3!)

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I was going to start this whole thing off by telling you about Ben’s marriage proposal.  That seemed like a natural place to begin a meditation-slash-memoir on marriage.  But then I remembered how much proposal stories make me gag.  Actually, to be honest, I did write the story of Ben’s proposal.  And then a few days later I re-read it, and it did make me gag.  So I’ll spare you.  It had all the details of how I burst into tears and we kissed and my head swam with the uncertainties of the future . . . but it was about as interesting as your grandpa’s story about the great storm of ’88, only sentimental to boot.  If you must know, though, Ben asked me to marry him in his car, an old Chevy Cavalier, parked at the side of the road next to a huge vacant corn field in the dead of winter on some random December morning around ten a.m.  He had taken me out for a classy breakfast at Burger King and was bringing me back home for the day.  My hair was in pigtails and I was wearing my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt under my puffy blue winter coat, and I had taken advantage of the time in town to run some errands at the bank.  If you must know, I was nineteen years old, in my second year of university, we had been dating for almost two years and it was exam time.  I had to get back home to study for anthropology.  And when he took out that ring he didn’t even get down on one knee or anything – in fact, before he pulled out the ring I was actually thinking for a moment that he was breaking up with me.  Then he opened up the little black velvet case and I was completely stunned.  I was stunned, frightened, horrified at the thought of becoming a wife and . . . and utterly, devastatingly, irreversibly in love with the awkward, goateed, mild-mannered boy who was asking me. I said yes even though there wasn’t an atom in me that wanted to get married.  I said yes because I knew I wanted him in my life and I wanted him forever without end.  I said yes because . . . I had to.  Not because anyone was making me but because I knew that no was not an option for me – not for a flickering moment.  Against all reason and practicality and conventional wisdom I agreed.  I was his body and soul and I knew it.

And that’s where it all started.

* * *

I do not intend to talk very much about my early experiences with Ben before being engaged and getting married.  The primary reason for this is that our dating relationship was pretty tame.  It was neither remarkable nor dramatic.  We had blissful times, we had apprehensive times, we fought every once in a while and I sometimes cried, but overall it was pretty standard.  We “fell in love” with one another, and it was the most electrifying, spectacular and eye-opening experience of my life, but it was not unlike every other instance of falling in love that you might come across.  It’s always an electrifying, spectacular experience.  That’s just the way love is.  The second reason I don’t intend to talk about that period very much is that between the literature, music and art of Western history all the way up to the present time, I feel that the subject of romantic love has pretty much been adequately covered.  Everywhere we look, we hear of this kind of love.  Almost all the mainstream music available to us today concerns that exhilarating, impassioned love people experience in new relationships, when the other person seems to embody everything fresh and glorious in life, and when we become so infatuated with the other person that we sense we could die at any moment and feel that our lives have been made complete.  In short, we hear all the time about the experience of “falling in love.”  And I feel that others already have and will continue to be able to be able to describe this experience better than I possibly could.  Everything I ever try to write on the subject inevitably sounds like an overplayed pop song.  But not everyone has had the experience of actually making a lifelong commitment to the person he or she has fallen for, and even fewer people have done it at my age.  So I want to talk about that.

Continued in Part 2.

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Beginnings

This project was born out of two rather unremarkable events in my life.

The first was a casual conversation with my seventeen-year-old sister Maggie.  We are both life-long, devoted journallers, and we were talking about our journal-writing over lunch one afternoon at my house, when she asked me in all earnestness, “Is there anything left to write about in your journal after you get married?”

For a moment I was staggered and I just looked at her in dumb, wide-eyed silence.  Anything left to write about? My journaling life had exploded in the last four years since my wedding day.  I almost felt as though married life was when things actually started happening in my life; it was when I actually started to become something that resembled my real self.  The things that I’d experienced in the last four years made my teenage years look like a low-budget, Saturday-morning  edutainment program in comparison.  Since being married, I had for the first time learned how to truly love; I had forged a truly authentic identity for myself; I’d begun to learn about myself exponentially; and I’d actually started doing things.  Real things.  I learned to take care of myself, I travelled to new continents, I had built surprising new relationships and encountered whole new philosophies of life.  The oceanic depth of my relationships now made all former relationships look like mere puddles.

I couldn’t believe her question.  Anything left to write about after you get married?

