When I got married, nobody told me I was joining a freak show. But ever since my wedding, my friends from college haven’t looked at me in quite the same way.
“So, what’s it like to be … married?”
“How are things in newlywed land?”
“How’s your wife? That’s so weird to say.”
It’s not limited to small talk, either. When I asked a friend to give me some creative essay topics, I expected him to come up with something wonderfully bizarre, something like “The Beauty of Time” or “Interstellar Aardvarks.” Instead, he suggested I write about “ ‘The Five Things About Marriage that You Wouldn’t Know from the Outside,’ but with a shorter title.”
So, here I go — trying to answer their questions and to make sense of my newly acquired weirdness.
Of course, these are the same kinds of questions people ask just after every major life event. “How’s married life going?” isn’t all that different from “How does it feel to be a college graduate?” or “What’s it like to be 40 years old?”
It always felt natural to ask these questions when someone passed one of life’s milestones. Now that I’m trying to answer them, though, I realize how silly they can seem. The mile markers along the highway are meaningless in and of themselves; it’s what’s between them that matters.
My situation is stickier than that, though. Something is genuinely different about me now that I’m married. Not in a physical or emotional sense, but at least in a social sense.
Marriage has made me an anomaly. I’m 22 years old, and I’m married. I live in a society in which about half its marriages end in divorce, and I decided to tie the knot anyway. Even though cohabitation is now a socially acceptable lead-in or substitute for marriage, my wife and I waited to get our families’, our church’s, and our government’s permission before we started living together.
And that all makes me a bit … odd.
It’s hard to say what’s changed about my life just because I’m married, though. Most of the obvious differences have more to do with the fact that my wife and I are living together for the first time, and that we’re finally moving out of our parents’ homes for good. Plus, my wife is working full-time at a brand new job.
Sure, we’ve just made a life-long commitment, but that doesn’t usually come up in conversation. I stop occasionally and think about the fact that I’ll still be married to my new wife when we’re in our 70s, but those moments are pretty rare. Most of the time, I’m busy folding laundry and managing our budget.
So I don’t know where to start. I could talk about living in a small apartment with another person, but that’s more about cohabitating than about marriage. I could describe how beautiful it is to learn new things about my wife every day, but that’s kind of mushy. I could talk about the strength and permanence of our commitment, but that would sound preachy and pretentious. I could get into our new bedroom recreational activities, but that’s just way too personal.
It would be easier to answer my friends’ questions if they were more specific. But they don’t ask pointed questions like “How much did the marriage license set you back?” or “Is it more fun to file taxes jointly?” or “What’s it like to know you’ll share a bathroom with someone for the rest of your life?”
Instead, the questions they imply are nebulous and philosophical — and all but impossible to answer: “What’s it like to make a life-altering decision based on your romantic relationship? And how does it change you as a person?”
But I don’t know what it’s like to make a “life-altering decision based on my romantic relationship,” because I’ve forgotten. I’ve been making them for years, starting with my choice to follow up on a date in my senior year of high school. My wife and I have been building toward this ever since then. It’s not as though this commitment came suddenly, in one explosive moment in the middle of a church.
I wasn’t stressed out on my wedding day because the course of my life was changing. No, my life was just following the same path it’s been on for years. The stress came from trying to greet 100 of my closest friends while simultaneously getting the air conditioning in the chapel to work.
Standing in front of the congregation and pledging my undying love and faithfulness to my new wife didn’t feel strange at all. It just felt natural.
At some level, I know that marriage has changed me, and not just in my friends’ eyes, either. My wife and I have always been learning from and adapting to each other, and now that we’re married I’m sure that it’s happening even more rapidly. The problem is that all these changes take time to evidence themselves, and I’m too close to be an unbiased observer.
I’d like to believe that marriage has made me more patient and responsible and maybe a bit handier around the house, but that’s probably just flattering myself. To get an honest answer, I guess my friends will have to hang around for 40 years and see for themselves.
So I don’t have real answers to the serious questions. But for now, let’s just say that married life is going great. And if anyone is still curious, I did come up with five things you wouldn’t know about my marriage from the outside:
- Now that we’re married, we get along with our new in-laws better than ever before.
- It took less than a month for us to start talking in unison and finishing each other’s sentences.
- We learn a lot from each other. For instance, she’s teaching me about the importance of housecleaning, and I’m teaching her about cartoons and “Star Trek.”
- We have more lamps in our apartment than I ever thought necessary, but it’s still not enough.
- My friends don’t look at me quite the same way anymore, but that’s okay. I was weird before I got married, too.