*Writer’s Note: The below is a piece that I submitted to a publication, really hoping they would accept it. They did not, and instead of holding on to it and pitching it around, I realized it was important to me, and it was a piece I really enjoyed writing. In that vein, I decided to publish it here.*
I walked into the Barnes & Noble feeling fidgety.
I am normally a fidgeter, in even the best of situations, but I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt so nervous.
“Get it together, Anjali,” I told myself.
How was it possible that the cute boy from high school could make me this nervous at the age of 30? We had barely spoken then – we certainly weren’t friends. And things were so different now: I was happy and successful and had grown a lot since high school. So had he, I’m sure. We were just two adults, meeting for coffee and chatter. Well, if I was being honest with myself, we were two adults meeting for what I hoped would be coffee and chatter followed by some hot no-strings-attached sex. But either way, there should have been no cause for my nerves.
And yet, I felt I was going to explode as I pulled open the double doors to the bookstore.
I texted him, hoping he’d already be there so I could do the “breeze in, sexy as hell” thing.
No response. Crap. I really hoped he’d already be in line at Starbucks ordering, or maybe – even better – sitting at a table looking bored and waiting for me. I didn’t normally like to be late – in fact, my type A lawyer’s personality didn’t let me be anything but a stickler for punctuality – but in this circumstance, I was okay being the one that got to walk in self-assured and relaxed. This was mainly because I was sure he’d be self-assured and relaxed no matter when he arrived, so I wanted to try to be on even footing.
Without a text back from him, I decided to browse through the magazine rack. Before I even made my way over to “Runner’s World,” I felt eyes on me and looked up to find him walking over, even more handsome – though I didn’t understand how this was possible – than I remembered him from high school.
And then, a surprise: by the time he made his way over to me to give me an awkward hug and say hi, I realized he was even more nervous than I was.
Excellent, I thought. There may be the possibility of some hot sex after all.
That evening was spent catching up on each other’s lives and dancing expertly and flirtatiously around the idea of a possible hook up. A week later, after I arrived back from my previously-planned trip out of the States, we went on what I now consider our first official date.
Eight weeks later, we were married.
Despite that we had technically known each other for 15 years by the time we, as high school acquaintances, reconnected at the age of 30, our courtship was anything but traditional. If we had actually “known” and been close to each other for those 15 years, it might have made more sense, as traditional relationships go, but on our wedding day, we were little more than strangers in love that had some friends and a shared hometown high school in common.
To our friends, it seemed like a rushed decision. Everyone was supportive of our union – in fact, most of our friends told us they had never seen each of us so happy or so much ourselves in a relationship. They believed we were meant to be, as did we. They just weren’t sure how to feel about such a quick, non-traditional courtship.
To me, however, the decision didn’t feel as wild. You see, despite being born and raised in the States, I am Indian by heritage. My parents, together almost 35 years now, had an arranged marriage. They were married within six days of their meeting. I am a product of two cultures: one that highly values knowing every last detail about your betrothed before the wedding and one that highly values making it work at any cost.
In the States, the idea of a marriage to someone you haven’t been dating for an “acceptable” period of time is looked down upon. “Acceptable” depends on the circumstance: age, place in life, prior relationships. In any case, though, it’s normally not less than a year. “Traditional” courtships often last a year or more before an engagement and then the engagement itself also lasts a year or more. By the time we walk down the aisle, we feel that we know everything there is to know about our spouse. We’re confident we won’t be surprised and we feel like we’ve given it “enough” time to truly see how we fit as a couple.
In India, by contrast, the couple often are often total strangers before the wedding. Where, in the States, marriage is about two people coming together, in India it is about two families coming together. Arranged marriages are put together based on the perceived compatibility between the two families’ social standing and class, the two partner’s level of education, and the ability of an entire group of people to help make a marriage work. The couple, on their wedding day, hasn’t had much of a say in their union, let alone been given the opportunity to learn everything there is to know about each other.
Which method works best? I’m not sure, but my decision to get married so quickly was certainly a product of being a product of the two divergent cultures.
Jumping into marriage with someone I hadn’t known very long didn’t feel like a mistake. It felt like the best decision I’ve ever made. What I knew about him mattered: that he is easily the kindest human I had ever met, that we always had fun together, that I could talk to him about anything, how he viewed important life topics like marriage and children and monogamy and family, and that I felt deeply and certainly assured of his goodness. What I didn’t know about him didn’t matter: what hand he wrote with, what his favorite color was, how he did the laundry, whether he’d put the toilet seat down. I knew I was going to love some of those new facts and hate some of them. I was prepared for that and prepared to continue loving him anyway.
I had been married once before. A more “traditional” American courtship. We had dated for a year and a half, been engaged for a year, and been married for roughly 10 months before our marriage collapsed under the weight of itself. We shouldn’t have ever been married, clearly, but I often wondered about how much of it had to do with the fact that I married a more “traditional” man – one that believed strongly in the idea that we should “test” our relationship as much as we could before tying the knot.
My now-husband, in contrast, fell in love with me immediately (as I did with him) and was eager and excited to get married (as I was). He didn’t think we needed more “time”, he didn’t think we needed to know all the “details” of each other – he thought all we needed was the knowledge that we were in love, that marriage would be difficult at times, and that we were committed to waking up every day and making the decision to continue loving each other and working on our union.
When we first discussed it that way, it felt odd. Love, I had been taught, was supposed to be a free flowing emotion that you easily felt for another human being. Speaking about it in terms of a “decision” didn’t come naturally. I quickly realized, though, that while initial love might be just as it is sold to little American girls through princess stories, marriage was something else entirely. Marriage was the decision to love. The portion of my upbringing that came from my Indian culture helped reinforce that idea, while the portion of my upbringing that came from my American culture helped reinforce the idea that the initial connection was still important.
Marrying an almost complete stranger, curiously, made the idea that we’d have to get up every morning and decide to love each other feel more tenable. We realized that knowing nothing about each other meant that we had to get comfortable with the fact that we knew nothing about each other. And that knowing nothing about each other would be the foundation of our marriage: faced with the certainty that we’d learn many facts about our partner after our marriage, rather than before, we had to prepare for every type of fact – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the completely unforeseen.
Even more oddly: seeing my husband as a stranger endears me more. The very act of seeing your partner at a distance, I learned, actually helps breed intimacy.
In the first month of marriage, I learned that the man I was so nervous to meet at Barnes & Noble that day is right-handed, his favorite color is red, he does the laundry better than I do, and he does put the toilet seat down. I also learned he can’t quite manage to put his socks in the hamper and he isn’t really the best at waking up early.
That same man that I later learned was definitely nervous to meet me at Barnes & Noble learned a few things about his new wife, as well. He learned I’m left-handed, my favorite color is pink, I suck at doing the laundry, and I don’t actually mind if the toilet seat isn’t put down. He also learned that while I can wash the dishes, I can’t manage to put them away, and that I can be a cranky jerk when I don’t get to bed early enough.
The key to our marriage, then, isn’t that we think we know everything there is to know about each other – nor is it that we were together for so long that we think we won’t be surprised. The key to our marriage is that we plan to be surprised, every single day for the rest of our lives.
The key to our marriage is that we’ve already decided the surprises don’t matter.
So will our marriage work? Nothing in life is certain, of course, and though we’re just newlyweds, I think our decision to get married as fast as we did was the right one. I may have essentially married a stranger, but I married a stranger knowing one important detail about him: he has the best heart of anyone I’ve ever met.
Everything else is just a new fact to be learned.