I was sitting around on a cold night with some girlfriends of mine. We were talking, gossiping, and sipping hot tea. It sounds cliche, but it really was a nice little break from my normal weekend routine. There were four of us: two married (myself and my other friend), one in a long term relationship, and one single. At some point, one of the girls posed a question that is blog-worthy, and I hope she doesn’t mind me writing about it to elaborate on my answer to this particular question. I don’t remember it verbatim, but it was something like “why is marriage so different from dating”?
I never really knew how important this question was until someone outright asked me and I had to come up with an answer.
Let me just start by saying that nobody but NOBODY has a perfect marriage. Also, every couple is different. There are people who have known each other for five months who get married and remain happily monogamous for the rest of their lives and there are people who date for 12 years, just to split a year after finally tying the knot. All I know is that I will never, ever, ever judge anyone else on how their marriage works now that I have my own.
Why IS marriage so different from dating or just cohabitation? Well, for starters, even when you’re living with your significant other, you’re still not legally bound to that person. If you get in a fight or just feel like you’ve had enough of your “roommate”, you can pack a bag and go stay with a friend for the weekend and it’s generally no big deal and there’s hardly any judgement attached to it. When you’re married and you fight, I suppose you could go to a friends, but at that point there’s a lot more added to the equation because there’s somewhat of a non-intentional judgment factor involved as to whether or not the relationship is stable enough to sustain a life-long commitment.
When you’re dating, you work your job and they work their job and money isn’t much of an issue. Whatever little purchases and trinkets need bought are no big deal. But when you get married and you buy a house, that house needs maintenance a hell of a lot more than any apartment you’ve ever paid rent on because you are your own landlord now. So when you want a new wardrobe or your spouse wants a new lawnmower, sh*t can hit the fan in a hurry when you’re trying to decide what to spend your money on and whether or not said purchase is really even necessary.
Outings are much different once you get married. Wherever you go, you normally show up together. If you show up solo as a married person, people start asking questions. I went to my parents house not long ago just to hang out for the weekend while my husband was doing something for work. I remember when I showed up my dad just kind of starred at me, quizzically, as if I had something hanging out of my nose. Finally he just came right out with it:
“Everything OK at home?”
“Uhmm, yeah. I think so unless the house burned to a crisp in the hour and half it took me to get here,” I said.
“Oh. Just wondering since you came alone,” my dad replied.
I was so off-put by our two second conversation because it put into perspective that even when I’m alone, I’m not seen as an independent person, which is difficult for me to grasp because as long as I can remember, I have been fiercely independent and preferred to dance to the tune of my own guitar. It wasn’t a bad thing, I just thought to myself, “wow, I can’t even visit home by myself without people thinking that something was ‘wrong’ at home”.
And to that point, families are a huge factor in a marriage. Once you marry someone, you marry their family too. They’re in your business and you’re in theirs, whether you really like it or not. There is bound to be conflict of some kind, at some point, but not always. It’s just another element that poses at a pressure point in a marriage. It is a sensitive subject because we all love our families, but we aren’t all raised the same. So they may do things one way, and you may find their “ways” uncomfortable and vise versa. It’s an ongoing cycle but it’s important to remember that your spouse comes first in a marriage, and not everyone gets that, and even if they do it doesn’t mean they’re OK with the concept of playing second fiddle, which can cause more tension.
What’s more, is everyone wants to know when you’re having a baby. I have never actually understood why people find it okay to just outright ask personal questions like that, but it is absolutely the most annoying thing about marriage, for me. I have had so many people ask me when I’m having a kid that I lost my desire to have one, completely. It’s hard to find common ground when discussing with your spouse whether or not it is “time” to bring a life into this world, or if you’re “ready”. I happen to know with 100% certainty that I am not ready, nor do I desire a child. I don’t lack anything in life without having a baby, and one day if I decide that I feel something’s missing, perhaps I will change my mind. But how that is anyone else’s business besides my own and my husband’s is beyond me. Some couples don’t mind to goo-goo gah-gah baby talk, but some do, and for me, this subject has particularly made me feel a significant amount of pressure in my marriage. It’s pressuring because everyone around me is getting pregnant and starting families, which is GREAT for them. But then I look around and notice that people are idly sitting by, looking at me like “tick-tock sweetheart”, and it’s agonizing. It’s a pressure I can only describe as self disappointment, because it feels like everyone expects something from you that you are not willing to provide. If you have never felt this pressure that I am speaking about right now, then you don’t know what I am talking about; but that doesn’t mean that the anxiety and the pressure I feel isn’t real or important.
Obviously, I’ve saved the hardest topic for last. Sex. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been experienced or how long you and your partner have been sexually active: someone is always feeling as though something is lacking, and that is REALLY hard to talk about. Whether you’ve been together five years or 50 years, it is not easy to talk about your shortcomings in the bedroom, and that’s all I will speak on that.
All of these things are so pertinent to having a successful marriage…or so they tell you. At the end of the day, these differences are merely that: differences. The hard part is deciding to not make them deal-breakers and finding a way to push forward. I suppose many people decide to divorce when pushing forward doesn’t mean progress, it just means sweeping the pending issues under the rug to avoid further confrontation. Again, I can’t, and won’t judge, because marriage is not the fairy tale you’ve been told. There are magical things that happen in a marriage, but it’s no Cinderella story and there is no Christian Grey out there, waiting to sweep you off of your virgin feet and protect you from sleazy coworkers by putting you aboard his luxury yacht overnight. Like, that’s not even close to being real and I wish they’d quit making movies like that because it’s pretty nauseating, for one, and unfair to the young, innocent girls who are easily manipulated by movies like that. It just isn’t real.
The differences between dating and marriage are abundant, but so are the rewards. Luckily, everyone speaks of the rewards so often, and that’s why you’ll see a happy couple on social media day after day, and then suddenly, said couple gets a divorce, seemingly out of the clear blue. No one really talks about the hardships or the differences you face as a married person, but they are there. That doesn’t mean that marriage isn’t worth it or that you need to find a partner that you’ll never have these issues with. No matter who you end up with, there will always be something that poses as a divider in your marriage.
My personal theory is that we spend so much time FANTASIZING what marriage is like that we are essentially unable to grasp the reality of what a marriage is. Many are hardly ready for the commitment by the time they’ve said their vows. Some keep those vows chained to their heart. The important thing, though, is to never compare one marriage to another, because that is like comparing bananas to tomatoes; they’re both a fruit, but inherently dissimilar.