Alice: How long is forever?
The White Rabbit: Sometimes just one second
— Alice in Wonderland
So, you meet someone special and butterflies fill your stomach, their wings beating to life whenever your new crush is close by, or even at the mere thought of them. Your new love interest dominates your mind. You want to spend every waking moment by their side. Excitement, possibility and romance fill your imagination and permeate the newfound relationship.
Assuming all chugs along smoothly, come wedding day, you exchange the scripted vows that we have been told are “what you say” on this day. The promises we have come to swallow, without question, as being totally realistic, and was being “morally good” and “right.” You are totally smitten. You have no doubt that your relationship will last, that the connection between the two of you is different from others. You see stars, security, lots of romance, adventure and loveliness in your future. Everything finally seems to be figured out. Life is good.
And yet, often, things change over the long term and fairly often, fast-forward some years ahead, the relationship does end. (We have been taught that this is a reason for shame and evidence of your failure as a human being, both untrue, but that’s topic for a separate article). The very relationship that you were so sure was different from others ended. Why couldn’t we make it work? You ask yourself, feeling shamed, heartbroken and blindsided. What about the promises that people speak on their wedding day? Don’t those have any weight to them? Why wasn’t I able to make it work, you wonder self-hatefully.
When marriage vows are being spoken, yes, most people do mean them.
And of course the intense feelings of love and affection, and thus the promises that are said as a result of these feelings on ones wedding day, mean something. In fact, so most people they mean a great deal. However, peoples strongly held belief in these scripted words that we’ve been taught are just “what you say” is a somewhat misplaced and disillusioned one. Allow me to explain.
I think this is an important topic to ponder, as our society does not seem to question it nearly as much as we should. If we did, we might have significantly more relationship success and happiness.
Instead, we move along quietly and agreeably with the status quo, with the one given script we have been told is “just the way it works” and that all “good” people follow. And yet, no one seems to pause and wonder why relationships so often do not last “forever.”
Or, those of us that do give this topic thought tend to blame people.
“They just suck at relationships,” or, “they just couldn’t get it together,” or “they wanted different things,” the list of finger pointing and blame can go on for miles. However, is it really so often a problem with people? Or might the problem lie in the promises being made?
For those looking for answers to divorce and the fact that the vast majority of people do struggle to maintain one lifelong relationship, many want to pinpoint the blame anywhere outside of themselves. So, some might blame the media. Others might blame the fact that divorce lost some of the stigma it once had — making people apt to feel more comfortable with the idea of splitting. Some might argue from a religious standpoint that those who divorce “haven’t found God” so they “don’t know any better.”
There will be numerous people raring to blame the fact that most relationships end on some tangible factor. Anything from our media, to shifts in our cultural landscape, lack of religion, having chosen the wrong partner, etc. And sometimes the reason for a relationship ending is one of these very points.
However, often times it isn’t. And instead, might it be possible that our approach to marriage and relationships could be the reason for such high divorce rates? That quite possibly, when one speaks their marriage vows, that this was a form of (optimistic) lying.
How do they lie? You might ask. How are people fibbing when they say their marriage vows? I certainly didn’t lie when I said mine, I meant every word, you might think defensively.
They lied because in that moment, they are saying things that they cannot possibly know.
You cannot know if you will love your partner for the next 30+ years.
You cannot know if you will feel attraction to them for the rest of your life.
You cannot predict what will happen between the two of you. How your values, morals and interests might evolve.
You cannot know where the trajectory of your life will take you, both emotionally and literally, as you move through it.
You cannot know who you will meet, the paths you will cross with others, and who you yourself will become as you grow, change and progress through life.
This is not a hit on love and commitment. Definitely not. I wholeheartedly believe in lifelong love. I think the idea of wanting and attempting to strive for such a thing, wishing to build a life with someone and believing that the love you feel for this person enduring for the entirety of your lives is not only beautiful but wildly romantic. I am merely talking about the act of marriage here and the fact that the promises we make are ones that we cannot possibly know if we will be able to keep.
They are huge promises. I would argue, impossible ones. Simply because, again, we cannot predict what the future will bring and thus, we cannot make promises based on blindness.
You cannot make promises with regards to what you do not know.
50% of people will divorce or their relationships will end. That is not even counting the percentage of people who remain married but are generally unhappy. And that is still not counting the percentage of people who remain married but cheat. When you add all of that up, you are looking at a pretty whopping figure of people for whom a lifelong commitment to one person over an entire lifetime is a HUGE struggle.
This doesn’t make the majority of us failures or villains. It makes us human. I am not sure why people keep refusing to approach that with more openness and less condemnation.
The language of wedding vows perpetuates the illusion that someone can promise to do something that one cannot possibly know.
This is a falsehood. It sets people and their relationships up to fail because it perpetuates hugely high expectations. Expectations that are, most of the time, not realistic.
Many of you might disagree. You may insist that I am being cynical, that these logics aren’t true, that you and your mate are passionately in love, and that you will be together forever and that I don’t know what I am talking about. I understand the desire to believe that.
We all want to maintain these far flung illusions because they are romantic and idyllic. One of human beings greatest desires is both to love and be loved. However, I am not arguing against that. As I said before, I absolutely believe in lifelong love. Both that it is possible and that it’s an amazing, awe inspiring, awesome thing. Instead, I am pointing out that making false promises based on idealism and delusion are likely to lead to great disappointment and heartache.
What if instead, we looked at romances and relationships in more of a mindful way and as a result, a more honest way?
Such as creating vows that entailed words more along the lines of: Today I am deeply in love with you. I am so grateful to build a life with you. There is no one I know who I would rather have as my partner in life. If any of that ever begins to change, I vow to speak openly and honestly with you about it so that we might work out what to do together. I ask that you do the same for me. We would then lovingly and respectfully go from there.
Romantic love dominates our lives and thoughts. And it should be a huge part of life, as it’s a beautiful and fantastic thing. Yet, when we attempt to honor the specialness of that bond and the deep affection we feel for one another, we often lie.
We mistakenly promise to do something that we cannot possibly know. As a result, traditional wedding vows (aka, the canned script we have been given and told we must abide by) tend to set relationships up for heartache and failure.
Lifelong love is very possible and an amazing thing. But if we altered our expectations and the nature of the promises we made to fit more realistic ideas, our relationships would likely be more successful, less wrought with stress and disappointment, and happier as a result.