reflections on my first year of marriage
Recently, Kyle and I celebrated our anniversary. It has been a beautiful year married to him, and I feel grateful that we met and continue to get to know each other better every day. I braced myself for a difficult first year, as many warned us that the beginning can be rocky to navigate. This wasn’t true for us, and it’s not because we magically, wordlessly understood each other. It’s because we were okay with being malleable to each other’s desires, suggestions, and feedback. Most importantly, the foundation of our relationship is respect.
I grew up both fearing and revering relationships. Relationships seemed like the safest, most intimate place to grow into your most powerful, authentic self. On the flip side, I recognized how destructive they could be. Opening yourself up to another human being leaves you deeply vulnerable. While a challenging and loving relationship can elevate you to a higher state of being, an abusive and dismissive one may shatter and diminish you.
I was in a long term relationship before I met and got married to Kyle. I intended to marry my ex, and I was dangerously close to doing so. I ignored the well-meaning protests of friends and family, and I let love and hope distract me from the reality of my interactions with him, which were laced with dishonesty, disrespect, and emotional manipulation. I knew that if any of my loved ones were in the position I was in, I would unequivocally be opposed to the relationship. Why did I continue to subject myself to it, then? For all the wrong reasons, I plowed on: when times were good, they were great. I had already made a significant time investment into the relationship (sunk cost fallacy). Things would be better if x, y, or z would come to pass. What if I was never able to connect with anyone else?
It’s easy to let the good moments crowd out the bad ones, but relationships should be defined by their “bad” moments. Conflicts should be short-lived, respectful learning opportunities. They shouldn’t leave us reeling, confused, or damaged. It doesn’t matter how great the “good” moments are. What matters is how you and your partner treat one another when emotions are negative and circumstances are difficult. What matters the most is whether you and your partner make a sincere, collective effort to change your behavior when you’ve hurt one another. I let go of my last relationship when I realized that I would never get my time investment back, and better to live out my future days without so much turmoil. I shed the “what-ifs.” I raised my standards; they felt impossibly high, but I resolved never again to lower them. I knew I had a lot to offer a partner, that I wanted to grow with someone. I was willing to work on my flaws.
When I met Kyle, I didn’t know what to make of him because he was so different than anyone I had ever known. Our first conversation was about whether it was important to vote. We were friends for a few months, and a relationship blossomed out of that friendship. For the first time in my life, I had found someone who I could tell anything to. Our relationship prompted me to introspect more seriously and deeply than I ever had, which helped me let go of toxic behaviors and mindsets.
After we got married, my mental health was at a low point due to external circumstances around planning our wedding. I began to see a therapist and continued to do the work to let go of harmful emotions, experiences, and reactions. Throughout, Kyle remained loving, supportive, kind, generous, and thoughtful. He could easily have used my state of being as an excuse not to be a good spouse, but he continues to embody the kind of man I had only dreamed of being with before I met him. I stopped seeing my therapist when I felt comfortable with the tools I’d learned to understand myself and navigate my feelings. Though my emotional challenges slowly dissipated, professional and academic challenges remained. Our first year of marriage coincided with the most important year for my medical school applications. The environment we had cultivated at home was the best it could be while I finished my classes, worked, and prepared for the MCAT. At times, I was overwhelmingly stressed out, but I had a partner who reminded me to take breaks, who would gently lead me to bed if I fell asleep on the couch studying, who wiped my tears, drove me to the doctor when I got sick (and sternly reminded me not to overdo it while I recovered), encouraged me, gave me honest advice, proofread my applications, and provided me with a steady supply of frozen mangoes (which are my favorite snack). Kyle told me he believed in me thousands of times. He still does.
Before I got married, I would think, “I want to marry someone who I would want my future son to be exactly like.” Now that I am married, I realize the more important thing to ask yourself is, “Do I want to be like this person?” Inherent in that question is one about how much you respect your potential spouse. The reality of marriage is that the behaviors and mindset of the person you’re so intimately connected to will rub off on you. Kyle has undoubtedly elevated me. I strive to be as good as he is. Perhaps a worse partner would have made me regress to an uglier version of myself.
I feel grateful for my marriage because I think women are socialized to expect less and give more. In many communities, women are seen as incomplete without a relationship, and are encouraged to stifle their desires/standards in favor of finding a partner. I also think that societal messaging about relationships is dangerous because it suggests that volatility and conflict are romantic. We have to navigate these beliefs and fears before getting married, or risk being in an unsatisfying or unhealthy relationship. It’s necessary to meaningfully evaluate what we want out of a relationship before we go on the hunt for a partner. We must examine what it is that we’re willing to sacrifice for a relationship, and what we hope to become by being in one.
I wrote this piece because I wanted to highlight what my journey has been thus far. I’m not an expert on relationships, and I know my marriage is in its infancy. It’s not perfect, and some days are better than others. But on the whole, I feel elevated, happier, more peaceful because of it. The theme I constantly hear about marriage is that it’s “hard.” I believe that it doesn’t have to be hard. “Hard” is not the first word that comes to mind when I think about marriage. Marriage should be challenging, certainly. But it should also be healthy, fulfilling, loving, encouraging, and safe. Difficulty should be reserved for difficult times, and shouldn’t be treated as a cornerstone of marriage. There are too many stories about abusive and unhealthy relationships and not enough about happy ones. I want to normalize the idea that not only can we find great relationships, but women can be completely fulfilled - not suppressed - by them.
I hope that on my next anniversary, I can look back on another year of growth and happiness. For now, I’m content to revel in this one, and appreciate all the experiences that brought us to this moment.
photo by Shabih Aftab Photography