I have always loved love. If you looked up the word crush in the dictionary, you would see me, age, 8, writing names in the margin of my notebook, embellishing them with roses and twisted thornless vines. I wore the newsprint off every Bop and Big Bopper image of Elijah Wood ever printed, turning them over endlessly in my little hands as a disciple wears away the wood of a rosary. I organized an Elijah Wood FilmFest in the basement of my home, replete with signs-This Way to the Good Son Screening, Welcome to Woodfest, Turn Right for North-and pre-pubescent girls watching rented VHS copies of Avalon, Radio Flyer, Forever Young.
At the age of ten, I visited my ex-pat grandfather who lived in a rural Sinaloan town in Mexico. I fell in love with an eight-year-old boy named Carlos, who had two dimples, and calves dusty from biking to and from the corner store all day long. Back at home, I disseminated information about Carlos to my peers, holding a Carlos Study Group at lunch hour in an empty classroom, testing my classmates on their knowledge with questions like When is Carlos’s birthday? What does his blue hoodie say? How would you describe his personality? When the object of my affection was a celebrity or a young boy in a far-flung Mexican town, my love felt overly solipsistic, and I looked for ways to engage other people in my enthusiasm.
In adolescence, I predictably fell in love with the first boy I kissed. We dated for two weeks but I pined after him for many years. I would write him letters, deconstructing our first kiss and our two-week dalliance ad nauseum, and my best friend and I would burn them, drip wax over the ashes, bury them in the backyard and dance around barefoot in the snow atop their grave.
When my Dad left at 14, my loving of love took on a new urgency. Following his departure, my mom got pneumonia and lost thirty pounds. She slept on the living room couch all day, for over a year, getting up only to take us back and forth from school. In addition to dealing with my own feelings of abandonment, I saw first-hand the impact of being left, the devastation of being alone, what could happen to a woman who didn’t have a partner.
Years 15-33 were spent in a series of unfulfilling, albeit at times entertaining, relationships. All the while, I remained in close contact with a boy I had fallen in love with at 19. Our relationship had ebbed back and forth, up and down, the power dynamics of who loved who more a constantly shifting landscape. And even though I loved this boy, that is not the reason I married him at 33. Marriage felt like a final destination, an exhale, the consolidation of a security and stability I had longed for for so long. Also, most of my friends were married and I thought I might want to have kids and I was tired of the way people looked at me when I said I was single. You might say that I married the right person for the wrong reasons.
My husband is loyal, he makes me laugh, he has integrated seamlessly into the exclusive club that is my family, he loves animals, he is willing to push cats in strollers around the neighbourhood by my side, he puts up with me. I am lucky on so many fronts, and yet things have not been perfect. Getting married did not automatically make things easier or more okay. In fact, since I’ve been married, I’ve been MORE poor, I’ve had MORE housework, I’ve had LESS time to relax, and MORE worries. There have been many fights and there has been counselling and there has been times when we have both wanted to give up. All of this in two years.
And yet, getting married did allow something very magical to happen. In his book The Course of Love Alain de Botton talks about marriage ” conclusively ending love’s mostly painful dominion over life” and with certainty I can say that this was true for me. Getting married freed up an infinite amount of psychic space, space that was previously focused on shame, concern about what other people thought, worry over what it meant to be alone, a lack of safety. Although I had been in one college program or another since graduating high school at 21, inwardly I had been mostly focused on nursing a tiny tell-tale heart-a heart that told me that once I got married, everything would be okay. Since getting married I have completed a Masters degree and have set up a private psychotherapy practice. I have discovered that I don’t enjoy socializing in large groups or for periods of time longer than two hours, and I have found the courage to say so. I have entered a period of intensified self-discovery and self-awareness and a concurrent growth in my sense of self-worth. Maybe these things would have happened either way, and I truly don’t recommend marriage as a strategy for self-liberation (the feminist in me bristles at the implications), but for me, and despite the problematic implications of this conclusion, this has been the case. Ironically getting married allowed me to finally feel there were things much more important that marriage and it freed me up to pursue these things.
Jungian psychoanalyst Robert Johnson writes that “romantic love is the single greatest energy system in the Western Psyche”. God almighty, it isn’t just me. Can you imagine what could be done if some of that energy were freed up? Can you imagine the sparkling phantasmagoria of creativity and life that would be released? Yes Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, marriage should not be sold as an achievement, but for me personally, marriage has freed me to pursue more meaningful paths, real achievements, life beneath the veneer of social expectation. One way or another, this liberation has been one of the greatest achievements of my life.