We have been misled. When we were young, the ending of fairy tales tells us that after marriage, we will live happily ever after. The romantic comedies tell us that marriage is about two people. We have been taught that “two is company, three is a crowd.” We hear pet statements like, “I am marrying you, not your mother.”
I hate to be a party pooper – but marriage is about crowds.
If you read about Princess Diana’s life, you will discover that her family expected a son. When she was born, they had no name ready for her. She got her name two weeks later. She was baptized in the local church, with commoner godparents, whereas her brother was baptized in Westminster Abbey, with Queen Elizabeth II as the principal godparent. Her sister dated Prince Charles before her. Her parents’ marriage failed. She was a poor student, failing her ‘O” Levels twice. This was a girl who experienced rejection after rejection from people who mattered. She was almost an afterthought at key points in her life. Hardly the CV of someone likely to succeed in anything.
The painful truth is Diana brought a crowd into the marriage, just as Prince Charles did. So do the rest of us mere mortals.
We bring into our marriage our parents and our upbringing. We bring into marriage the culture we grew up in, and how that culture shaped our expectations. We bring into marriage our hurts and our successes. We have to accept in-laws and understand that they had a hand in moulding our spouses. The more we understand them, the better prepared we will be. We have to live with at least two sets of crowds, crowds which ordinarily may not even choose to mingle.
When children come into the picture, it gets even more crowded. There are dependents to consider – their demands and our expectations to balance. I was surfing the net for samples of marriage vows and samples of what an officiating pastor might say. I found this one really refreshing. This is taken from A Wedding Notebook: "For life is a dance, and marriage is the choosing of eternal partners for that dance."
I know, I know. The romantic in us will see the perfect waltz, the flouncy skirt swirling gently as the love-struck couple gaze deeply into each other’s eyes. Can I burst that bubble again? Dancing, especially for the inexperienced dancer, means frequent stepping of toes, bumping into other dancers or having some one else trying to cut in your dance. The music might change. Just when you get used to the waltz, all of a sudden you are required to dance hip-hop. Sometimes there is confusion as to what dance is being demanded of you. One could be dancing the salsa, and the other the quickstep. Even with the same song, many things could go wrong.
That is why I love Perry Como’s song – “Papa loves Mambo”. Part of the lyrics go:
He goes to, she goes fro
He goes fast, she goes slow
He goes left, she goes right
Papa’s looking for mama, but mama is nowhere in sight
And don’t forget the crowds that refuse to leave. If life is a dance, and your spouse your life partner, then the dance is one where there are many people holding on to your garment as you gyrate to the song. The tricky part is how to still stay together as partners. Just like marriage is not about two people alone, divorce is not just about you. When the principal dancers fall, the entire crowd holding on will trip and stumble too.
Sometime this month, I would have been married for 28 years. I am still learning how to perform the perfect dance. The crowds we brought in have more or less settled to the routine. Some have added interesting variations to the dance. Others have tried to dominate, and if not checked in time, could have caused the dance to fall apart. Even now, occasionally, a member of this mini dance troupe might suffer arthritis, and cause me to lose my step. Even now, the dance is not perfect, and that keeps me on my toes! One thing is for certain - this dance has enriched my life and brought many more smiles than tears.
So before you get married, take a good look at the crowd you cannot shake. Can you learn to dance with them? While I like to watch Discovery Channel’s, “Say Yes to the Dress” I know that marriage is not about saying yes to the dress alone. It is about saying yes to the spouse and his entourage. No matter what Mr Lee Kuan Yew says, the marriage institution is not to be entered into lightly. Yet, don’t be too afraid. Just be prepared.