Today my goal is to get you thinking about why we are still romanticizing the concept of marriage and love that lasts forever. In theory this seems like a grand idea, but in practice, not so much.
Here are some reasons why not:
Nothing, not even threat of death, has ever been able to stop people from cheating on each other. Cheating has always been a fact of life. Even though we know this, some of us are still looking around for that forever person and making that commitment with people whose history proves them unlikely to stay monogamous. Not only that, the community and church structures that used to shame someone into going back to their spouse when they strayed just aren’t there anymore. Today instead we encourage divorce, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have it worse now. Betrayal is a horrific blow to a person’s psyche and some people spend years trying and failing to get over it. Worse than that, betrayal syndrome is actually something that triggers behaviors that people end up in prison for.
The existence of this option and the fact that the stigma attached to it has diminished over time, means that there is legal and societal acknowledgment that maybe marriage shouldn’t last forever. “Oh, but I’ll never get divorced” you say, “when I get married it will be forever”. Oh, precious one, you have no idea what the future holds for you or how much you may change or evolve as a person in your lifetime. The promises that you make now may become the burdens and great disappointments of your later life. Love does feel like it’s going to last forever initially, but that excitement and high eventually wear off. At that point you had better actually like each other as people and have some important life goals in common or you are in for a very rough ride. Also there is one VERY SERIOUS point that people tend to forget about marriage. A marriage involves two people; it won’t matter at all what your intentions are if your partner doesn’t feel the same way you do about staying together. Marriage is a breakable contract and promises are not legally binding just because we wish that they were.
Science is making incredible progress on improving the quality of life, minimizing disease, and extending our productive years. We are now teetering on the edge of some pretty significant increases in life expectancy, and it’s not just about prolonging the periods of decline, it’s also about extending what we consider to be middle age. With proper diet and exercise we could be looking at life expectancies of up to 125 years. Now if we acknowledge that these changes might be coming, shouldn’t we reevaluate how we spend those years? Marriage was invented in a time when life expectancy was dramatically shorter and it made sense to create a social structure that would help support and protect the survival of the species at a time when mother and infant mortality were all too common. We don’t live in that world anymore. Every day we find new ways to protect and care for children, which means that staggering numbers of them are actually reaching adulthood today. The whole process is so much safer and more sanitary than it ever was before so, why are we still limiting the definitions of our lives to those traditions that made sense when life was so much shorter?
4. All the eggs in one basket
It is very common to see single people wax poetic about the day that they find that one special person who will always be there for them. The very real downside to the notion of this one perfect person is that that person could leave you, change towards you, or die. What are you left with then? Risk is mitigated when you stop expecting one person to be your be-all and end-all. For too long our culture, movies, and modern social constructs, etc., have put too much emphasis on that one serious life relationship, essentially creating unrealistic expectations of what one person is capable of being to another. Ask any divorced person why they got divorced and you will hear variations of stories of how their expectations were not met. There is something important that you need to take away from this, expectations are the poison of many relationships. Expectations are ONLY THOUGHTS that live in your own head on how YOU WANT the world to be. What we fail to realize is that no one else lives in our head or sees things exactly the same way we do so, everyone’s reality is different. The world may turn out to be vastly different than what we expected; the best way to survive and thrive in it is to accept those things that we cannot change.
Men and women seem to forget that when they become a married couple that there are still real, fundamental differences between them as people. It’s concerning to hear ladies looking for the level of emotional support and understanding that they can really only get from other women, from the men in their lives. By the same token, some men benefit from having a sports team to be passionate about or a hobby that allows them quiet time away from the rest of the world. Men sometimes need the company of other men to reset and contrary to popular opinion, this doesn’t mean they value their primary relationship any less. Oddly enough older generations seem better at understanding and accepting that men and women were never meant to be EVERYTHING to each other and that the existence of other types of relationships improved and did not detract from the primary relationship itself. Why are we not more open to the idea that same sex companionship is a real and valuable part of making people better adjusted and whole?
Comparison is the thief of joy. The very real and dangerous downside to the way that everyone’s best life is currently on display online is that there is no way to escape from comparing your life to the lives of others. Even though we know that our friends and family are only showing us the most perfect parts of their lives and leaving out the bad parts, we can get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of over-share and forget that it’s not real. Technology has made the world dramatically smaller and we are exposed to realities and choices that prior generations never would have dreamed of because they lived in the same place with the same people all of their lives. Marriage made much more sense for the good of the community in the microcosms that used to exist, when doing whatever was necessary to ensure survival just plain trumped everything else. Today we are spoiled for choice, how do we know when we are supposed to settle down anymore?
7. Safety and Leisure
Survival is no longer the daily challenge that it used to be. Most of us never even have to worry about where our next meal will come from or if we will have a safe place to sleep tonight. There is however a minor downside to the safe and coddled lives we live now; we have no idea how to deal with hardships anymore. The current expectations on parents is that they protect their children from as much pain and as many consequences as they possibly can while they are growing up. This leaves children without the coping skills or understanding that real world is not easy or fair and that not everyone they meet will have their best interests at heart. Fairy tales seem even more possible to these children because they have been shielded from the hardships of life for so long. Sadly though, crime is real and people are mean and there is nothing that you can do about it but get better at dealing with it for yourself. The world is not going to change for you. Every generation needs to learn this lesson the hard way, though.
8. A Fairy Tale Wedding
Was it a wedding planner who said that you could tell if a marriage would last based on how seriously the bride took the wedding itself, to the detriment of her relationship with the groom? A huge industry has grown around the concept of a fairy tale wedding because there is big money to be made from it. Creating a real life dream for the little girl inside the bride has become the driving force of some weddings which makes you wonder if she wants the just wedding or the marriage itself too. The married relationship should always be the first priority, not the one day party the bride has been dreaming about since she was five.
The truth is that marriage has never been for everyone. We are fortunate today in that lifelong service to the church is not the only other option available to help ensure our survival. Although it may sound that way, I am not in fact anti-marriage. I applaud the articles on TC that realistically demonstrate how difficult marriage and relationships can be, yet still provide some hope. I cringe at the articles written by those hopelessly fraught with romantic fantasies of what they dream love and life are supposed to be like. I dispense tough love because you are stronger than you think you are and I know that you can handle it.