It has been exactly a year since I got married, and my thoughts on marriage have evolved ever since. I wanted to ‘review’ my marriage as a reference for my future self.
Before I got married, I had asked many people about the pros and cons of married life. Unfortunately, many answers were unsatisfactory. Even though I knew that it would be very difficult to do cost and benefit analysis of marriage with numerically quantifiable measures, I wanted explicitly stated reasons why one should (or should not) get married. Here is my attempt to answer my own question.
TL; DR. I enjoy being married, and I recommend marriage to those who are mature enough to resolve differences constructively.
Let’s dive in! Here is what I have learned about marriage.
- Being with a loved one
I think this is the most obvious benefit of being married. Who can argue against this? Being with a loved one is one of the strongest (perhaps most fundamental) desires of being a human, and most people understand the great joy of being with a loved one. So I don’t think I need to elaborate too much here.
- Having a committed friend
Friends come and go. Because I have befriended many people from different parts of the globe, I estimate my churn rate for friends is over 90%. Marriage creates a strong incentive to ‘retain friendship’ with my wife.
· Marriage as worship to God — As Christians, marriage is a solemn and public covenant to God and his Church that we, as a couple, are committed to exemplifying God’s unconditional love in our married life. Stewarding this marriage is one of the highest callings for us. There is an assurance knowing that my wife is just as committed to making this marriage work.
· Marriage as a social practice — Humans are social, and we inevitably conform to social norms and peer pressure. The societal expectations of marriage are overwhelmingly for maintaining the marriage.
· Marriage as a legal contract — There is a long list of legal benefits to maintain marriage: tax benefits, guardianship, inheritance, and spousal privilege. There is a hefty cost of terminating marriage: dividing assets (and/or debts), settling alimony, fighting over custody, etc.
There is massive inertia to remain married and enormous friction to split.
- F = MA (or dMV / dt)
Newton’s Law of Motion states that force is proportional to mass and acceleration (or change of momentum over time.) Now that we are a couple, decision making requires additional steps. We have to discuss, argue, reason, and compromise from everyday decisions (food, clothes, TV shows, etc.) to big life decisions (jobs, church, kids, family, etc.) More mass (more people) almost surely means more force required to do almost anything, thus greater energy expenditure. In the beginning, I find these additional steps incredibly annoying, it took me a while to get used to them. I don’t think the additional “cost” of co-existing is categorically good or bad. It is an inevitable, yet necessary, byproduct of being part of a group.
- Divide and Conquer
As a couple, we can take care of embarrassingly parallel tasks a lot faster. We can get things done twice as fast, and I like the gain in efficiency! We can also supplement and complement each other. My wife has an eye for design, and she can make visually pleasing PowerPoint slides. Font choice, font size, symmetry, spacing, and color theme are on point! So my wife often helps me with PowerPoint. On the hand, I have an eye for ….hmm… I just have small eyes. sigh.
- 1 + 1 = 4 ???
Human relationships can be seen as graphs: people as nodes, relationships as edges. In a fully connected graph, the number of edges grows exponentially as the number of nodes increases. In layman’s terms, the number of relationships will grow a lot faster than the number of people in a social network. A year ago, I’ve added a new set of family and friends. Subsequently, the number of relationships that require my attention has grown even larger. This means I have a lot more social gatherings (birthday parties, weddings, etc.) As an introvert, getting to know a large number of people is always challenging. At the same time, I’ve grown to appreciate new relationships with the in-laws.
- Wife, a call reminder
My wife keeps in touch with a lot more people at a much higher frequency. She texts her friends all the time, and she calls her parents without any “agenda.” In the past, I only called my parents when I needed to tell them something. Observing her connecting with others often reminds me to do the same. I contact my friends and family more often now. I’ve been calling my parents just to say hi without any “agenda.”
- Wife, a stretch mark spotter
I have been skinny for most of my life, so stretch marks have been foreign to me until my wife spotted a few on my body. This is just one of many examples of how my wife has helped me to observe myself better. My wife often provides insightful observations about me, and I am thankful to have an extra pair of vigilant eyes that point to my strengths and deficiencies.
