I used to think that the most important part of any marriage was in two people who refused to "let themselves go." Of course, that was 13 years and three kids ago. I was 24 when we got engaged, and back then, staying "hot" was as simple as running 5 miles a day to offset the tubs of peanut butter cups and cookies my new husband and I consumed nightly.
I am not proud.
A new essay from 33-year-old writer Amanda Lauren claims that she thinks one of her vows is that she needs to stay hot for her marriage. She says being attractive is what makes her marriage hum and her husband's friends jealous. Her point was not well received. Obviously there are many women — and men and gender-nonconforming people — who don't fit that mainstream look who are more than deserving of loving and long marriages. If being conventionally hot were the only prerequisite to a long and loving marriage, a lot of worthy and wonderful people would be left out in the cold. But even putting all that aside, taking a vow at 33, before children and aging have had their way, is dangerous indeed.
I used to value being conventionally hot. In my 20s, it was very important to me to have perfect abs that fit into a bikini quite nicely. I valued long hair and large breasts and all those things. My husband loved me for my brain first, but he was also more than happy to take advantage of my obsession with looks. It is easy enough when you are young and your metabolism is crazy good. It really doesn't take that much work. But as you age and have children, things slow down. Things change. You also get deeper. And you realize those shallow pursuits are just that — shallow. And thank goodness for that.
My guess is that Lauren will discover very soon (after all, I am only four years older than her and was already a mother of two at her age) that marriage is much richer, happier and fulfilling when you let go of some of those exterior expectations.
At this point in my life, I am a yoga teacher. I run 6 miles every other day. I try to stay in shape. Sure, looks are a small piece of that. But the bigger piece is about me. I like living clean. I like treating my body well. And my good mood about living that way translates into happiness with my husband. I plan to be that lady well into my 80s, who is standing on her head and shocking all the young 'uns in yoga class.
None of this means I want to stay hot. The word "hot" in our culture means a few things: young, tight, muscular, flat abs, blond hair, etc., etc. It is a very narrow definition of beauty and health and what it means to be a woman. I prefer to think of it as keeping myself fit and happy and healthy so I can be a better person and thus a better wife and mother and friend and daughter and sister. It works for all the relationships in our lives.
Maybe that is what Lauren was trying to say. Or maybe she and her husband ascribe to a very archaic view of marriage, in which she must be tight and perfect, and he can do whatever he wants. If it is the latter, though, I don't feel angry. Or triggered. I just feel sorry for her. Thirteen years into marriage, my husband has seen me through three natural births, three ever-expanding pregnancies, countless bouts with stomach bugs that had me looking like a drowned rat and one very bad night in Cabo, where too much tequila saw me hysterically crying on the floor of our shower, mascara running down my face and half my clothes in a wet heap on the floor. None of these things were "hot." When I wake up in the morning, I look nothing like the 24-year-old he asked to marry him. And he looks nothing like the man who gave me a ring. We both have aged. We both have put on 10 pounds. But we are happy. We are healthy. And we are more in love than ever.
Sure, keep yourself up for your own happiness. But don't do it for him. Because time and life catch up with all of us, and you will find that either your narrow definition of "hot" has to evolve, or you can expect to live unhappily ever after.
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