I’m getting married!
If it’s been a while since the last post, it’s because the only thing of interest I’ve done in the past couple months is gotten engaged, and it’s taken nearly all of my time. I’ll go through the entire process here along with my thoughts. And yes, I’m well aware that I have no actual wisdom in this area, and that it takes no skill to get engaged. But I want this to serve as a document to my current thought processes and feelings, if only to see how my perspective changes.
I’ve been feeling for a while that I’m ready to get married. It’s something I felt as early as two years ago during Oktoberfest when I only half-jokingly proposed to a German girl out of the blue (she said ‘yes’, by the way). I guess the feelings had been simmering inside for quite some time, but it felt like I’d had enough of the bachelor life. I thoroughly enjoyed college, got a job, and had a couple years with many vacations where I got neck deep in debauchery and craziness. Looking back, twenty-five definitely seems young, but I’ve had the better part of a decade to freely explore and independently get into trouble.
“Settling down” always seems to have a negative connotation associated with it, but even looking back on my roughly four years since graduating college, I haven’t done anything that crazy. About twice a year I take a vacation to go traveling - sometimes alone, sometimes with friends - but besides that I’m basically just a homebody. I have my routine, as do most people; go to the gym, go to the same few restaurants, and play some board games with the same groups of people. Adding a partner in all this complicates things logistically, but not on any meaningful level. And I think people often conflate the two here.
Adding someone whose priorities align with yours is not a complication, it’s a relief. Having another adult in the house who can take care of the pets and can share the burden when it comes to cleaning, cooking, and the other household chores is a dream come true. Looking back, it was really amazing that I survived the cats getting fleas, reinstalling a toilet on my own, and all the other things without any sort of support. And most importantly, I think if you really lay your cards out on the table, it becomes clear what you’re willing to compromise on and what you’re not.
When I first approached my parents a couple months ago and told them I was ready to get married, I had a very long list of specific criteria that my potential partner had to meet. Some were vocally voiced, and others were kept to myself. I’ll share some of them with you now, since they’re all irrelevant anyway.
- Had to have grown up in the US (no FOBs please)
- Had to be into literature - I’m huge into reading
- Had to be located in SF (no long distance and ugh I cannot mention enough how much I hate Skype)
- Had to already be working (no children please, I want an adult)
- I wanted to know her for two years before getting married
- I wanted to live with her for several months before getting married
And of course, as fate would have it, Ahana fulfilled literally none of these criteria.
As most Indian parents would be, my parents were thrilled to hear that I was ready for marriage. To be completely truthful, they didn’t really believe me. My high school and college careers were comprised of a slew of girlfriends, with only one lasting more than five months. My parents were understandably skeptical, but were ready to start the process of looking. I think in their minds the whole thing would take a couple years. (Maybe longer, given this list of politely-worded demands.)
My mom had one piece of advice to me: Just try to keep an open mind.
I was skeptical, too, but I promised her “I’m up for having a coffee or lunch with anyone. I’ll give anyone a fair shot, but don’t be surprised if there isn’t chemistry.” We both ended up agreeing. Mutual skepticism is the overriding motif in the relationship between me and my parents, and it was the theme of this encounter as well. My parents left feeling disbelief that I was ready to be married, and I left confident that it was going to be up to me, because there was no way they were going to find someone who didn’t grow up in some bumfuck nowhere village in the middle of India with values from the 1960s. The other overriding motif in the relationship between me and my parents is that we’re both wrong, and frequently. I was indeed ready to get married, and keeping an open mind was absolutely important. It’s very easy to judge people and be negative. It’s much harder to be vulnerable and open.
I still remember the day my parents reached out to me regarding Ahana. She was the sixth or seventh person whose profile they had run by me and only the second who I agreed to see. She grew up in Kuwait, not the US, but was currently in Philly (and a Canadian permanent resident). She wasn’t located in SF. She wasn’t working - in fact, she was doing her masters. My mom reminded me to keep an open mind. I was about to veto her profile as I had so many others when I realized I didn’t even know her name. Trying to picture the two of us together, I casually asked what her name was. And I really, really liked the name ‘Ahana’. It was the sole reason I agreed to Skype her. Even as I typed out the email that night asking if she’d like to Skype, I smiled and hoped she’d reply. For such frivolous reasons as these do we often make choices that end up defining our lives.
Needless to say, we clicked immediately. She was into video games and board games - she loved Mad Max which I saw three times, and liked Codenames. We talked about Western movies and Fallout and our favorite RPGs, and before I knew it we had Skyped nearly every day for a week. By the end of a week I had bought plane tickets to Philly to see her. So let’s skip through the happy times we all know about and fast forward to the lessons learned.
Looking back, there are three large categories of criteria people have about significant others (and I’m increasingly convinced that it does exist, even if it’s not written down explicitly).
Fears For me, my biggest fear was getting divorced. I had seen many family friends and relatives go through brutal divorces, and I wanted no part of that. Looking back, this was the largest motivation for criteria 5 and 6. I really wanted to get to know the person to make sure that this thing would work. I wanted to make sure she was as committed as I was (and coming from someone who historically has not committed to any relationship, I know the signs). This was a big reason why I wanted someone who was already working as well. I remembered how much I had changed as a product of living alone and how much more of an adult the entire experience made me. From undergrad to now, I had changed more than my four years of college even. It was a defining moment of my life, and I’d rather marry someone who had already finished changing so that I could be worry free and know that they wouldn’t decide to back out because they were simply too young.
