Some time ago I was at a wedding with my wife. At some point during the reception, when everyone was dancing, someone went up to the groom and fastened something around his ankle. I looked down and saw that he had been shackled with an actual ball and chain.
A lot of people laughed about it, and I even chuckled a bit. The more I thought about it, though, the more it bothered me.
The cliche metaphor of a ball and chain for the responsibilities of marriage suggests not so subtly that the person getting married is being held captive. On a day filled with so much joy, why would you even joke about being a prisoner in marriage? It was at best in poor taste, in my opinion.
It may seem like I’m being too sensitive to what is clearly meant to be a joke. But I don’t think so. Saying someone’s wife is a “ball and chain” suggests that she takes something away from him and makes him less free. I don’t make that joke because my wife doesn’t make me a prisoner. My wife has given me so much more than I feared losing by getting married.
As I’ve written before, I feared losing my independence when I got married. Yes it’s true that I have to make sacrifices and say no to some things that I otherwise might have said yes to when I was unattached. But saying no doesn’t happen nearly as much as I feared it would. And when the time comes that I do have to say no to something, I’m really saying no to being selfish.
I know it might come as a surprise, but self-denial has been good for me and has made me so much happier than I was before I was married. Saying no to something I want to do and choosing to do something else because my wife or my son need me gives me so much more satisfaction than that beer after work would. If saying no to an occasional beer after work ever makes my wife a ball and chain, I know I need to take a serious look at my priorities in life.
I look back on my life before Jenn, and I look at the life of some of my more colorful bachelor friends, and all I can think is “I am so glad I’m passed that stage.” I’m glad I’m done partying and going to loud bars where I pretended to have a good time even though I couldn’t hear a word anyone was saying. I’m grateful that I have a wife and child who need me. We don’t paste smiles on our faces and fake happiness. The smiles are genuine and the laughter is real because we love each other.
The vows we made on our wedding day are iron clad, but that’s what makes us so happy together. I couldn’t love Jenn completely until we got married, because marriage meant I gave myself to her and only her. Does that make Jenn my ball and chain? No, it makes her the love of my life, and the one I chose with my own free will. To others, I might seem chained, but I feel more free than ever.