Marriage Vows & the Myth of a Good Catch
Dear Susu #5: “Is it selfish to ask someone to marry you if you’re 'broken'?”
Welcome to the newest installment of Dear Susu, my advice column where I answer your questions about writing and life and everything in between. Today’s question is from “Cracked Vase,” who wonders if it’s selfish to ask for the commitment of marriage if her health poses limitations on her partner’s life. I shared my thoughts and also had my beloved, Jon Batiste, weigh in.
My life was radically interrupted by what I now refer to as “my private pandemic,” when a complex autoimmune disease ravaged my whole nervous system. I was at the peak of my career with a new job I loved, when I began experiencing unremitting fatigue, loss of muscular strength, and a range of debilitating neurological symptoms. At thirty-four, the vibrant life I had planned fell away like big chunks of earth in a slow-motion avalanche.
A few months before my unraveling, I had also fallen in love, a rare and revelatory phenomenon in my life. I met A. only once in person just before leaving the country for a long-awaited writer’s retreat. I spent more time during that month crafting letters to him than on my writing project. In turn, his own writing, and the vulnerability and tenderness he disclosed there, slowly opened my tentative heart. I returned home ready to discard the old story I had lugged around for years: that I would end up all alone.
Fast forward almost four years: A. and I have navigated the complexity of the pandemic, moving to another state so I could receive more intensive medical care, including off-label use of chemotherapy, and a dizzying rollercoaster of high hopes for my health only to be plummeted back into confusion and despair when treatments have failed. Never have I felt more adrift, broken, and inadequate.
Amazingly, A. is still by my side. There have been countless times when illness has been so traumatizing that I have not wanted to live with my experience, so it surprises me daily that A. keeps choosing to be with me. At one point I considered myself an incredible catch: well-educated, intelligent, attractive, empathic, creative. But after so many years of being pummeled by illness, I feel like a once beautiful vase that is cracked and marked down on the sale shelf by fifty percent. The fate of my health is unknown, as is planning a future life. My functionality is limited and A. often has to engage in normal couple activities on his own. He is an incredibly adventurous person who imagines living in multiple countries and backpacking all over the world. Meanwhile, there are days when I can’t get off the couch.
So here’s my dilemma: I would like to ask A. to marry me, but is it fair to ask him to commit to a future that may involve more limitations in contrast to the adventures he envisions? I admit to wanting the containment and stability that marriage can provide. I also feel proud of everything we’ve traversed and wish to honor this: I think our relationship is ready to graduate to this next phase. At a pre-illness time in my life, I wouldn’t question my self-worth, but illness has made me lose confidence and ultimately, question my lovability given how vulnerable, at times dependent, I feel. Is it selfish to want this commitment?
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