- Wife, a cartographer of my desire
I would argue human desire is one of the hardest things to comprehend. Human desires are often abstract, illogical, high-dimensional, dynamic, contextual, full of cognitive bias, and full of pet-peeves.
·Abstract — I have a strong desire to be understood, but it is difficult to define what ‘being understood’ is. How does one actually understand someone else? Or how do I feel like I am being understood? I don’t know. One thing I know for sure is that when I “feel” like I am being misunderstood, I become frustrated.
· Illogical — Some of my desires are so illogical that I have no other explanation than I just want it. It is not logically deductible, inducible, nor abductible. I’ve always wanted to know the meaning of life. I’ve always wanted to know why I exist. I am not sure why I want to know, but it is something that I’ve always wanted.
· High-dimensional — my desires are often determined by a long list of variables: my upbringing, neurological wiring, hormone secretion, cultural expectations, books I’ve read, friends I’ve had, etc. Unfortunately, high dimensional systems are notoriously difficult to analyze.
· Dynamic — my desires are never static. Some changes are gradual, and some changes are rapid. Some changes are irreversible, and some changes are elastic. It has its poles and zeros. It is not easy to keep track of all changes as I age, and I am sure my desire will change as I age.
· Contextual — My desires are conditionally dependent. Circumstances often dictate what I want and how I want them at any given time.
· Cognitive bias is a well-documented blind spot of a human mind. Unsurprisingly, I have many.
· Pet-peeves are atomic bombs of human desires. It is unpredictable, nonsensical, and annoying. For instance, I hate chewing sounds. It is hard to describe what I feel when I hear the sound. It is a combination of vein-popping outrage, profound frustration, and visceral anger. I don’t want to react this way, but I do.
She is still learning how my desires are shaped and how they are changing. She is mapping out my desires, all of its peaks and valleys. I am sure it is a maddening process for her. To be frank, it is equally difficult for me to map out her desires. However, the whole process prompts me to introspect quite a bit. As mentioned earlier, ‘being understood’ is very important for me. Growing up, I never quite fit in as I wasn’t particularly relatable, agreeable, sociable, nor popular. After a while, I assumed being misunderstood is a terrible social tax to exist in this world. After multiple bouts of confrontation with my wife, I am realizing I have a stronger need to be understood than I estimated.
- Wife, an emotion mirror
I am often unaware of my emotions and what emotions I am projecting. I don’t know how to take advantage of positive emotions or how to resolve negative emotions very well. In contrast, my wife is the Queen of ‘nunchi.’ She can detect subtle changes in my tone, facial expressions, and body language. There were times when she asked ‘what’s wrong?’, and I had no idea something was bothering me. It is nice to have explicit feedback on my emotional state. Having an ‘emotion mirror’ allows me to check, adjust, and modify my responses to emotion. I am more aware of my emotions. I articulate how I ‘feel’ more often. I am learning how to be constructive with my feelings.
- A crash course to become a negotiator
Given that I have no ‘nunchi’ and utterly incomprehensible desires, my wife has to explain literally everything. In return, I have to explain everything to her. This is not an easy task for a few reasons.
· Lost in translation — Language is truly a marvelous thing. It is a symbolic representation of our non-symbolic, non-linguistic, and abstract thoughts. It is efficient, generalizable, and interpretable. These traits make language an excellent tool for interpersonal communication, but it cannot fully capture every nitty-gritty, every minutia, and every nuance of our thoughts. Some of the details get lost in ‘translation.’ It is challenging to articulate our thoughts in ways others can understand clearly.
· Two separate bags of words — She studied Architecture and Social Works, specialized in non-profit management, and I studied Engineering and Mathematics. We have two different sets of vocabularies, and there are homophones that get us confused all the time.
· Different styles of communication — We talk, write, and speak very differently. These differences add another layer of friction. For instance, I would like to state my punchline first. Then, I corroborate my claims with an unnecessarily long list of exaggerations. On the other hand, my wife would like to save the punchline till the very end while I fall asleep waiting for her punchline.
