The day after the last class of my first masters degree, I flew to San Francisco to start a new life. I wanted to escape the suburbs, my family that had a different vision for my life than I did, and, most of all, the remains of a broken engagement. It was time to move on, and moving away seemed like the only feasible option. My fiance was a tremendous person who embodied so many of the qualities I most admire: humility, patience, and an ability to adapt and fit in anywhere. But he wasn’t the right person for me at that point in my life.
He was in medical school when we got engaged. After that, it would be residency, and after that, wherever he found a job. The unspoken arrangement was that my life would always be secondary to his. I might have a part-time job, but I would primarily be my husband’s wife. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gradually let go of some of the traditional schemas I held of marriage; mainly, that the wife’s career is secondary to her husband’s. It was those schemas, the relics of my childhood, and their repercussions that I wanted to escape.
Had I gotten married, I would have had a comfortable life, no doubt, but one that was already planned out before I lived it. It would be predictable, as much as life can be. He would be a successful doctor; I would be friends with the neighbors’ wives. I would host dinner parties consumed with what I would serve, the flowers accenting the china, and earning the perception of a perfect, decorous wife.
On the surface, I could have played the role well – being raised by a traditional, Southern mother has its advantages. Devoting oneself to public perfection and the comfort of others was normal and expected.
Internally, I imagined myself wilting. I would shrink until nothing was left. I would want to run away, but lack the energy to do it. Lack the ability to take care of myself. Lack what comes with living by yourself as an adult. And where would I go? What framework would I have built for myself to cling on to – to climb up on and escape? Who would I be outside of my marriage? What would be my purpose?
I wanted to explore possibility, create options. I wanted to build my own identity through my work. So I took a chance, left, and never regretted it.
Eight years later, I married a man not dissimilar to my first fiance. But I was different. And though I will still make every effort to select flowers that accent the china, that in itself will not be my identify.