Operation STAY in Love: On Trying

by Patia Braithwaite

I have a secret: I’ve never believed in marriage.

People find this odd because my parents appear to have this wonderful and successful marriage…I never feared them getting a divorce or anything like that. Yet, for a long time, I just didn’t believe in the institution. It seemed too permanent to me. How can I know now what I will want for the rest of my life? It’s 8:30 as I type this, and I don’t know what I’m going to eat at 9 am.

When I was dating my ex-boyfriend, Dr. Dolittle (I’m going to start giving these guys names…the ex’s are piling up), I spent so much time being uncertain.

I asked my mother, “How do you know? How do you know you want to get married?”

“You don’t know,” she said.

I was at the table with both her and father sipping tea and eating bagels. This is their morning ritual. My father, at the time, was silent — he doesn’t really do well with emotions.

Now, I should note that whenever I’d asked people this question before, folks almost always said, “ohh, you just know.” Maybe that’s true. I’ll let you know when I get there, but that’s not what my mother told me.

“That’s bullshit,” my mother said. “You don’t ‘just know’ anything. What you do know is: you want to try.”

At the time her notion seemed ludicrous. The idea that you would link your entire life to someone on a “hope” or a “try” seemed dangerous and irrational. Furthermore, I don’t want to replicate my parents’ marriage. It works really well for them, but I want something different, and so her insight made me more fearful of commitment.

I thought: There has to be something to “know,” some tangible evidence that this is the person “for” you.

The truth is, three years later, I think my mother is more right than wrong (hi mom). I STILL believe there is a “soul knowing,” a part of you that feels like you are exactly where you are supposed to be, or a sense of intrinsic connection (though that doesn’t necessarily mean forever), but lately I’m realizing connection alone is not enough to sustain a relationship. More and more, I’m understanding commitments (not just romantic ones) are about a sincere and profound willingness to try.

A (soul) partner isn’t the magic elixir to your life.I don’t think that you look at them and discover that you’re magically equipped to deal w/ their shit, plus your shit, plus the random shit of life. They don’t hold your hand and make you less of a wounded mess. On the contrary, partners kick up shit, trigger insecurities (not purposely; that’s just mean) and shake you outside of yourself. They expose the broken bits and then — my guess is — you both must try to heal.

So even with the most passionate soul connection, there has to be a MUTUAL willingness to try…because 37 years later, whether you are soulmates or not, it comes down to two m-effers at a kitchen table eating onion bagels and talking about the leaky roof. And in those moments where one of you hasn’t yet researched a good roofer, or in the moments where your soulboo is a guy who smells like balls or a girl who hasn’t shaved her legs …you’ve both gotta WANT to try.

The truth is this: we at some point, almost inevitably, forget the person with whom we fell in love. We take loved ones for granted, and sometimes even soulmates, look like assholes.

And that’s when we have to try, and in trying, we take the risk of failing. And so some days, trying means not killing each other, and other times trying gives us energy to squint our eyes so we can actually see the person we “know” we’re meant to be with…

And some days, trying is just shutting the f*@k up.

But, if we can do that, if we can all manage to try…I’d bet this committment thing gets a little easier.