I planned my dream wedding when I was 6 years old. I had met my soulmate in my kindergarten class, and I was positive that our love was going to last forever. Because of my deep passion for organizing, my only clear option was to figure out every nitty-gritty detail of when and where we would tie the knot.

Summer or Winter? Summer. The wedding will be outside, so it must be gorgeous out.

Big or small? Big, with everyone I know in attendance.

First dance? ToIf We Were a Movie” by Hannah Montana. Does it get more romantic than that?

It sounds absurd, I know.

But the idea of the beautiful white dress and a shiny diamond ring was something I knew I wanted since I was introduced to the concept of marriage. I had my parents’ relationship as my one true guide as to what marriage looks like, and they were happily in love. My mom and dad are the kind of people who do what they can to constantly keep their romance alive. They always acted — and still do — as if they were two teens who just recently fell for each other, forever stuck in the honeymoon period. My dad would bring my mom home flowers just to remind her how much he loves her. My mom would surprise him with random subscriptions to * Blank * of the Month clubs, a gesture that undoubtedly parallels his bouquet of roses. Whether it was the hot sauce, bacon or beer, her gifts were the most romantic thing my father could ask for.

They never left the house, hung up the phone, or said goodbye without saying, “I love you.

Their evident happiness was what marriage was to me. I thought no differently for any other married couple.

With everyone around me seemingly following this path, life to me went as followed: grow up, go to college, settle down, get married. Marriage was the utmost kick-starter to a normal, happy life. It was the key to a successful future — an end goal that I had to dedicate my life to.

Find the perfect life partner, find the perfect diamond ring, find the perfect white dress, and you’re all set. I had never thought otherwise until middle school, when I started watching a majority of my friends’ parents get divorced. To put a number on it, in the course of three years, the “happy” parents of six of my friends decided to end their marriage. And I started questioning.

If marriage is truly centered around the idea of everlasting love, why do almost one in two marriages end in divorce?

It’s a question that still lingers with me to this day, becoming deeper and more complex as I further explore the topic. With research, I learned the implications behind matrimony and the benefits embedded in its original purpose. Marriage began as a method of forming alliances among between families, often as a strategic tactic in maintaining social status in society. Marriages often involved dowries, or a basic trade involving money or property in exchange for the potential spouse. The beautiful white dresses we fantasize over about weren’t popularized until the marriage of Queen Victoria in the 1840s. The diamond rings we pray for weren’t tradition for the everyday person until De Beers changed their marketing tactics to increase profits in the 1930s. The glorification of marriage as the be-all and end-all to happiness is a modern idea, disregarding the methodical and capitalistic reasons behind the institution.

Society has conditioned people, specifically young girls, from childhood to forget these truths and romanticize the idea of marriage. It is made out to be a desirable fairy tale that, without it, would lead to a boring, miserable life of loneliness.

Though few married couples would admit they give into this sad truth, one would be ostracized for thinking otherwise. Single parents have a stigma following them everywhere; couples with children but without a license to prove their love for each other are condemned. But the idea of marriage is inherently flawed within itself. It has been misconstrued from its initial purpose and twisted into something straight out of a romantic comedy or Disney film.

To many, a relationship isn’t valid until the couple has said their vows, and love isn’t real until there is a wedding to prove it. But if the historical institution of marriage only entails a dowry and a tax write-off, why should people be so quick to give into the myth that it is the only way to confirm true love? A couple should not need a beautiful white wedding dress and a shiny diamond ring to prove to society their love. A happy life should not center around a piece of paper claiming wedlock.

I’ve come to realize that the real concept that I’ve been longing for since I was little was not the white dress or diamond ring, and definitely not the idea of marriage itself. Instead, what I want is the love that always feels spontaneous, the love that always feels genuine, the love that always feels real. That is what my parents have, and somewhere along the way, I mistakenly attributed the uniqueness that defines their relationship to the mere fact that they were married.

I may no longer know what time of year I plan to get married in, the size of the potential wedding, or the song for my first dance (though Hannah Montana is a superstar and I can’t help but let my initial choice stick). To be completely honest, I’m not even positive that I want to get married in general. My kindergarten wedding was based on high hopes and good intentions, but I’ve come to realize the fantasy I hoped for has shifted.

My 6-year-old self dreamed of a perfect wedding. My 18-year-old self dreams of authentic love and happiness, regardless of what society deems “recognizable.”

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