by Haley Mlotek
A photo posted by @haleymlotek on Dec 12, 2014 at 5:21am PST
There are certain truths about marriage that we hold to be self-evident: that we should be married at all is probably first. That marriage is sacred is another. Marriage as a precursor to adulthood, marriage as a reward for a relationship well done, marriage as a contract with no clauses. On the other side are the myths forged in sitcoms with laugh tracks: that marriage is a tax citizens must pay, for a relationship past a certain threshold, a burden, a grip around your neck that you can never break free of.
I got married recently. Like, last week. There were certain practical factors at stake — extenuating circumstances that forced my hand, which has been consistently holding a do-not-ever-get-married draw of cards since I was about, mm, let’s say four years old, the age when I started actively plotting my escape from childhood. I’m not so heartless that I didn’t want to meet someone to share a life with, or so cynical that I didn’t think a lifelong partner was an obtainable goal. I was just, let’s say, profoundly uninterested in the concept of, first, weddings, and secondly, marriage. There’s a certain amount of posturing here — I’m not like a regular bride, I’m a cool bride — but I swear I hate all community-based social traditions equally. Nobody thinks it’s weird when you have an aversion to funerals or circumcisions, because those things are uniformly terrible. Weddings are, allegedly, fun! Magical! Transformative! No. I’ve been to some wonderful and beautiful weddings, and they’ve done nothing to assuage my unease, but nothing to increase my comfort level.
Because I, Haley Mlotek, am consistently Never Better™. I am fine! I’m great! Everything is wonderful! In 2014 my highs were the highest they’ve ever been and the lows the lowest — so low, in fact, that I caved and sought the help of a highly recommended psychologist following a five-week spell of daily weeping, thinking she could help me gain some perspective on my life and restore me to the kind of person who could simply take a deep breath and move on to the next thing without a hysterical phone call, a shattered glass, a screaming match. Upon hearing I was a writer and editor, she suggested that I turn these feelings into “blog articles.” In fact, she suggested after recommending I take Vitamin D and B5, that I should probably write about the way the mainstream medical profession doesn’t recognize adrenal fatigue as a real issue. This was not the therapeutic perspective I had been hoping for.
These highs and lows were metered out professionally: the end of one job, the beginning of another. They were, fittingly, parallel to my literal highs and lows; this year I flew more than I ever have in my entire life, averaging a trip to New York about once a month, the worst kind of punishment for a person who has a paralyzing attachment to routine and consistency (me) and a person who has a totally reasonable fear of flying (also me). If you are my seat mate on a flight, you would never know I’m a bad flier — Never Better, remember? It’s just that flying is — undeniably — a stupid thing to do. It’s the ultimate in relinquishing control, because, sure, there are air masks and emergency exits, but if that plane wants to plummet a billion feet to the ground, it will, and there’s nothing you can do about it, not even cross your fingers during take off and landing, not even sit as still and silently as possible, not even repeat the one prayer you’ve ever sincerely prayed in your entire life.
Airplanes are the one place I tolerate the thought that, perhaps, the to-do list I’ve set for the day, the week, the year, the lifetime, may not come to pass. Perhaps I won’t touch down safely; perhaps I’ll never write that blog article my therapist suggested, email another writer; perhaps I’ll never achieve the goals I’ve privately set for myself and my publication. Those ninety minutes are, despite the heart palpitations, peaceful; a safe landing is always jarring, a switch that returns me to the scheming, obsessive, driven bitch I strive to be. The to-do lists return automatically. But it’s a transition I notice: oh, I think, I’m still here. I’m never not surprised.
I was married on a Saturday and flew to New York on a Monday, and I surprised myself yet again by taking my wedding band with me. The wedding bands were a gift from my mother, who would simply not let the ceremony pass with my proposed option — Ring Pops — and took us to pick up nice gold symbols of ownership, property, and several thousand years of patriarchal oppression. I thought I would just use them for the ceremony and then stash them somewhere safe, tokens of a milestone I didn’t particularly take any pride in. But it was pretty; it was new and shiny. By wearing it on the plane, I knew I was going to turn it into a talisman, the way I can never fly a plane without my favourite pair of earrings — that, worse than participating in a tradition I don’t particularly care for, I was adding more weight to an endless list of superstitious crutches.
But fuck it. That might have as well have been my wedding vows. “Sure.” You might surmise that my digression into my latent fear of flying signifies a metaphor on the horizon, and you are right, but luckily for you I’m not going to compare my wedding to takeoff. Because that’s what I hate about the traditional ideas of weddings, of matrimony: I hate the idea of a fresh start, a new beginning. Even the phrase — “newlyweds” — is repugnant. I’ve been with my partner for twelve years. We’ve known each other for the only years that matter; we saw our siblings grow up and our parents’ marriages fall apart. I’ve cycled through at least three hair colours and numerous cuts and he has enough incriminating photos of me to ensure I’ll never be able to run for any political office, the hallmark of real trust. I have a tattoo of something he drew for me. There is nothing about our marriage that signifies the start of something we hadn’t already started a long, long, long time ago. If we were to indulge this metaphor, and try to compare a relationship of this nature to a flight, our liftoff already happened and I have absolutely no idea when. When did we make the conscious decision to entangle ourselves so deeply that we will never get away from each other? There have been moments — many moments, in fact — that I could point to and say that was it, that’s takeoff, but none of them are entirely it. Or maybe all of them are entirely it. Some of them are really, really funny, in the way that only teenagers can laugh at; some of them are really, really real, and their memory provokes the kind of shortened exhalation only adults with undiagnosed and untreated anxiety issues will recognize. I will not be describing any of them.
Within marriage, it’s the cruising that scares me. That’s the metaphor I’m working with. The idea of a perpetually even ride with no landing in sight. Never Better™ — a rallying cry of your continued success, sure, but also a kind of perpetual equilibrium. My fear of marriage, before getting married, was that it was a way of telling the rest of the world that you were done. Your flight had settling to a healthy cruising altitude and only devastating destruction could bring it down ahead of schedule. No more ups, more downs, no more of that kind of terrifying and exhilarating frenetic energy a new sexual partner brings, no more of the kind of exhausting and crushing depression you can only get from romantic rejection. You’ve stood up in front of your family and your friends and your God — lol jk — and pledged that you would keep still, keep on schedule, keep yourself at best and never better.
“This is the shortest ceremony I’ve ever performed,” our judge joked on that Saturday, referencing the vows I had slashed to the barest minimum, refusing to pledge obedience and fidelity, only allowing a boilerplate version of your basic wedding ritual to appease the traditionalists in attendance. The vows I was most interested in had nothing to do with obedience, something I have never and will never be; they had nothing to do with monogamy, a value I’ve always considered about as puritanical as cutting carbs (great if it works for you, but ultimately morally neutral).
Our marriage will be, I vowed, a talisman, a promise, another weighted object to add to a pile of superstitions and other prayers, something that is better than sacred or solid, something I believe in and participate in despite knowing better, despite evidence to the contrary, despite my best intentions. My marriage will never be greater than the sum of the parts we’ve already put together. It will never be better than the relationship we already have. But I am, I solemnly swear, allowing myself to count on a safe landing.