I was never one of those little girls who daydreamed about her future wedding. I was too busy playing softball, working diligently on my schoolwork, or preparing for my next flute recital. By my mid-twenties, I’d been in a handful of increasingly disappointing long-term relationships.
Like so many young American women, I came to an implicit realization: I had two unsatisfying choices regarding relationships. I could settle for a guy who either didn’t have his life together or didn’t treat me so well. Or I could give up on the idea of finding a long-term partner altogether. I chose the latter.
As a budding social scientist and a lifelong feminist, I had grown increasingly disillusioned with the whole concept of marriage anyway. I knew that marriage is often a lopsided deal, especially for career-oriented women like myself. In my sociology courses, I learned that wives bear more of the housework and childrearing burden, even when both spouses have full-time jobs.
I learned that marriages today are as likely to end in divorce as to end in “happily ever after.”
I learned that Western marriage is rooted in a legal and philosophical tradition where women were treated like property, rather than people. (It wasn’t until 1974 that women were allowed to apply for a loan in the U.S. without a man as a cosigner. And it wasn’t until 1993 that every U.S. state recognized that it was possible for rape to happen between a married couple.)
I learned that monogamy is a lofty goal that a startling number of people are unable to adhere to in their marriage. (21% of married men and 15% of married women admit to having had an extramarital affair.)
The choice was pretty clear, then, particularly for someone like me who had big dreams. Given all of those risks and restrictions that marriage imposes, there was certainly no one I’d ever met who made me want to enter into the institution of marriage.
So at the tender age of 25, I decided that I would never marry. I became fiercely independent. I reveled in the fact that I lived alone. In my two-bedroom apartment, I cooked whatever food I wanted, I went to bed whenever I felt like it, and I cleaned whenever I decided it was necessary. I traveled around the world by myself – I even moved to Paris for a year completely on my own, found a place to live, found a job, and got myself admitted to a graduate program there. These were all incredibly delicious experiences that, to this day, I cherish deeply – even if, at the time, some felt like insurmountable challenges. Somehow I always managed to prevail, to figure it out, to do it myself, on my own terms.
I distinctly remember spending Thanksgiving at my parents’ house one year and realizing that I had to tell them about my decision to never marry. They had asked me if I had ‘anyone special’ I wanted to bring to Thanksgiving that year. I most certainly did not. And a few hours into the quiet meal – just the three of us – I burst into tears. I told them everything: even though I was their only daughter – their only child – I would never get married. They’d never get to walk me down the aisle. There would be no partner in my life. There would be no grandchildren. I cried softly, and my parents gently affirmed that they loved me no matter what, and supported me no matter how I lived my life.
Of course, the universe is a great cosmic jokester. A few months later, I met Amol, fell deeply in love, and knew that I wanted to marry him. The realities of the tradition and institution of marriage had not changed. So why did I suddenly experience such a literal change of heart about wanting to marry?
The answer is that with Amol, I experienced a new kind of love that I didn’t know was possible – transcendent love. I realized that transcendent love would allow us to build an entirely new concept of marriage that would serve as a foundation for our lives together. To build our marriage, we could use the philosophical and spiritual raw materials underlying transcendent love, rather than the prefabricated blueprint offered by society that I had grown so disenchanted with.
I now see that the first part of my journey in finding transcendent love was to peel away the illusions I’d been taught about love, marriage, and partnership. For me, that meant unlearning the poisonous notion that to be married is the only way to be fully “adult.” It meant unlearning that to be a wife and mother is the only way to be fully “woman.” It meant unlearning that to have a life partner is the only way to be “whole” or “complete.”
Only when I utterly rejected these ideas was I able to invest fully in my own life as a whole, happy, independent person. What I didn’t realize in doing this was that I was also opening space in my mind and heart for a different kind of love than the one I’d been taught to need my whole life.
The second part of my journey, then, was finding and meeting someone completely unlike anyone I’d met before, someone who was capable of this different kind of love. I can’t envision ever making the switch from never-marry to married with anyone other than Amol, and that’s because I deeply admire him, and I know he deeply admires me.
This mutual admiration is the “secret ingredient” to successful long-term relationships according to behavioral economist Dan Ariely. Mutual admiration is a form of respect in which we love something about our partner that has nothing to do with us, or with their relationship to us. In the case of me and Amol, that has to do with our admiration of one another’s multiple intelligences. And this mutual, deep admiration allows us to completely trust one another, precisely because we are not dependent on one another. Such admiration is only possible because we each strove to make our own lives completely fulfilling before we entangled ourselves in couplehood.
The part of my journey which is now enfolding is the whole building-a-new-kind-of-marriage part. Amol and I have made a conscious choice to reject both the prefabricated Western and Eastern models of love, and build a hybrid one instead, one that draws on the best of both worlds.
But we’ve also decided to treat marriage like a transformative experience. Philosopher L.A. Paul defines a transformative experience as something we can choose to go through that will fundamentally alter who we are and what we want. Transformative experiences are tricky things, because we cannot know what we will be like on the other side of the experience.
Not many people treat their marriage like a transformative experience. This is particularly true since many of us now wait until we’re a lot older to get married. Taking a ‘transformative experience’ approach to marriage means trusting Amol to influence and shape me and my future in ways that I would have never expected, and Amol trusting me to do the same.
In our book, we further detail the concept of transcendent love, in particular, how it is different from our preconceived notions of love. We hope to explain how transcendent love can form the basis of a transformative experience, wherein marriage blossoms out of love rather than becoming a social obligation. Our dream is to illuminate how such a path is possible for anyone who is seeking a spiritually fulfilling partnership.