- Conservation of energy
Most humans can make only a finite amount of good decisions per day. Now that I am married, I don’t have to spend energy finding the ‘right’ girl: no dating app, no blind dates, no “would’ve-could’ve-or-should’ve.” This is a rare occasion where vendor lock-in works in favor. Now that I have a wife, I can just focus on her.
- Pair bonding
Pair bonding is “the strong affinity that develops in some species between a mating pair, often leading to the production and rearing of offspring and potentially a lifelong bond.” Although there is no consensus on a human-typical mating system, “the stability of relationships, and the ways in which fathers invest, the residential pair-bond is a ubiquitous feature of human mating relationship”[source]. It typically takes 25 years for humans to fully develop, which is exceptionally long among mammals. For humans, stability from pair-bonding is critically important to raise children. Reproduction is one of the most primitive, yet sublime, desires, and marriage provides a foundation for a life-long pair bonding that is conducive for reproduction.
- Wife, an usher to the “real” world
South Korea is littered with nail shops, brow shops (where people get their eyebrows trimmed…I did not know these existed), and make-up stores. I often asked myself how come there are so many beauty stores if nobody goes there? I wrongly assumed no one would go because I had never been. Then, my wife ushered me to the ‘real’ world where I get to observe how ‘real’ people live. Apparently, many many many Koreans go to brow shops to get their eyebrows “tattooed.” 🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔🤷♂️🤷♂️🤷♂️🤷♂️🤷♂️🤷♂️🤷♂️. I am still suspicious of her claims.
- Wife, a defender of hairline
My hairline started to fade in the last year of my PhD, and I had gone through all five stages of trauma.
· Denial — it is a temporary hair loss given I’m stressed with PhD stuff.
· Anger — Parents, why have you given me this tragic gene?
· Bargaining — Oh well, it is not that bad.
· Depression — I bitterly wept for my fleeting youth.
· Acceptance — Life sucks, and suck is life.
One day, my wife noticed that my scalp was inflamed with dotted red patches. I did not think too much about it, but she insisted that I must switch shampoo and conditioner. I acquiesced and tried a few different brands. Lo and behold, my scalp has improved since. To my utter amazement, my hair started to grow back.
Concluding remark: For our first dance at the reception, we combed through YouTube to find a song and dance we liked. We rehearsed till our feet synchronized and the choreography seared into our prefrontal cortex. We felt confident that we were not going to embarrass ourselves. After my father’s legendary speech, it was our time to shine. We stood up ready to ‘wow’ the crowd with impeccable contours of gluteus maximus, but there were few things that we hadn’t really thought through. Both of us were tired after the wedding ceremony. The reception was a bit chilly. My wife felt constricted because of her party dress and high heels. It was our first time dancing to live music, and we had a big crowd.
All these differences compounded to a colossal meltdown. This was our once in a lifetime opportunity, but my palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy. There’s vomit on my dress shirt already. We quickly dissolved into a floppy clump of proteins. Our brains seized to function as we gazed into each other’s trembling retinas saturated in impending embarrassment. I thought to myself if we were going to screw up we might as well entertain the crowd. I improvised. I picked her up and swung her around. I put my shameless mask on and proceeded with the impromptu. I tried to masquerade off-beat jitters as hip syncopation. Everyone knew we screwed up so badly, but it was okay. We are thankful that we had a privilege to embarrass ourselves in front of people we love.
The first dance was a foretelling of what our first year would be. When we are in sync, it is bliss. But we often bump into each other. We step on each other’s toes. We get confused. We get frustrated. We have to ditch our plan. We have to improvise. We face new challenges every day. But it is okay. To borrow Carl Sagon’s beautifully articulated words,
In the vastness of space and the immensity of time, it is my joy to share a planet and an epoch with Annie. — Carl Sagon
Regardless of how things are panning out, it still is a great privilege (and a mystery) that I get to hold my wife’s hand in this vast space-time universe, most of which is incredibly hostile to life.