It’s useful to reflect here on three nuggets from the book.
1. Traditionally, one’s spouse was not supposed to fulfill this be-all-and-end all function:
If you are a Hmong woman, then, you don’t necessarily expect your husband to be your best friend, your most intimate confidant, your emotional advisor, your intellectual equal, your comfort in times of sorrow.
For these ‘pragmatic marriages’ which have taken place in Western society too:
The emotional place where a marriage begins is not nearly as important as the emotional place where a marriage finds itself toward the end, after many years of partnership. Moreover, they would likely agree that there is not one special person waiting for your somewhere in this world who will make your life magically complete, but that there are any number of people (right in your own community, probably) with whom you could seal a respectful bond. Then you could live and work alongside that person for years, with the hope that tenderness and affection would be the gradual outcome of your union.
At the end of the day, I think this is still valid and an important thing to remember for those who are searching for someone with whom to spend the rest of their lives. Nice as it is to have a romantic beginning (and those of you who know me know how much I love my own romantic beginning), it is not the most important thing. What is important is what comes later, and this holds true as much now as it did in the past.
Moreover, nice as it is to find someone who is one’s emotional twin, it’s important to remember that he/she cannot be one’s Everything. Gilbert says:
..Maybe it would be useful for me to as least acknowledge …that I too ask or an awful lot. Of course I do. It is the emblem of our times. I have been allowed to expect far more out of the experience of love and living than most other women in history were every permitted to ask. When it comes to questions of intimacy, I want many things from my man and I want them all simultaneously.
She sites the example of an Englishwoman who visited the US in 1919 and was scandalized to discover there were people who actually lived with the expectation that every part of their bodies should be warm at the same time. We are, Gilbert says, women who “believed that my lover should magically be able to keep every part of my emotional being warm at the same time”.
2. While having choices is liberating, in the modern world, we are sometimes paralysed by choice:
The problem, simply put, is that we cannot choose everything simultaneously. So we live in danger of becoming paralyzed by indecision, terrified that every choice might be the wrong choice…Equally disquieting are the times when we do make a choice, only to later feel as though we have murdered some other aspect of our being by settling on one single concrete decision…All these choices and all this longing can create a weird kind of haunting in our lives – as though the ghosts of all other unchosen possibilities linger forever in a shadow world around us, continuously asking, “Are you certain this is what you really wanted?” And nowhere does that question risk haunting us more than in our marriages, precisely because the emotional stakes of that most intensely personal choice have become so huge.
Sometimes, you just need to walk through a door, close it behind you and enjoy the room you’ve entered and make it comfortable. And sure, always remember, that if the room turns out to be a torture chamber despite your best efforts, there is no shame in opening that door and walking back out. We have advanced through history for this privilege – the right not just to choose but also, with discernment, to unchoose.
3. And this is the one that sums it up for me. I am asked by my friends how I knew V was the one I should marry. When I was younger, I asked my mum this question too and she gave me this answer: “When it’s the right man, you’ll just know.” And it was true. I just did.
I know this is not particularly helpful. So here’s a useful tip from the book.
People always fall in love with the most perfect aspects of each other’s personalities…The really clever trick is: can you accept the flaws?
Therein lies the crux and miracle of marriage and what makes it so alluring:
To be fully seen by somebody, then, and to be loved anyhow – this is the human offering that borders on the miraculous.
But I’d like to focus less on the miraculous and more on the down-to-earth. If you’re confused over whether to commit to someone, make a list of everything that irritates the hell out of you about them, and then ask yourself “can I live with all this forever?” And then, trust your instincts. If you have doubts, don’t do it. When you enter a marriage, at least then, you have to be sure because believe me, from then on, it only gets harder.
And what happens from then on? How do you make it work?