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Level One


So hey, I got engaged! And I got married! It’s been a crazy year.


I’ve been thinking about the whole experience, and wanting to write SOMETHING about it—because I’m a writer so one would think that it’s what I DO, or whatever—but from December to October my thoughts have been mainly a variation of either “YAAAAAAAAAY!!!!” or “AHHHHHHH!!!!!” Y’know?


But now that it’s all over and I’ve recovered from what can only be described as a ten-month long mild psychosis...I have thoughts! The main thought being that getting married is kind of like a video game.


(Oh yeah. She’s going somewhere with this).


At the beginning of most video games there’s a level that basically just exists to teach you about how to play the video game. As there are about six buttons on a controller and about a bajillion different moves and mechanics you can do to interact with the world...it’s useful that the developers throw you a bit of a bone at the very beginning.


Now, if it’s a good video game, the tutorial will usually be built into the first “level” or whatever. For example, say your character begins the game inside a house. Usually an old man or wizard or whatever will be all like “Go into the forest to find the magic thing! Take this rusty old sword and flammable wooden shield as your only protection!” So you’re like alright dude, and you exit the house. Surprise! You are immediately faced with a series of platforms. The game then informs you that you must press the “X” button to jump. So you press “X” and jump across the platforms.


Usually the tutorial will get more and more complex until, by the end of Level One, you have a basic understanding of how to move around and interact with the world of the game. If it’s a good game, and if you’ve played other games in the past, you’ll feel confident as you strike out into the hint-free, help-averse expanse of Levels Two and beyond.


If you’re like me, right at the beginning of Level Two you’ll immediately forget to press “X” to jump and fall off of a ledge and die.


Level one kind of reminds me of dating. It’s new, you’re not sure what the rules are, but you’re excited because it’s a new game. You’ve never played this one before! Then, before you know it, you fall in love. BOOM! Level Two! Level two is super fun but you’re still kind of an idiot and you probably die a lot trying to figure out how to use your sword (EUPHEMISMS!) but then you figure it out and eventually you move in together. BOOM! Level Three!


You get the idea.


Video games have these levels and achievements because humans like that. I think it’s why we structure our lives that way. First grade, second grade, third grade, high school, college, job, etc. Dating, moving in together, engaged, married, etc. We like the sense of progress and purpose that comes from “leveling up,” so to speak. Following this logic, getting married could be called like...I don’t know...the final boss battle or something.


Except that, a few days after the wedding, I had a realization that hit me with all the subtlety of a brass band marching down the street outside my apartment while Lord Voldemort appeared in my kitchen and started making my teacups tap dance just before a golden piano fell out of the sky and onto my head.


It had all been Level One.


I thought we were leveling up the whole time, but not so. We were simply acquiring the basic skills necessary to navigate our lives together with at least some degree of success. Dating was a skill, love was (is, let's be honest) a skill, living together was a skill. Our wedding was just the game telling us “Alright kids. Get ready. Remember your training well because those wheels are about to come off.”


It's not that we don't have any more skills to acquire—far, far, far from it! It's just that now it’s “show on the road” time. And also, I don’t think people have to get married to experience this. I believe there’s a time when you realize that you and your partner are past the beginning part. Everything from that moment on is just...yours. Open world. Choose your own adventure. YOU get to decide ALL of it, and you will use all the tools you acquired in Level One, as well as accumulate new skills, abilities, and maybe weapons (I’m not here to judge) along the way.


Personally, once I recovered from the initial shock and distress of learning that I’d only just begun to play the game, I realized that being at the beginning is really cool. I was putting a ton of pressure on myself to handle the whole getting married thing really well. I fully expected to strut into marriage like “HELL YEAH MOFO’s I WON THE GAME WHAT’S NEXT?!?!” Instead I felt more like I was emerging into marriage armed with “press ‘X’ to jump,” a rusty sword, and a flammable wooden shield.


Now, once I’ve had some distance and perspective (and a solid night’s sleep, for cryin’ out loud!) I think it’s okay to feel like all of this is new. Humans put so much pressure on ourselves to meet these big life moments with perfect ease, grace, and preparation—like we’re already supposed to be expert at something that we’ve never even actually experienced before. And man, if you can pull that off...well done indeed. I salute you. I, however, was not easy, graceful, nor particularly well prepared—but I did it. We did it. We finished the first level and now we get the exciting opportunity to explore a vast and magical new world. So what if we fell off a couple of ledges along the way? We’ll definitely do it again, probably about a billion times.


I really do feel like beating Level One was a massive accomplishment. On the other hand, do I also now understand why people who have been married for 30 years look at us like we’re babies? Um, 100%.


But that’s because the movies get it all wrong. The wedding isn’t the end, not by a very very long shot. It’s only the beginning of something completely new, so it’s okay not to be perfect!


Imperfect humans of the world, let’s hold our rusty swords high and bear our flimsy shields proudly. Just don’t forget to press “X” to jump ;)


Are you ready?


Here we go.


Level Two.

© 2017 by Annie Westphal. All rights reserved.