How Getting Married at 23 Made Me a Better Feminist

April 1st, 2020

Michelle Bruno

Artwork by Maddy Meredith

Like many millennial feminists, I grew up absorbing (then rejecting) the socially imposed idea that marriage was what would ultimately and inherently define me as a woman. Though younger me would dream of big, poofy, white dresses and everything princess themed on that expected day, once I was a teenager, this fairytale ideal quickly turned to unwanted fiction.  When I grew more into my feminism and myself, marriage became synonymous with every kind of patriarchal oppression I could imagine. The house was a prison where the husband was the warden, knowingly and invisibly controlling every aspect of life and its (lack of) meaning. Children were the shackles and women, of course, the prisoners. This might seem a bit hyperbolic, but if I were to use my own broken house and family as reference, I could only paint a picture with the vibrant hues of violence, abuse and patriarchy.

 

Once I moved to rural Brazil as a young adult, my picture only became more discouraging. It seemed as though every family around me was only proving my point. Silent wives and mothers seemed to scream to me their injustices during family gatherings, while men sat, drank and rejoiced in their absolute masculinity. Already, I could see the future playing out while little girls were forced to cook, serve and clean, while their older brothers basked in liberty. To my family, it's as though I was a lost cause. My rebelliousness combined with a desire to learn, teach and question were definitely not the status quo. This concoction challenged and frightened them. So they downplayed my achievements and way of life, as I clearly had not yet become a woman in their eyes.

Then, the unexpected happened. A few years later, thanks to life's ironic sense of humor, I met the love of my life. We began living together the day we met and decided to marry two months in, setting the date for our fourth month together. From our first second together, we were brutally honest about our scars, our histories, our expectations. Our desires lit our insides on fire and that fire was continually fuelled by our true intentions with one another. That first month we spent days that turned into nights then days again, just talking, about everything and nothing. In a day, we went from strangers to lovers, in a week from lovers to confidants, and a month from confidants to life partners. All of a sudden, the future didn't seem so bleak. 

During our first night together, one of his friends commented that we were going to get married, and that he would one day say he told us so. I laughed, grabbed another beer and tried to convince myself that the butterflies were just chemical reactions. Still, part of me couldn't help but hope that everything I was feeling in that moment was true. I kept waiting for that feeling to end, that mystical magnetism that forever kept my upturned lips from defying the laws of gravity. The one that demanded nothing from me, because it was found especially in the moments when I was being my authentic self. That feeling that is impossible to describe without turning to every overused cliché, but this time it didn't end, or diminish. It didn't impair my senses, it made me see clearer than the first time I put on my glasses and realized that life was so much more colorful than I had ever experienced. 

Like most, I had loved before. I had also hurt in so many ways that I thought unrecoverable. But this time was different. This time I was not a love junkie, looking desperately to find someone to make me feel what I could not alone. I was not so famished that I accepted crumbs of affection and mistook it for a meal. I did not quake in my understanding and acceptance of myself as to perform behavioral acrobacy to fit into any shape offered to me. I was finally unapologetically me. Pedro did not complete me, for we were both already whole. So whole that when we collided, it was an eternal supernova. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that our lives were forever interlocked. Marriage was the only logical thing left to do. I knew it when I watched the way he spoke to my friends. I pictured it every time we spoke. My friends noticed and approved of it without a word. And, as crazy as it seems, I felt it that first night we met. 

Fast forward to the present. We are both in Ireland, where I am getting my Master's degree in Comparative Social Change. Though Trinity College is prestigious and teaches me an awful lot, my marriage is teaching me more about myself and the world than I ever could have imagined. Human rights and global social change have been what I have long been researching and striving for. Yet, it is in my conversations with him that I have truly learned. Apart from all the texts I read and projects I execute, living life by his side has enlightened me on how to be humble, compassionate, empathetic and loving. He teaches me about forgiveness, communication and hope. Without labeling himself, he is the biggest feminist, activist and ally. He practices but does not preach. It is because of those like him that this world is a better place. I do need to point out that I married the most exceptional man I have ever had the pleasure of meeting in my life, but the younger feminist in me would still be shocked to hear me say that with everything in my life I have achieved and, against the odds, overcome, my marriage is what I am most proud of. 

 

The house, once a prison, has become the highest form of independence, autonomy and freedom. Although I still dream of traveling the world, pursuing higher academic degrees and and striving for an impactful career trajectory, I also want the self-realization that comes with every good morning kiss, every coffee brought to my bed, each dinner made with so much love and the moments together reveling in our castle, that from the outside may seem to others like a tiny apartment. 

I know the intimacies of my marriage. I know that I am married to my best friend, someone who can make me laugh in every possible way, who listens to me and makes me feel seen and heard in a way I had never felt. Only I know the security we finally feel in one another, of having someone who, despite it all, will do everything in their power to be with you and make things work out. The goals written on our walls are ours, and the excitement of getting home after a long day is ours as well. In a social media world of insistently posted perfection, with millions of people trying to prove each of them is happier than the next, I see an influx of romanticizing romance, or better yet, condemning solitude. However, solitude is wonderful. It is only improved by someone who can be their own, with you. I don't believe everyone should be married, nor do I think happiness comes exclusively from not being alone. But I do know that my marriage is what brings me the most joy. It's what excites me about the future, what calms me when I'm anxious. It's what most empowers me and what makes me feel most like myself. 

The universe has thrust upon me a path which, anxiously examining my life map, I had never expected. I am living what I never thought I would, and it makes me more compassionate, understanding and prepared to truly listen to those around me. It makes me understand that each path is unique and special, and that none are wrong, simply different. 

Though many still respond with shock to the fact that I am young and married, as I would have not too long ago, I simply smile and understand that life has a funny way of teaching us that no one is better than the next. Each journey is precious, and better yet, each is our very own.