Like most of my generation, I've been soured on the concept of marriage since childhood. This was largely because pop culture showed me only three stages to love: desperately trying to stumble into it, eventually securing it with marriage and then spending the rest of your life regretting it. Even the happily wed couples on TV have no magic or mystique left to them; they constantly complain of feeling stuck, or bored, or harangued to their wit's end. If anybody tells their story at all, it's always about how the miserable married couple, via liberal application of wacky shenanigans, learned to finally love again -- never how they stayed that way from the start and everything has been pretty neat the whole time. It's obvious why that is -- contentment does not make for good storytelling -- but as a kid with divorced parents raised on a lot of television, I bought into the portrayal of marriage as a life-ruining mistake because of it.
I've only recently become convinced otherwise, but am I ever glad that I was, because there are some amazing upsides to marriage that just don't get as much play as the pitfalls.
Oh, and before we start, know that when I say "marriage," I'm really just using that as shorthand for the point in a relationship when two people realize they could stay together forever, and both agree to do so. If your equivalent of that doesn't involve legal matrimony, and you can be just as committed and loving without this symbolic gesture, more power to you. But I'm not writing out "any loving union entered into by two people that is like marriage in many aspects, but may not come with any religious significance, the proper paperwork or be technically acknowledged by law because of some archaic bullshit hangups about sexuality" every time. That's just a pain in the ass to type.
#5. Fuck your Uninteresting Hobbies, Pretty Girls
As a socially awkward, mildly unattractive man in my 20s, girls were a fucking scourge. Don't get me wrong, ladies: It was nothing you did, and I'm not blaming you for anything. I'm just saying that, if I was interacting with you at any point in my early 20s and you were an even slightly attractive heterosexual single woman, then there was something at stake: No matter how absurdly remote the possibility, no matter how little either of us may have even wanted it in the first place, there was always a slight chance that we would sleep together at some point. Again, don't mistake me: I'm not saying I'm a ladies man here. We're talking odds in the upper billions, I know. But hey, maybe I've had just enough whiskey to be charming, but not enough to start a fistfight with your dog. Or maybe you've watched enough of the same rehashed '80s TV to understand my jokes. Or maybe you're just really, really high and think I kind of look like Ed Norton caught in a time distortion.
"You kinda look like that guy from Fight Club, but y'know ... after the beatings. And with boiling skin and goat eyes."
Regardless of the likelihood, being single meant that every single interaction with an eligible member of the opposite sex -- whether that was talking with them at a party or ordering a coffee -- had something riding on the results. My entire life from 13 to 25, I felt like I had an open bet riding on a roulette wheel that may or may not ever actually stop to pay out. Sex was a niggling little rat in the back of my mind, gnawing slowly but persistently through my rational brain: "Did she like that joke? Is she laughing at me, or with me? Wait, what does that look mean? Is that lust or is she trying to burn me with her thoughts? Did she get that reference? Did I just seal the deal, or kill it forever? Should I go? I should just go. Or should I ask to stay over? Or no seriously, what the fuck does that look mean?!"
I wasn't a sex-crazed fiend or anything. It's not that I even necessarily wanted to sleep with you (although yes, I probably did) -- I'm just saying that, for well over a decade, there was a dim social pressure between pretty girls and me, and it flavored our every conversation with stress and judgment.
"Yes, my penis finds your anecdote very amusing."
And now that I'm happily married, I completely do not give a shit. Seriously, it is such an amazing relief to speak with an attractive woman and know that I will never, ever sleep with her. I feel smarter, wiser and more balanced. It's like I've gotten the 30 percent of my concentration back that used to be reserved for worrying about inappropriate erections. Now I don't have to pretend that you're interesting if you're not, and I don't have to pretend to be interesting myself when I don't feel like it. If our conversation isn't going well, I can just give you a little smile, swivel around and talk to somebody else without rebuking myself for my social awkwardness.
When you get married, you instantly gain an amazing new superpower: To never again insist that you genuinely want to see the prints when that hot blonde tells you she's "something of a photographer."
