Early on in my childhood, I started to realize that something was not normal about my parents’ marriage.
I do not recall ever seeing them hold hands or kiss each other on the lips or cheek. Hugs seemed to generally be reserved for Christmas and New Year’s. But even that simple act of affection disappeared over time. Apart from an absence of physical signs of care for one another, they regularly fought in a way that was belittling and insulting. Mutual support for each other’s emotions, goals, or values was nonexistent.
I thought that was just what marriage was.
I remember the first time I truly understood that an affectionate, mutually supportive, and loving marriage was possible. I was in middle school and was at my friend Kathryn’s house for chamber orchestra practice. Her father came home and her mom greeted him by kissing him on the cheek and leaning into him as they hugged each other by the door.
In this small gesture of welcome, it was clear that my friend’s parents were genuinely happy to be back home with one another. Nothing about it felt forced or fake. This may seem like a very ordinary gesture between spouses, but I had never seen my parents show affection toward each other in this way. I remember feeling sad, confused, and envious all at once. At that moment, I felt that I had been deprived of something that I did not think was actually possible: two committed parents who loved each other.
Despite the example of this couple and others, by the time I was nineteen, I no longer believed a lifelong loving and committed marriage was possible or even desirable. One of the few stable and healthy marriages within my extended family ended when my uncle committed suicide, leaving behind his wife and two daughters. This tragic end to one of the only happy and committed marriages I had witnessed solidified my conviction that loving marriages simply didn’t exist.
I held on to the view that marriage is an out-of-date and unnecessary institution. I developed the view that all romantic partnerships were essentially equal, perhaps with marriage even being less desirable than other forms of romantic partnerships.
Holding these beliefs about love, marriage, and family did not fill me with hope or joy. It reflected the general sense of pessimism and hopelessness that I felt in my life at that time. Yet, my memory of seeing my childhood friend’s parents lovingly greet each other after work remained clear in my mind.
I started to realize that the idea that relationships shouldn’t be defined or committed has seriously wounded me, my friends, and my family. I have seen friends experience heartbreak because of unfaithful or uncommitted partners. Multiple friends have experienced serious health consequences because of sexual partners who were not absolutely committed to their health and well-being. And I discovered I have a sister, my dad’s daughter, and learned how much harm growing up without a father had caused her.
In my own life, I experienced a series of uncommitted relationships where I was constantly asking myself, What are we? Are we dating? Is he also dating someone else? I would ask myself these questions while simultaneously convincing myself that labels weren’t important, that relationships were supposed to be undefined and free.
After ending what was at the time my longest, yet still undefined, relationship I began to reevaluate what I wanted out of relationships, and from life in general.
Did I really want to deny my future children benefits that my friend Kathryn had received through growing up with loving, married parents? Did I honestly think that children, like my sister, who had grown up in a single parent home had comparable childhood experiences to my own or Kathryn’s?
These, and many other questions, lead me finally to ask myself what I believed about love, marriage, and family.
After many years away, I began attending church again and was moved by the many loving marriages I found there. I discovered a community of young adults who were committed to living out their values, including in their dating lives. Before meeting them, I wasn’t sure that young people who desired to be married in lifelong, committed relationships even existed. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Through their example, I began to realize that my family’s history of marriage is not inevitable. I started to realize what my true desires for dating, marriage, and family are. I began to slowly repair my wounded understanding of love. I can now say I have seen the beauty that marriage and families bring. And I believe that women, men, and children deserve the stability, support, and love this provides.
When I was farthest from love, it found me. I could no longer make myself believe that I didn’t want love and didn’t believe in it. I believe in love because I believe that people flourish in committed, supportive, and loving marriages and families.
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