Growing up, I wasn’t one of those girls. You know the ones. They dream of their wedding day and play dress up. Not sure what I’m talking about, watch the movie Bride Wars or Revenge of the Bridesmaids. Really, if anything, I wasn't going to get married.
Growing up in the Air Force, my family moved quite a bit. There weren’t many kids that looked like me. For those who don’t know me, I like to say I am Heinz 57; mostly Korean with an assortment of European and other Asian countries. Though it was never easy, at some point I got used to being teased about how I looked. I often felt like an ugly duckling and would stay quiet, just taking the insults. Only once did I fight back and it didn’t go well. It was a split reaction. My hands thrust into the boy's hair trying to pull him to the ground. In return, he grabbed my hair. Luckily the fight was broken up. I don't think I would have won. Unfortunately, all the teasing created a belief. If you are white and have blond hair you don't get picked on so they must be better, prettier. Though I don't believe white and blonde is prettier. I still see a society of beauty based on these norms.
Besides my cultural identification with what was beautiful and feminine, I believed that there wasn’t someone who would be my match. Who would ever love me, all of me- truly, madly, deeply? Thank you, Savage Garden for planting that one in my head! Of course, I also had “the list”. Really, how possible was it that someone would meet all the criteria on my list. Yet, there was a small part of me that secretly hoped and fantasized about wedding dresses. The part of me that wanted to be a princess for a day.
Here Comes the Bride
In December 2012, following the advice of a friend, I signed up for a workshop he recommended on self-love and sexuality. On the first night, we participated in an activity that taught us to set boundaries and ask for permission. Walking around the room, I saw him. Something about his energy steered me away. Yet, as the weekend progressed I became curious about him. By the end, I counted him a friend. The months after gave us time to get to know each other and develop a friendship. Then came the day that the relationship he was in ended, and to my surprise, he asked me out. We had our ups and downs. Yet something kept pulling us together. On July 4th, 2015 he proposed and six months later during an intimate ceremony we were married.
Many talk about the beauty of their wedding day, but few have shared the transformation that happens. Looking back, I realize now that a wedding ceremony can be one of the most life changing events a person participates in. There is a power to standing in front of your closest friends, declaring love, untethering from yourself to surrender into the mystery of life with another. At the same time, not much is shared of what marriage demands, of you, of them, and of we.
Our marriage wasn't until death do you part. What we wanted in life and marriage were different. For either one of us to stay would have required us to be out of integrity with ourselves. With a mixture of sadness, anger, joy, and freedom we decided to part ways. I have been blessed that my friends and family provided a safe place for me to grieve and to start the next chapter of my life.
Soon after we separated, I talked to a girl friend who herself is contemplating marriage. She was curious about my experience and wanted to know what I learned.
The Foundation Stones of Marriage
When I created my list of qualities I wanted in a partner, I was advised to be very clear on what the must haves are. A must have being something you can't live without or you'd rather be single. I realize now, highlighting the qualities of a person and their values are only half the picture. What’s as important is what I’ve come to call the foundation stones of relationship. It’s the must haves, of not the person, but the relationship. Below are some of mine. What must you have in a relationship, or you'd rather be single?
Before You Get Engaged
Before committing to a life together, it's important to talk about all aspects of marriage. Revealing expectations, hopes and fears in the beginning can help to builder a stronger foundations. Before you read on, I'd like to share a piece of wisdom that my aunt shared with me. You can do your best to think through all the possibilities, and in the end, know you can’t plan for everything. You can only do your best with what you know today.
The Reality of Marriage
Here’s the deal. A marriage will require all you have: your joy, your heart, your shame, your tears, your hard truths, your boundaries, your honesty and more. It's a process of becoming we and not losing yourself. There is power in this process and knowing someone always has your back. There is an ease that enters life, knowing that your needs for partnership and companionship are met. Take time before your engagement to look at your purpose for marriage and what you want. Share that with your beloved. And know that people change. You can’t plan for everything that life will throw your way. Know that divorce is possible. Know that you would survive. And remember Alfred Lord Tennyson’s quote, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all.”
About the Author
Kim-Elisha Proctor is an Executive Coach, teacher, and writer. For over 15 years, she has worked with companies at all stages of growth and understands the complexity of organizations and leadership that is needed for success. Whether one-on-one coaching, with groups or delivering leadership development programs, her passion is the same: to support leaders to enhance their performance, impact, purpose & well-being to create communities they long to belong to.