A year ago, I carried a heart of wistfulness, watching two other people resign the rest of their lives to each other. Last week, with a wedding band snug on my ring finger, and my husband on the other arm, I sat through a wedding with very different emotions. Mixed with joy, there was guilt and regret. Thankfully, not of whom I married (one hopes — never!), but for welcoming an old friend of mine, back into my life, post-marriage.
That old friend, she had a name: it was Complacency.
I do not know how she crept into my marriage. Perhaps it was a misplaced feeling of “having made it”, “it” being the achievement of dusting off singlehood at age 29 to becoming someone’s Mrs. Of wistfully thinking that the time had come to hang up the shoes and relish in a husband’s loving attentions.
Who was I kidding, really? Tying the knot was not, and could never have been, the end. It was only the beginning of a lifelong challenge for two individuals to live as one person. How do you give to each other fully — in good times and in bad — not holding back? Exchanging vows was easy, remembering them less so, and practising them? Even less.
At first, Complacency did not seem like such a terrible person. What was wrong with her was not immediately obvious. She was not wicked, nor was she downright mean. Her transgressions were more subtle — little acts of incremental selfishness and self-entitlement, like giving Aunt Flo, my monthly visitor, a free pass at sniping at my husband, while expecting him to forgive and forget because he loves me. Or taking it for granted that he will always be my personal chauffeur when and wherever Madame wanted to go.
Do you know how a cavity is formed? It starts with a healthy dose of negligence. Plaque builds up over time, turning into weapons of silent assault on our teeth. Leaving it unchecked, the tooth decay has already begun, and eventually hollows out into a cavity. So it is with Complacency in a relationship. I would have become an unwitting accomplice to Marriage’s slow death, by expecting a husband’s love and grace to be a right I have already earned, while leaving appreciation in the backseat.
Only, receiving his love, affections and grace was not even a guarantee. Having a husband did not equate to owning him. He was still master of his own thoughts, feelings, actions and choices; he could choose whether to love me or give up on me. This was something that Complacency did not want me to remember, but it was important if I wanted to never see her again for the sake of my marriage. In fact, I had to come to realise that the only right I could lay claim to were my own conscious choice and efforts to keep giving to my husband in love and in grace. In turn, perhaps, I would receive the same from him.
We only cherish what we know we may not always have. In saying this, I know I may sound like a pessimist and a skeptic in marriage. Under threat of sleeping by myself in bed tonight, I dare say I believe my marriage will last — but it is not enough to believe that, is it? There will be hard work involved, and this conscientious labour of love may only be sustained if we know never to take our partner for granted. Complacency, my old friend, I think it’s best if we stopped seeing each other.