One of my favorite pieces of marital advice I’ve ever heard was given to me by my friend when we were just teenagers looking at clothes in my closet. She said, nonchalantly,
My mom told me that the secret to marriage is to make sure you always wear pretty pajamas.
We probably laughed and didn’t talk much about it, but it forever stuck with me.
Around the same time I was looking at pictures of myself from when I was about four years old and I noticed how unique my outfits were. Almost every other picture I was in a princess gown or an animal costume or a vintage dress from my great grandmother. It was the age when we would play dress up just because. The age when you assumed you were beautiful and adorned yourself as such. The age when you didn’t question if it was appropriate to wear ruby red slippers to school. The age when you dressed totally impractical, and yet you never thought twice about it. Nearly everything you did was impractical. And how freeing such an outlook was. Little girls in their princess dresses have such confidence, such happiness. They’re so human and they’re so beautiful. But what happens? Somewhere along the way they put away their personality and don Abercrombie jeans so as to win approval of girls and the sexual attention of boys. And through this process, they lose something so precious. They may even forget to wear pretty pajamas.
Too often, we think of beauty simply as a means to an end. And that is the problem with the little girl who grows out of dress up. She forgets what it was like to dress up just because. Dressing up becomes simply a tool for getting something. Her own beauty becomes meaningless, except for whatever it can do for her. And so we hear of the married woman who “gives up.” The married woman who stops caring about what she wears or what she looks like. She’d found her guy, checked off her list. Now what else was there to do besides watch TV and live vicariously through other people trying to check off their lists?
But here is where my friend’s mom’s advice comes in. Always wear pretty pajamas. We are instinctual beings. We are animals. And so there is a natural explanation for why the eleven year old begins to see her beauty as a means to an end. But we are more than animals. We appreciate beauty for more than its practicality. Beauty lifts us to heights beyond the realm of instinct. Beauty nourishes us and gives meaning to our lives. Beauty enchants us and gives us hope. And one of the greatest things anyone can ever have in their marriage is hope.
Therefore, if you want your marriage (or relationship, or just your life in general!) to be full of hope, if you want it to be transcendent, if you want it to be more than instinct, do the things that don’t make sense. Do the things that aren’t practical. The things that are beautiful just because. Like pretty pajamas when you’re sixty-five. Like pretty pajamas when you’re nine months pregnant. Like pretty pajamas when you may feel entirely unattractive. Like pretty pajamas because you’re beautiful and because your beauty, not just your sexuality, is what gives you purpose and meaning, and it is what in turn, enchants a man, even when he has, in the world’s terms, gained everything he can practically gain from you. When the practical has expired, when instinct has been fulfilled, it is beauty that must remain to keep us going, to give us reason, even more reason to live and to love.
I’ve made a rule for myself that I will always light a candle when my husband and I have dinner. There have been many times when I have said oh but we’re eating really quickly or ahh the table is a mess or I’ll light a candle after I clean everything but every time I make such an excuse, I know in the back of my head that I am making a mistake, that I am depriving us of something, perhaps incredibly simple, but something perhaps more important than the meal itself. Precisely because we don’t need candles. The animal says, we just need to eat. But the human recognizes that the things we need most are the things we don’t need. The things we need most are the things that are impractical. The things that are simply beautiful just because. I used to always wonder why my mom insisted that we “set” the table with pretty napkins rather than plain old paper towels. Wouldn’t paper towels be easier? But now I understand. When I light a candle, it gives meaning to the meal I cooked. And it tells my husband, or my husband tells me when he lights a candle (which he is much better at doing!) that we’ll love each other beyond what makes sense. We’ll love each other even when our bellies are full and our senses satisfied. That we’ll dance around the kitchen just because and that we’ll continue to hold hands even when our children are grown and our hair is grey. Because that’s the kind of love that means the most. That’s the kind of love that sets you free—the kind of free that you were when you were four years old. The kind of free that makes you human.