I spent the first 25 years of my life convinced that finding a partner was the key to living happily ever after.
I had watched the rom coms, read the fairytales, and had been brought up in a very traditional Christian household that put a lot of focus on getting married. Women were supposed to find husbands, those husbands were supposed to take care of them, the women were supposed to have lots of children and care for those children, and together they would grow happier and closer in their joint relationship with God.
By the time I was 17, my feminist education had begun and I started to doubt that this traditional model of marriage would make me happy, but despite all of my logical reasoning, I still believed that getting married and finding “the one” was going to be the key to my happiness. One day I’d find that person, and everything would be perfect and I’d finally feel complete.
I went through the next eight years of my life perpetually single and rarely dating anyone for more than a few months. Slowly, all of my friends began to pair off, and I found myself excluded from the couples-only outings and double dates. I kept hoping that one day I would find my person and then I’d finally get to experience the joy that all my friends did. I’d finally get that happily ever after moment. At 25, I was started to believe it would never happen, as I was practically a spinster in my family, since my brother, parents, and cousins had all been married by the time they were 22.
And then, one day in 2011 when I was least expecting it, it happened. We met and it was pretty much love at first sight. We hit it off instantly, starting dating two days later, and have been together ever since. In 2015, we were married, I was finally considered an adult in the eyes of my parents, and I thought, “Yes! This is it!”
But something happened in the months and years that have followed that forced me to change my entire worldview around marriage and partnership — I found I could be happily married and still be very much depressed.
Society had done such a good job of teaching me that finding the right partner was the answer to everything. I had found that partner: loving, funny, supportive, loyal, progressive, my equal, and always there for me no matter what. It took finding the love of my life to realize that my depression was real, that I had to fix it for myself, and no amount of love from another person was going to make it go away.
The two and a half years since my wedding have arguably been the worst and most difficult of my life, and yet my marriage has been wonderful. Each day we grow stronger and closer in our partnership, but my anxiety, fears, and stress have grown, too. Changes in my career, our up and down financial status, the loss of friends to domestic violence, the loss of family members to cancer, the loss of a beloved pet, and the weight of all the violence and injustice in the world began to sit squarely on my chest and many days I felt like I couldn’t exert the energy to exist.
It took finding the love of my life to realize that my depression was real, that I had to fix it for myself, and no amount of love from another person was going to make it go away.
Just four months ago I hit a low point. I found myself in a state of despair like I had never felt before. I struggled to get out of bed. I struggled to leave the house. I struggled to do my job here at Catalyst. I had friends texting me each morning to make sure I was still here. I saw the impact I was having on my loved ones, including my husband, and the guilt of that compounded with my own grief.
And then I went to therapy.
Now, this is not to say that therapy is the key to everything, but for me, it was a start. It was something I could do to work through my depression, and to take responsibility for it. Getting married wasn’t the key to me finding happiness and mental stability. Instead, it was going to take daily introspection and a lot of painful work to break through and understand why I have suffered from depression and anxiety for so much of my life.
Slowly, I have been bringing meditation, journaling, and yoga back into my life, as well. All that mixed with weekly therapy has helped me turn a corner. I am not 100% happy, and I doubt I ever will be, but I have the clarity of knowing that my mental health is my responsibility, not that of my partner’s. Having a supportive partner has made it easier, and I’m so thankful for that. For many people, an unsupportive partner can be a barrier to finding mental health care and can be more damaging than good.
So if you are approaching your marriage with the hopes that it will solve all of your problems, I encourage you to stop and reflect on how you can learn to better love yourself in the days leading up to your wedding.
What can you do to take responsibility for your own happiness, as opposed to putting it in the hands of another person? How can you lean on your partner without completely relying on them? How can you support your partner on their own path to finding good mental health? How can you set boundaries to ensure your mental health is a priority in your life?
This path is going to look different for every person and for every relationship, but for too long the messages the wedding industry has sent us about “the happiest days of our lives” have been incomplete. We all deserve happiness, not on just one day, but every day.
Jen Siomacco is the CEO and Creative Director of Catalyst Wedding Co. She works to mesh together her love of feminism, love stories, equality and design into the layout and brand of Catalyst while she sits on her couch and snuggles up with her SUPER lazy cats.