“Forget about the dog, beware of my wife!”
I saw this on a pick-up truck the other day.
“Wow – who would want to marry this jerk,” I think
“Well, maybe they have a laughing relationship, where they good-naturedly joke about these things”… joke about her being worse than a dog.
It makes me wonder – does marriage make sense anymore, given the way that the rest of the world has changed? Women can support themselves. Families are smaller. Loyalty and commitment are traded for individual well-being. Someone who worked at the same company for 25 years used to be celebrated. Today, it seems more like they were not brave or capable or they lacked other opportunities.
When people get married they stop being sexual beings. "Now I have to only make love to the contractually obligated person." was how my best married-friend described it. Something about that predictability and obligation makes each person less alive and vibrant. Some stop caring about how they look. Others stop living in the present and taking risks and lead an increasingly conservative life.
Married people move to the suburbs - suddenly they don’t seem to be living life to the fullest. I always thought that their priorities were simply changing – away from living their lives for themselves and creating their own destiny – and moving towards taking care of children and carrying the responsibility of land-ownership. I figured that there was a whole new fulfillment there.
It seems that the new fulfillment is just a myth. As I have been working in the suburbs for five years (commuting out from the city) I have been surprised to find that many married people are still vibrant inside and long for something else. They are good, nice, kind-hearted people – doing exactly what their parents would be proud of them for – but they are profoundly affected by the constraints of marriage.
A fundamental part of being a man is that when a beautiful woman passes, he turns his head. He wants to talk to her, look at her more closely, and touch her. I am a young, professional woman on the trade-show circuit – no matter what your looks are like, in this situation you get approached by married men. Of course I say "no" and feel embarrassed even if I really want to be with him. Situations like this make men bring their passions underground, with affairs, prostitutes and for the more decent ones, pornography.
A fundamental part of being a woman is that she wants to be noticed and appreciated. One of the most beautiful married women I know, doesn’t get noticed by her husband much less fully appreciated. Men send her drinks regularly, even across an NHL hockey arena once, but she has to instead go home and be ignored. Many talk about their love-affairs with their husbands as something in the past, rather than something they feel every single day. Others just totally let themselves go and all they have as proof that they were once beautiful is a smiling, well-polished wedding-day picture of themselves on their desks.
One reason many people get married is because it is much easier to raise kids together than alone. They talk about great benefits for kids who grow up in a two-parent homes with two people who love them, two income earners, two decision makers and two role-models.* This is a very natural and noble reason – but is it possible to really give up on your own needs altogether and be entirely fulfilled living only for someone else? Also – after kids have grown many marriages stay together. We celebrate 25 and 50 year anniversaries, but is it really an achievement? Isn’t it insulting that we have to congratulate couples on staying together because it is such a chore?
It is sad, that for many many people getting married is an end of something. Even the "good guys" sit on the couch and watch young, sexy women on TV all night. Even the "good girls" crowd around the single girl’s desk on Monday morning vicariously living through her weekend as she tells it.
So… if it makes people unhappy, why don’t we find another way? We all know that half of marriages end in divorce. Why do we insist on getting married just because that is what couples are supposed to do? Some people might have no confidence and think they can’t do any better. That is simply a sad case. What about the rest of us? Why don’t we let ourselves fall in and out of love naturally, and build our institutions around it, instead of sticking to something outdated?
It is difficult to find a substitute for marriage that still makes everyone comfortable and avoids pitfalls like jealousy and still does the right thing for children. It has perhaps remained an institution because people simply can't think of a smarter way. Some say that serial-monogamy is the answer. Hopefully... one day we will find a better arrangement that fits today's world. Marriage doesn’t make sense anymore. Maybe we should be the generation who finds something to replace it.
*There are many effective single parents in the world who have kids who grow up to be amazing (I say this as a child of a single mom.). This is just stating reasons why people get married. I am not at all insulting people who raise their children alone.