Thinking of the years prior to marriage, I am able to now realize that I was made up of unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations for myself, my future spouse, my friends, my hypothetical children. Unrealistic expectations of what adulthood was, versus what it actually is. I was young and naive. Oh, so naïve. When my now-husband proposed, those unrealistic expectations multiplied. I remember being extremely focused on the wedding planning. I agonized over those details, but prided myself on being “a laid back bride.” I swore I wouldn’t fuss over the color of the napkins or anything tedious. But looking back, I did fuss. And it was a bit tedious.
Being engaged was a fun time, and I am not in any way trying to discount that. Many of my friends were engaged as well, and the giddiness that ensued among all of us was indescribable. The looks on the faces of my friends and family when I found my wedding dress is something I’ll never forget. My bachelorette party with 20 lifelong friends was epic. Dreaming of my special day for an entire year was exciting. And my wedding? Something out of a magazine. That time in my life was a happy one. But then, once the party was over, marriage began. And let’s just say, that year leading up to marriage had me a bit disillusioned.
Not a fairy tale
Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE being married. Aside from a career, a big dream of mine was to have someone to share my life with: the good, the bad, the ugly. Having a partner is something I never take for granted. However, the growing pains are real, especially in the first 1-3 years of marriage. That year leading up to the wedding was a fairy tale. My fiancé and I celebrated often. I constantly discussed details and of course, I had a countdown on my phone. We were on a high on our wedding night and for the months to follow. What I didn’t know, at the time, is that what was to come after the wedding was not a fairy tale. It would be real life. With bills. With loss. With heartache. It would be hard. Like, really hard.
I quickly learned that married couples argue. I also learned that our schedules would be different, and quality time would be scarce. We got pregnant pretty quickly, and I learned that dads don’t jump out of bed all night long to tend to the newborn like I thought they did. I was tired, and I had no idea what I was doing. The biggest lesson learned was that household chores would be the most common topic of our arguments, to which there would rarely be a solution. My unrealistic expectations shifted, and we started living on auto pilot. Survival mode. We were constantly trying to keep our busy schedules managed, spend time together, raise a new baby, and keep our house in livable condition. No one told me during marriage prep how to succeed at that juggling act, and it came as a shock to me just how hard it all was.
Selecting the perfect china
Growing up, I remember longingly looking in my grandmother’s china cabinet at her beautiful wedding china. Her pattern was white with violets and purple pansies (purple was her favorite color). I inherited that china and it is so meaningful to me. I also remember admiring my mother’s china. It was cream, with a mint green border, etched in gold. It looked royal to me. Her crystal had a beautiful pattern etched on the tops of the glasses, with a dainty gold ring around the top. Simple and stunning. I drank sparkling water out of them as a young girl, dreaming of the day I’d meet my prince charming and I would pick out my wedding china and crystal. When I was engaged, I recall being obsessed with the china set I would choose for our home. I wanted something Southern yet feminine. Traditional, yet stylish. I lost sleep over choosing something we could use that would be functional, yet special. Since I inherited my grandmother’s china, I was choosing an everyday set. Once I found it, I was over the moon. My Lenox Butler’s Pantry every day china set represented so much more than just plates and bowls. It represented my womanhood. It was everything I’d dreamed of my entire life. I was in bride heaven. My husband couldn’t care less, but was genuinely happy for me.
We don’t have a dishwasher, so as you can imagine, who would do the dishes was a frequent disagreement. When we had company over, the dishes would fill the sink. We cook every night, so the dishes were another job, on top of our demanding full-time jobs. We fought incessantly over this, driving me to go on strike once. We spent so much time not only arguing over the dishes, but doing dishes. It became an exhausting, time consuming chore. Staring at my Lenox china, I thought to myself, “How did something that was once so precious to me be causing me so much stress?” Then, one day, it clicked. I was grocery shopping and picking up paper towels when I spotted the paper plates. I thought to myself, “Wow, wouldn’t that be nice?!” I thought about what it would be like to just throw away a plate after eating, and my jaw dropped at the thought. I grabbed them, threw them in my buggy and went on my way. When I got home and unpacked the groceries, my husband said “what are these for?” Surely these paper plates couldn’t be for HIS wife. Not the woman who acted like Princess Kate choosing the royal china pattern. I told him they were for us. We were going to use paper plates for a while. In complete shock, he responded “I have been wanting to suggest that for a long time, but I didn’t bother because I figured you would NEVER use paper plates.”
Paper plates saved my marriage
He was right. After the intense china-choosing process of 2013, I would NEVER have dreamed of using paper plates. But after a few years of being married, those paper plates represented more than just what we ate dinner on. The proverbial paper plate became so much more than that. I switched to “paper plates” in many more aspects of my life. I stopped obsessing over tedious details. I decided my house was clean enough. I decided it’s ok if I don’t cook one week and we survive on takeout. It’s ok if my daughter doesn’t have the perfect bow to go with her holiday monogramed attire (Full disclosure this is still something I take VERY seriously, but you get the idea). I chose to relax, which in turn, caused him to relax. Piece by piece we made small changes in our lives that simplified things. It was liberating and so good for our relationship.
It didn’t take long for my unrealistic expectations to wash away and suddenly, there I was: living. Living in my marriage, living in motherhood, accepting imperfections, and embracing the chaos. No longer a slave to my perfect china set, I was spending less time doing dishes and more time playing with my daughter or kissing my husband. The best part? My husband and I stopped arguing! Just kidding. BUT, we have stopped arguing about the little things, and choose our battles more wisely. We’ve faced so many hardships since being married, including a baby in NICU, death of family members, miscarriage, and so many more. Switching to the paper plate in all facets of our lives has helped us to put our energy toward what matters.
Honestly, the hardest part in this process, for me, was looking in the mirror and finding fault in my unrealistic expectations. Living up to those grand standards was pretty exhausting, and once I decided to give myself some grace, I felt free. Eventually, switching things out to make our lives a little easier became natural. I became a little more spontaneous. I laugh more. My husband has seen a change in me. Now I’m able to understand that when we are in our 80’s rocking on our front porch, we will not remember who did the dishes on October 17, 2016. We will, however, remember and discuss that afternoon we took our baby girl outside to play until the sun set and kissed and told one another how grateful we are for this life as we grilled steaks and sat by a bonfire. Those picture perfect moments are so much clearer now without all the background noise. And for the record, we still use my beautiful Lenox china on occasion. It makes it that much more special when we do.
And that young bride I once was? I remember her fondly. She was young, sweet, naïve, and hopeful. I hope to keep those qualities forever, ditching the unrealistic expectations of perfection. Maturity is weird like that. You can pick and choose what parts of you will shine through. For me, I choose the hopeless romantic who hates doing dishes. That version of me is working for now, and I hope she sticks around.