But then I realized there was nothing silly about her question at all.  Or at least if it was silly, I couldn’t criticize her too much, because I had been prone to the same illusions when I was her age.  Like most teenagers, I too had been under the impression that the high school years constituted the most turbulent and interesting period in a person’s life.  I too had felt instinctively that life – real, invigorating life – ended after marriage.  And this illusion had been in part responsible for why I was so reluctant to get married in the first place.

In fact, I had mulled over the issue of journaling after marriage myself before the day actually arrived.  I had worried about what I would do after the wedding: would I keep it up?  I couldn’t see myself carrying on my nightly ritual with a husband in the room with me.  I had always written in my journal in bed before going to sleep; it was part of my winding-down time.   My sister Susy, with whom I had shared a room, did the same thing, and we respected each other’s writing time.  But now, what would my new husband do while I was writing?  Sit there and wait for me?  No, no, that wouldn’t work, I thought.  I might just have to give up on journal writing after the wedding.  It pained me to give up this important aspect of my daily life, but I reasoned that it didn’t really matter: I wouldn’t really have much to write in my journal anymore anyway.  What would I have to say? “Dear Diary: I continued to raise our children today.”  None of this would ever be worthwhile.  I would probably be better off just going straight to sleep with my husband, I figured.

Of course, this all turned out to be nonsense.  When the day came, I decided I could at least write about my wedding day – that was interesting stuff.  And so I did.  And then I figured it would also be worthwhile to write about the honeymoon. So I did.   And then there was settling into our new home.  And then starting a new semester at school.  And soon I realized that I was writing every day, and even having a hard time keeping up with all that I had to record.  My life was bursting open into all kinds of new directions, I hardly knew what was happening!  This life was so . . . eventful.  I was doing new things every day, things I had never considered trying before – like cooking, gardening, sewing, traveling.  I was undergoing all kinds of excruciating and thrilling changes; I was experiencing new and bewildering emotions; I was seeing into a whole new world of relationships and life patterns.  I never stopped doing new and stimulating things.  Life just kept getting more complicated, strange, surprising, and new.  Life didn’t end for me when I got married; in many ways it had just begun.

The second event which prompted me to take on this project was a private moment of crisis when I realized I didn’t really know anything about anything.  See, I was approaching graduation, and I knew it, and I realized that I had not written much of anything in my lifetime (besides my journals); and I really wanted to be a writer.  I always had.  I realized that I was an aspiring writer with nothing to write about.  I despaired when I considered the fact that I had seen and learned so little in my life.  I was not an expert in any field; I had not experienced anything truly remarkable or tragic; I had not accomplished a single extraordinary thing.  I hadn’t even met a lot of interesting people.  All I knew, I told myself despondently, was what it was like to be a happily-married, twenty-three-year-old Mennonite girl who went to university and did rather well for herself there.  And then it hit me: I knew what it was like to be a happily-married, twenty-three-year-old Mennonite girl who went to university and did rather well for herself there!  I was one of the very few people in the world who knew exactly what that was like.  More interestingly, perhaps, I realized I was one of the very few people my age who knew anything about marriage at all.  In fact, I realized our culture at large knows very little about marriage.  Most people in our country only get married in their late twenties or early thirties, and then half of these people get divorced in just a matter of years.  Close to fifty percent of all North American children come from families that are split up.  I was a young married woman in a world of floundering relationships.  I hadn’t been married long, and couldn’t call myself an expert in marriage by any means, but I knew what the early years were like, at least.  And because I was younger than most married people, I had an advantage: I knew what young people in my time were going through.  I knew what our generation had been told about marriage and what they needed to hear.  I couldn’t instruct people on the subject, but I could certainly give them a glimpse into my own experience, into something that was so entirely foreign to so many of them.  So I started writing about that.  I had landed on a subject I knew stuff about.

Life after marriage is a largely untold story.  The stories about love that we’re told as kids – that is, fairy tales and such – end with the wedding day.  The stories about love that we’re told as adults – that is, the romance stories we see portrayed in romantic comedies and “chick flicks” – sometimes end in marriage, but more often end in some kind of unspecific, indefinitely-extended long-term sexual relationship.  These stories are all about how people meet and fall in love, which is exciting; but they fail to consider what happens after the couple hooks up.  This stuff may be less exciting, but it’s still often juicy, hilarious, disgusting, weird and wonderful.

My story, on the other hand, begins here: at marriage.  It pauses only briefly on the wedding day, that sentimental and rather hackneyed occasion, and then takes off to explore the madness that occurs when two people agree to be roommates for life and to love nobody else but each other.

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