"The first year is the thing you have to go through to get to the happily married part."
Author Andrea King Collier has blazed trails in conversations about Black women’s health with her award winning health memoir Still With Me…A Daughter’s Journey of Love and Loss. — it was one of the first books of its kind to address cancer and end of life issues through the eyes of a Black woman.
Collier has been writing and speaking about health and health policy issues for the past 20 years and is now offering nsight into the world of marriage. The mother of two, who has been happily married for 30 years, wrote an essay titled “Faith and Fairytales,” about her time as a newlywed, for the new advice book WEDDING CAKE FOR BREAKFAST: Essays on the Unforgettable First Year of Marriage.
We asked her what it was like looking back on the beginning of her marriage and even got her to share an excerpt from her piece. Newlyweds to be: Take notes!
ESSENCE: How did you decide which topic to write about for your essay?
ANDREA KING COLLIER: There were some things I had been thinking about as we were coming into the milestone of 30 years this year. One was how hard the first year can be. It is a wonder that anybody makes it to year five—and 30? Please! I was thinking about hope and faith as the glue that holds marriages together that first year and every year after. Few people talk about that when they talk about marriage. There is a song on a Grover Washington album that Patti LaBelle sings called “The Best is Yet to Come”. I think about that when I think about the first year.
ESSENCE: If you could give newly engaged couples one piece of valuable advice before they tie the knot, what would it be and why?
COLLIER: Read St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians on love—no matter what religion you practice. It is the closest thing to a handbook on love and marriage that I have seen. I can’t tell you how many times in that first year I pulled it out and read it. And, if you ever want to see me break out into the ugly cry at somebody’s wedding, read it at the ceremony. The wisdom and beauty and truth of it just wipes me out. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
ESSENCE: What do you feel are the top three mistakes newlyweds make?
COLLIER: They buy into the hype of perfection. Marriage doesn’t make us perfect and we don’t come into it knowing what to do. Marriage is a daily dance of forgiveness of us and of our partners. Second, they confuse love with lust. After the lust dies down because of bills, kids, broke down cars, crazy in-laws and all that goes with marriage, you need to like the person. At the end of the day, you have to be friends. Lastly, couples get into arguments and sometimes they get to the point of no return. We all say things we don’t mean and have to apologize. But when you go for the jugular without thinking about the collateral damage, it becomes hard to reel it in. In that first year you have to take a deep breath and think before you “go there.”
ESSENCE: In your essay you talk about spending a lot on your wedding. Is this something you think most brides will regret? Why or why not?
COLLIER: Kim Kardashian might not regret how much was spent on her wedding, but I bet someone does. (Laughs) My wedding got out of hand because it was the first one like that in our whole family. It was a reflection of my mother’s and grandparent’s dreams and hopes. It was a wedding spectacle. Thirty years later, I am still shaking my head. But the pictures are fun to look at. In 2011 my daughter got married. I think we really held the budget tight, but it was really pretty amazing. In the end, the wedding is just a party. If you don’t have a place to live or savings then I would advise against trying to spend a fortune on a wedding party.
ESSENCE: What was the best part of your first year of marriage?
COLLIER: It was the same thing that it is now. He makes me laugh–no matter what’s going on. We were friends first, so the notion of being able to just look at each other and get the joke has probably done a lot to bind us together. The other is that I can just look at him and get misty. When he goes away on a golf trip or I go away to do a speech, when I see him, I still get that feeling. That feeling back then set the tone for who we are today.
Excerpt from Andrea King Collier’s “Faith and Fairy Tales” essay in the new book WEDDING CAKE FOR BREAKFAST: Essays on the Unforgettable First Year of Marriage (Berkley Trade Paperback; May 1, 2012)
Even if I talked to my mother about most things, talking to her about my fragile young marriage made it worse. She could be angry and passive aggressive about her own marriage to my stepfather, and always gave me angry and passive aggressive advice, even though she really did love my husband. The minute any marital pearls of wisdom came out of her mouth, even I knew I shouldn’t do it unless I was ready to wave the white flag and call it done. “Don’t be a fool for some man,” she’d say.
Women. Before the wedding they are cheerleaders. Making you feel like an old maid for not being married yet. They point out all the fun you are missing. Yet not one of them tells you just how challenging the first year of marriage can be, until you are waist deep in it. Of course, I wouldn’t have listened, because we all think that we invented a new kind of love, that is so musical and magical that it couldn’t possibly be anything other than happily ever after—every single day.
But I would have appreciated it if someone had just said, that the first year is the thing you have to go through to get to the happily married part. Even if you have a first year that is one extended honeymoon period, it’s only the cocktail hour/warm-up and you’ve yet to sit down for the entrée/actual show. For me, the first year was like being rodeo riders. I had to muster just enough faith to hang on until the ride got smoother. Sometimes the frog turns into a prince, and on some days he goes back to being a frog. And sometimes Cinderella’s glass slipper gives her blisters, and she gets really cranky. Even though it was scary and awful and there were lots of red eyes and wolf breath and big teeth, this girl and the boy managed to go on to live their version of happily ever after—so far.
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