As a facilitator, team building and conferences are a constant occurrence. One particular weekend, I was in a training where we were required to break up into several different groups for small group discussions. The first group was categorized according to whether we were in a relationship or single. When all of the people in a relationship gathered into a group, one of the guys looked up and said, “Wait, should we break up according to whether we are happy or unhappy?” There wasn’t any laughter, discussion, or hesitation, just a small feminine voice that said, “Great idea.” What followed was a phenomenon that resembled the parting of the Red Sea. Men and women, without skipping a beat, divided themselves further into happy and unhappy groups, and then looked up and waited for the next set of instructions.
In first grade, when I was marrying my Barbie dolls, humming “Here comes the bride”, and reciting their vows, happiness never crossed my mind. Ken and Barbie were either married or unmarried. Even at that age, I fantasized about my wedding and my husband. Back then, I knew I was going to marry Michael Jackson. So I would put on the “The Girl Is Mine” and pretend that Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney were fighting over who would get to marry me. (I was six. Don’t judge me.)
As little girls, we all fantasized about our weddings. What would our dress look like? How would they propose? Weddings were infused in our brains. They became a show where we could see ourselves as the star. So it’s no wonder that from childhood to adulthood, we were all glued to the television with the weddings of Luke and Laura from General Hospital, Thelma and Keith from Good Times, Whitley and Dwayne Wayne from A Different World, and Ross and Emily from Friends.
But this talk of weddings eventually leads us to make comparisons in our own lives. We want the most expensive ring, or the designer wedding gown, or a two-week honeymoon. Or we just want the wedding, leading men and women to decide that the time is right for a wedding, with much less focus on how “right” their partner is for them. And if we haven’t yet found “the one” or have decided against a wedding, somehow our lives aren’t as “special” as our closest friends. And so begins an endless circle of self-criticism, judgment, or feeling less than.
As a society, we focus all of our attention on one day. We focus on the dress, ring, or price tag of the wedding or the idea that two people are now married. And for those couples who have been together forever, we applaud them for staying together for forty, fifty, or sixty years. But we don’t ever ask about whether they are compatible or about the presence of betrayal, infidelity, abuse, children outside the marriage, or family feuds. We don’t ask the question that really matters: Are you happy?
Now that I am no longer six years-old, I am much more interested in the couples who are happy. Someone being in a relationship for seventy years doesn’t mean a thing to me if they spent more time crying than smiling. So when I talk to young girls and boys, college students, and adults, I don’t focus on weddings. I talk to them about being happy. And whether that means that they never get married, they have a $200 wedding reception, or they have a $100,000 wedding, I want to ensure that their focus is on their relationship and not just one day. I don’t ever want them to be in the ‘unhappy group’ with kids, credit cards, a mortgage, and student loan payments. At that moment, the most fantastic wedding in the world won’t provide any comfort.