On The Institution of Marriage, or How Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” Pretty Much Nails It

I wanted to watch comedian Aziz Ansari’s Netflix original show Master of None when it first came out.  My friends were all raving about it, all my feminist news sites I follow were praising it for its “woke-ness,” and I was in the mood for a good new show.

But it came out at the beginning of November last year, a month and a half after I moved out of my Chicago apartment, leaving behind  (not by my choice) my marriage and soon to be ex wife.

And, from what I had read about it,  the show talked a lot about relationships and marriage.

And, at this point, seeing even my Facebook friends post anything remotely regarding their relationships was like stabbing a knife between my ribs.

So I decided that, perhaps, it would be wise for my mental health to wait a while.

Months passed, raw wounds scabbed over, and I began to move on.

It has now been a full year since the downward spiral of my marriage, and, dammit, it was time to give the show a watch.

Yup. It’s great.  It touches on so many important issues, from the experience of a child of immigrants, Hollywood’s problem with casting people of color, my generation’s interaction with the elderly, interracial dating, micro-aggressions against women, discusses the Plan-B Pill, features a queer woman of color…and yes, it does a deep dive into the whole cycle of a serious relationship.

It depicts the first meeting.

The initial chemistry.

The on-and-off-again start.

The deep dive into something special.

The fun honeymoon period.

The decision to move in together.

The reality that sets in.  The monotony of daily life.

The attempts to spice things up.

The challenges of two people having different goals, and the struggle to compromise.

And the realization that two years have gone by, and the contemplation about, if they are not truly the one you want to spend the rest of your life with, what then?

So close to home.

There is a scene in the final episode in which Aziz’s character Dev and his long time girlfriend Rachel attend a wedding. They watch the couple exchange vows, both gushing and sincere and so utterly sure.

I found this clip on YouTube (sorry for the poor quality) of what happens next:

And here’s a transcript if you’re not in a position to watch it right now:

Dev: Rachel, I’m…not 100% sure about this. Are you the one person that I’m supposed to be with forever? I don’t fucking know. And what’s the other option? We break up? That seems shitty too. And I love you. I do. I love you so much but not as much as Larry loves Andrea. Damn. Goddamn. I mean, that exists? No doubts, no fears, nothing? Come on. I don’t know, I guess… getting married just is a safer bet at this point. [sighs] Sorry, I was just thinking about other paths my life could have taken.

Rachel: Dev, you’re a great guy. You really are. But you’re right. Are we supposed to be together forever? I don’t know. And it just sucks because it just feels like everything’s laid out now. There are no more surprises. We get married, have kids, get old, and then we die. And I’ve basically invested two of my prime years with you, so I should just go all in. That’s just math. So let’s do this. Quickly.

Officiant: Do you, Dev, take Rachel to be your partner in a possibly outdated institution in order to have a “normal” life? Are you ready to give up an idealistic search for a soul mate and try to make it work with Rachel so you can move forward with your life?

Dev: I do.

Officiant: And do you, Rachel, promise to make a crazy eternal bond with this gentleman who you happen to be dating at this stage in your life when people normally get married?

Rachel: I do.

Officiant: I now pronounce you two people who might realize they’ve made an unfortunate mistake in about three years.

–Master of None, Finale episode 1-10 (transcript source)

Wow, there’s a lot to unpack there.

And I get it. So much.  Looking back to three years ago when my ex wife and I got engaged, I felt this way too.  Admittedly, I was so depressed I wasn’t really in a state to make life-altering decisions, but these same thoughts floated under the murky surface of my consciousness.

I’m still sad I can’t wear my black diamond engagement ring anymore. It’s the only engagement ring I have ever liked. (Photo by Carolyn Sinon)

We had been dating for two and a half years when we got engaged.  It was longer than any relationship I had ever been in.  I was almost 28, and she was 37.  Same-sex marriage for all states was on the horizon, and dammit, if it was legalized, we wouldn’t let that hard-won right go to waste.

Sure, there were some issues.  My antidepressants rendered me completely asexual, and, as difficult as it was for my ex, she told me that she wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, no matter what.

I had issues with her irresponsibility with money.

There were other things too that I won’t lay out here, but, all in all, we were pretty good together. Our friends gushed about how adorable we were together. We were “forever penguins.”

I had a pocket watch engraved for her that said “To my forever pengwan, love Amanda” and the date of our wedding (Photo by Carolyn Sinon)

Surely I couldn’t “do any better.”
Dating was exhausting and full of drama.  I wanted to be done with that.

It was so comfortable to know what was in store for me, to have a routine, to have someone to cuddle with while we watched Netflix.

Someone who would always be there as I went to sleep, nestled in the crook of her arm.

Someone who would be there to poke my nose obnoxiously to wake me up as I pressed snooze for the seventh time.

Someone who joked about having walking-cane fights with me when we were old, and how she would wipe my ass and change my diapers but she knew I am not a nurturing person so she would have to hire someone for her own.

All of these things were so comforting.  I had so many things to worry about, but I loved that at least this part of my life was all figured out.

But still, those little nagging questions remained.

She was so comfortable, but it lacked a passion I had experienced in previous partners.

Maybe this was just truer, I thought.

Would I always have to treat her like an irresponsible teenager when it came to our finances?

Would I miss being with men?

There was some discussion about, when we were in a healthier place, opening up the marriage.  But I knew she was insecure about me still being attracted to men, so I didn’t know if that would ever be an option.

I loved her so much, and couldn’t imagine life without her.  So what would the other option be? Call off the engagement and stay together for who know how long, but have a less legally binding relationship for easier exit?  Break up?  Start all over?

Marriage seemed the best option. And, like Rachel said, “it just sucks because it just feels like everything’s laid out now. There are no more surprises. We get married, have kids, get old, and then we die. And I’ve basically invested two of my prime years with you, so I should just go all in. That’s just math. So let’s do this.”

And so we did.

Our wedding was untraditonal in all ways. I wore a black dress and we both wore Converse. (Photos by Carolyn Sinon)

We were legally divorced less than a year and a half after we were married, and separated for over six months of that time.

Marriage.  I don’t fucking know what that means anymore.

To some, it’s disposable.

I was only the second person in both sides of my family to ever get divorced. It’s just not something my family does.

It’s not someone I thought I would ever do.

But I never legally changed my name. We hyphenated our last names.  Children were never going to be in the equation.

Was I just lazy?

Did I, in the far recesses of my mind, know it wasn’t going to last?

My wife told me, days before I moved out, “I’m hoping to have a kid within the next four years.”

I was blindsided. I knew she was supposedly apathetic about kids.  Had she just set aside those dreams because I was so adamantly against them? And dear Lord, how the hell could she ever afford one?

And now, here I am once again, single. Tinder is now a thing.  And so many people my age are looking for “something serious” and so many of them have kids.

And here I am, 30 years old, and not even sure what my expectations are. For, like, the rest of my life.

I was never scared of marriage before.

But now I don’t know if I will ever be able to do it again.

What is the point, really?  Tax purposes? Death benefits, hospital visitation rights. The same last name for kids, if you want.

I’m so fucking scared.  I’m scared to get close to anyone again.  Because it will either end badly soon, or end badly years down the road after I have invested all of me once again.

Or I could find my real Forever Penguin.

But the odds aren’t good.

And that’s depressing as hell.


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