Before my daughter, Ina, got married in 2002, I wanted to write her a letter on love and marriage, in a kind of mother-daughter talk.
I thought of doing so when she was a little girl, in case I would no longer be around when she marries. I was glad I could do so at the appropriate time, and not when I was too young to be wise, too involved to see the big picture, and too passionate to be objective.
The first decade or so of my marriage, and, I imagine, of most marriages, was a period of adjustment, of many changes and unease. I would have only asked her to “eat my pain and swallow my sorrows,” as Amy Tan had put it.
I have learned a few things since then. The following are what I meant to send her off with into her new life. Of course, only if she asked. She didn’t, so I would like to share my take on love and marriage with all the young women out there who would like to prepare for a marriage that, hopefully, works. But they should take it with a grain of salt, as it was solely meant for one particular beloved daughter.
First, marriage is a matter of propinquity. The eligible man who is around at the time she is ready to get married will be the man most women marry. So don’t expect your husband to be the greatest love of your life. It is all right, though, to hope he is.
Your husband will certainly not be perfect, nor all you could wish for. For we love and marry not so much out of the desirability of the beloved, as out of the depth of our needs. You must always try to distinguish between what you want and what you need. In marriage, it is even more important to know what you want and what you need, as well as what he wants and what he needs.
Your marital relationship must not be your sole source of happiness. You must not make that demand of it. Your happiness will depend on who you are and what you do. Your marriage may help in shaping who you are and in providing the leeway for what you are to do, but that’s all.
There will be moments of great joy and pleasure and thrill. There will be times of true accord, of peace and quiet. There will be expressions of great love, wonderful surprises, heights of passion. There will be peaks and precipices in the exciting adventure of loving deeply and well.
Marriage can be the source of these, as well as, inevitably, the other side of the coins. But there is no such thing as a state of marital happiness. Just of being content and reasonably happy on more than half, or (if you are lucky) three quarters of the time.
A priest once asked me if I was happily married. I countered with, “Are you happily a priest?” It gave him pause.
Good sex is very important in marriage, but is not its be-all and end-all. It is the most expressive aspect of love, the warmest form of caring, and the best measure of how well the relationship is faring.
But there are other aspects to marriage and other forms of loving that will, in later years, be just as essential. Good sex with a loved one can make you very happy and fulfilled, but your marital happiness depends on so much more. May he always hold you dear and give you respect and tenderness. And may he ever be kind.
You must be sure that there is no question as to which one he will save in the event that you and his mother fall off the Titanic. It’s a silly question, even if you can swim and she can’t. The Holy Bible says that a man must leave father and mother to join his wife and create a new family. You must always come first.
And he is to take your side against his own mother even when you are wrong, as well as against your own mother even when she is right.
Always be nice to your mother-in-law or, at the very least, sincerely polite. My I-Ching maintains that there is “no blame” with good manners and right conduct. You should also endeavor to be a part of and be accepted by his original family, without losing your natural spontaneity. You are not to necessarily treat them like your own because they may be quite different. Tread softly and adjust.
You and he will, naturally, “become one,” create a family, have children and share not only a life but also the responsibility for each other’s welfare and happiness. Do not lose yourself in the oneness or the sharing. Avoid the danger of becoming an extension of or a financial, emotional or social dependent of your husband. You must remember to be your own person with a distinct life of your own.
Frankly, I would have preferred to send you off with some fabulous heirloom jewelry to tide you over the rough times, as a tangible symbol of a mother’s love. But you can earn your own bullsh*t money to provide your way out if and when it becomes necessary. You must always have that.
Remember that money does not buy happiness, but it can certainly buy a few neat substitutes. Hold it neither in awe nor in disdain.
Lastly, check yourself, judge your own worthiness as a life partner from his point of view. You may find you are the wrong girl for him. In which case, he is not the right man for you.
I hope your marriage will always present opportunities for growth, for nurturing your self-worth, for making you stronger and braver, for being the best that you can be.
I send you off with my good wishes and all my good intentions. And with all the love that has always been there for you.