Imagined Life Something a lot of people do is imagine what a life together would look like. What sorts of activities do you do, and how do you spend time together? Gym buffs would say, well, I spend two hours in the gym every day and come back and cook healthy foods. This is a large part of my life, and I’d like whoever I end up with to be doing the same activity. A literature fiend might require their partner to be into books, as they spend a large part of every weekend reading. Whatever the case may be, we concoct an image of what a life together might look like with this mysterious other person and list out characteristics that fill the gap. The only constant in these visions, of course, is us.
Values These requirements are more abstract - the person must be nice; they must be vegetarian; they must be Hindu. We all have values that we believe are important and that we’d rather not spend all our energy convincing some other person. Instead, we self-select into pairs that already share the values that we deem most important (I want to raise children, etc).
The root of most of these is a fixed mindset. We see values or habits in the other person or ourselves as immutable, when the reality for all of us is change. Four years ago I never would have in my wildest dreams thought I would ride a motorcycle, drive a stick-shift sports car, have two cats, and travel the world. It was incomprehensible for me. I thought I’d be at law school trying to become a patent lawyer and eventually work at a prestigious law firm in Manhattan. The person I am today is nowhere even close to what I had imagined. And the person I’ll be four years from now is going to be very different than the person I am today. It’s a very bad idea, in my opinion, to determine who you think you are compatible with based on imaginations and dreams because it closes you off to other, even more wonderful, opportunities.
To me, the biggest criteria is finding someone who is open minded - someone that can change along side you. I think in North America, in no small part thanks to Hollywood, we view marriage as the end of the journey - “the happily ever after” that we can all skip over. In truth it’s just the start of an even more exciting adventure. Having seen the changes in my parents, I honestly believe that marriage along with raising children is going to be the best teacher of all leading to some of the most profound changes in you. Finding someone who is committed and willing to walk this difficult journey with you is way more important than whether they like going to the gym or traveling or whatever.
This applies to habits and even values. In my ideal world everyone would floss, take off their shoes before entering the house, and eat low-carb diets. But there simply isn’t enough time to convince everyone of this. So we tell ourselves this may be fine for most people, but at least the person I’m going to marry should abide by all of these. The fact is that’s simply not true either. Even as I reflect on my own life, I didn’t always floss. I didn’t always eat low-carb. I didn’t always go to the gym. These are things I learned about and chose over time. In the same way, I think we underestimate other people’s potential for change. In most of these fantasies, by the way, we never think about the things about ourselves that we’d have to change to accommodate others.
One of the things that really alleviated these fears to me was simply seeing more married couples both my age and older. This past trip to India, my best friend’s mother and I had a really candid talk where she spoke about how spiritual her husband was, and how in many ways, he’s moved beyond her and now meditates daily, etc. She supports him and is there for him, but it’s not something that she chooses to do. Another one of my former coworkers’ wife shares nothing in common when it comes to TV or books. He loves Game of Thrones and fantasy novels, but she reads almost exclusively non-fiction and watches sitcoms instead. We grow up seeing all adult couples as one individual when they never really stop being two separate people. Generally I believe that if you find someone who is open minded and nice and willing to grow, then you’ll find new hobbies and interests together and work these issues out.
Even the last section is something to be wary of. I remember a conversation I had in India with my father. It was four AM in Madurai, and it was still unbelievably hot, and thanks to jet lag and mosquitoes neither of us could sleep. I was seventeen years old and convinced of what I needed to find a wife. I needed someone who agreed with all of my sacrosanct ‘values’ that were so obviously capital-T True. I wanted a liberal, someone who could speak and articulate themselves well, someone who was financially well-off, someone who went to a good school, someone who didn’t drink, someone who was vegetarian, someone who wasn’t Indian.
My father smiled and said if I truly loved someone, couldn’t I overlook some of these, and if not, which ones?
Well, I couldn’t overlook being a liberal. Could you imagine just arguing with someone every day when the news came on? And who would want to marry someone who couldn’t talk well? All that awkward silence in the house. And we all know money is the number one reason for divorce - if I didn’t marry someone well-off, it’d be doomed from the start. They had to be educated, be reasonable. Come to think of it, I just couldn’t compromise on any of these.
Of course, I grew up to become a rather conservative libertarian.
I think what we’ll find is that rather than any particular value, the most important thing is honesty. Not necessarily about every little thing (does this dress make me look fat), but about the big things (do you want to have children, do you want to be with me). Most values are malleable, and most people can compromise things if it’s really important to the person they love. But finding someone that won’t belittle you for what you believe and won’t treat the relationship as a competition (you did X to me so I’ll do Y to you, see how you like it) is paramount in order to have a truly decent working relationship. In short, what you really need is a friend who is committed no matter how bad it gets.
I like to think that’s who I’ve found in Ahana.
See you all in a year or so for part two. :)