#4. Your Own Buddy Cop Movie
Any time you share your life with another person, there are going to be stressors: The kids will get sick, the house will need repair, you'll take a nasty spill and be unable to work, get attacked by Russian drug-smugglers, or watch your sailboat tragically explode one goddamn day before retirement. That's because, much like Lethal Weapon, being married means having a partner that always has to have your back, even if they kind of hate you right now. With Riggs and Murtaugh, it was because they were thrown together by the job; in married life, it's because you tricked somebody into thinking you were a responsible human being long enough for them to sign up with you.
Life still can and absolutely will shit all over each of you in turn, it's just that now that you're married, that shit gets spread out over a whole other person. Sure, that means two people get shit on instead of one, but it's half as much shit. Marriage is a shit-diffuser. In my experience, by far the worst part of dealing with life's psychotic streak was that moment when I had exhausted every option I could think of trying to fix whatever was wrong, and was ultimately left just sitting on the couch alone, out of time, out of ideas and stuck in an unproductive mental loop of disbelief at how astoundingly screwed I truly was.
You're so fucked that the concept of fucked has turned in on itself and formed a fucked paradox that threatens to destroy the very fucked universe.
For me, it was usually cars: I was poor, and bought junkers which -- surprise! -- usually turned out to be pieces of junk. They would inevitably explode or implode (or, in one bizarre case, replode) at the worst possible time, and I could never pay to have them fixed. This happened again recently (PROTIP: If your car manufacturer's name also means Killed in Action, it may not be a trustworthy automotive conveyance!), but it was a whole different story now that I was married. This time around, instead of staying up all night extrapolating endless budgets to try and squeeze a new car out of a bank account that scoffed at the idea of Ramen, and still bus four hours to a full work day, every day, there was somebody else around that legally had to be on my team. The sucker volunteered for it! So now the wife got to figure out new and exciting ways to spruce up that Ramen (throw some chives in there! That shit's gourmet!), research loan stipulations and work on a coherent plan to unfuck the universe while I was working, and vice versa.
In other words, I learned that marriage isn't just about love, romantic intentions and raising kids. It means playing co-op through life; it means never being pinned down by life's nonstop hail of bullshit bullets again, because there's always somebody there to cover you while you sprint up and poetically drop the exploded shell of your sailboat right on life's goddamn head.
#3. Forced Cross-Pollination of Interests
If you're anything like me, most of your affection for something lies in the amount of exposure you get to it. Sometimes "this album sucks" is a statement of divergent opinion, sometimes it means you're listening to Incubus and sometimes it just means "I haven't listened to this 10 times yet." My impressions can be changed pretty easily, and given enough forced exposure to a thing, I can eventually start to see the good in it. Marriage means sharing space, time and sometimes conflicting interests with another human being ... forever. I can no longer monopolize the Netflix and watch nothing but Buffy for six weeks, because somebody else gets equal TV, video game or music time. As a side effect, I'm not only being exposed to new properties all the time, but being exposed to them by somebody I like and respect.
Before meeting my wife, I was locked into an insular little circle jerk of punk rock, role playing games and postmodern fiction. After meeting her, I can now debate the narrative merits of the esteemed Sir Ghostface Killah, or play through Ocarina of Time without hurling that damn awkward controller through the wall the first time it Z-targets instead of centers the camera, or condescend to children by insisting that "the Neverending Story book was much better."
"Yeah, I guess Dora is OK, but have you read the books? Way darker. Not just little kid stuff, like the show."
Getting married is like inviting somebody into your house that immediately opens up your garbage and starts pulling all the refuse out. It's weird and unsettling at first, and you wish they would just stop, but then they start unwrapping wads of toilet paper with precious metals inside, and you realize some of that shit has been gold this whole time.
Of course other times, on rare occasions, they're completely wrong and just end up wrist-deep in fecal matter. (Project Runway just plain sucks and that's the end of the story, sweetheart.)