K.J. Steele: The Elephant in the Room

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I want my name back
Walked down that aisle
a radiant me
And left a Mrs. You

 

Marriage. The elephant in my room. Taking up space I’d rather not give it. Unavoidable with its cacophony of silent questions. Have you ever noticed that it is not easy to keep an elephant corralled inside your cerebral womb?

Upon reading the poem introducing this chat, one would be forgiven for assuming that I am an ardent feminist, probably divorced, and perhaps just a tad bitter. I am however, none of these things, although I have danced with each one and explore them further in my writing.

Marriage is an enigma to me. Lovely to behold, the ceremony of flowers and love-lisped words vowing eternal security. Lovely to behold, and I can happily enjoy a flute or two of champagne along with the next gal. But after all the fluffy-stuff has blown away, the flowers have wilted, and the cake has gone stale, there is still one pivotal wedding guest remaining at the table. Its name is commitment. And you either are, or you are not.

I was once asked by a marriage counsellor––there’s a big surprise!––why I didn’t wear my wedding rings. I told him that I did not need a bone through my nose to remind me who I am. Our conversation sort of dwindled after that––

Contrary to what the introductory poem may imply, I have in fact been married for––well, let’s just say, for pretty much my whole life. It has been a journey of constant growth. Often difficult, and often rewarding. Thankfully, times and customs (at least in my world) have evolved since I married in 1978. No longer is the woman’s name automatically stripped from her and replaced with her husband’s. When I married, it was simply assumed that I would joyfully forfeit the name I had worn since birth and gladly share a new one with my husband’s mother. But I was not my husband’s mother, nor did I wish to be. Over the years, it was an assumption I grew to resent. It was the first innocent cut as layer after layer of me dissolved into the role of marriage.

Weddings are lovely occasions, usually played out with some sort of symbolic ritual to demonstrate the observance of two lives joining together to become one. I don’t see it that way. For me, marriage is better represented by three circles––my husband’s life, my life, and the life we are creating together. As long as our combined circle can stretch and grow in order to encompass the stretching and growing of our individual selves, then I am committed to the marriage. The marriage circle is a healthy, growing entity in its own right that deserves my full respect and commitment. However, my first commitment is to myself. And I cannot honor the person within me if I stay committed to a relationship that is destructive to that person.

Commitment can easily be misconstrued. Not only is it the tie that binds, it is also the tie with which one can be bound. Often this happens long after the love, respect, and honor have faded away. In this case we have to ask ourselves what it is that we are committed to. In my novel No Story to Tell, my protagonist, Victoria, is challenged by these very questions. Her friend, Rose, suggests that staying committed to a bad marriage seems like a good way to end up being committed to the looney-bin.

Commitment is central to any relationship. It can, however, be a convenient veil to hide behind when what really keeps the marriage together is the fear of leaving. Marriage––or relationships of any kind––are a complicated matter. Sometimes commitment will be the only boat that keeps us afloat long enough to take us down the river so that we have a chance to find land again, and hopefully, a better way forward. But, as Victoria finds out in No Story to Tell, sometimes it can be revelatory to question the origins and depths of our commitment.

As I explained earlier, I have grown to understand marriage as a convergence of three circles. My husband’s circle, my circle, and the circle we are creating together. And it is this last circle that is the ring I wear. And I wear it around my heart.

 

KJ Steele is the author of No Story to Tell and The Bird Box, both published by The Story Plant. The e-book version of No Story to Tell is available for the special price of $2.99 for the entire month of October 2017.

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