Recently I caused a minor facebook frenzy with the following comment:
“It is my observation that marriage for my generation is irrelevant and represents the death of love. I have a few examples in my life that prove otherwise, which is beautiful and wonderful. What about you? What’s your experience?”
I will admit, I did this partially to provoke people. I knew it would strike a chord and married people would get defensive. I was curious to see what that defense would be, because honestly, I would rather my observation be inaccurate. No surprise, most responses had a lot to do with romantic notions of forever, family, and devotion. Those that said their marriage was thriving sited communication, honesty, and respect. This, though, was my favorite response of all:
“Marriage is not just a piece of paper. It is not a piece of paper to prove love. My husband proved that to me well before we got married — which is why we got married in the first place! However, it does open up a lot of options legally – think about health care decisions, financial combinations, term life decisions etc…”
Why my favorite? Because this is real. This has a purpose.
Since my divorce in 2009 I’ve kept a close eye on my views on marriage, observing any changes and fluctuations that might occur and why. In the midst of my divorce, I felt fairly certain I would never get married again. Not because I was bitter and jaded, and not because I didn’t want to have a family, but because marriage had lost its meaning to me.
I got married very young (age 25), and though in love, we hadn’t really spent any time discussing our motives for taking such a huge next step in our relationship. There was the practical consideration of me being able to stay in the U.S., and the idea of wanting to be together forever. Beyond that, we didn’t really look at the deeper currents of why, and consequently nor whether this move was truly in the greatest good for either of our lives.
Whether consciously or not, I think many people get married to hold on to that relationship and that person forever, no matter what, even if there are massive gaps in values, vision, and priorities. As though somehow, having that official certificate guarantees your idealized vision of love and that the person will be yours forever. Clearly, divorce rates indicate otherwise, but people still seem to think, for them it will be different.
What happens all too often though, for my generation at least, is the paper gets signed and the relationship takes a nosedive. I know that is not the case for everyone, but it is strikingly common. I could probably write a 1000 page essay on this topic, there’s so much to it. But I am going to stick my neck out and say the main reason this occurs is because despite our social evolution, we still cling and grasp onto the romance saturated view of marriage that is fed to us through fairytales, both classic and contemporary. Our starving mind (our hearts are usually wiser) latches on to that idea and laps it up voraciously. Then we get married, and our socially evolved self revolts, does not want to accept the illusion of this arrangement, and suddenly, desperately, wants out.
Last year, I had the honor of officiating a wedding for a beloved student and friend (yes, that’s right, minister Sash). I had to be very thoughtful about it because I didn’t want to be a fraud standing up there, guiding two people into an institution for which I hadn’t yet made peace. So I asked the couple tying the knot to answer two questions for me (an assignment they had to do separately, without consulting each other).
Question #1) Why are you getting married?
Seems straight forward enough, but many people answer this question with something basically along the lines of, “I love this person, I want to be with them forever, and I want to build a family and life with them.” That is awesome! I say go for it, but guess what, you don’t need to be married to do any of those things (at least not in the Western world). Love and commitment are beautiful and wonderful, but you can be married and completely not committed. You can also be fully devoted and not married.
Dig deeper. What are some REAL reasons for making this massive commitment? I find the answers that are deeply spiritual, deeply traditional, and/or deeply practical to be the most compelling. If you and your spouse-to-be have those reasons in common, then there is a much more substantial backing to walking down the aisle than simply the forever story. You have no idea what life is going to hurl your way, but if you have super strong convictions about why marriage is essential to the progress and evolution of your relationship and life together, then you have a firm foundation to stand on.
Question #2) Why are you marrying this person?
Ok, here is where you get to be romantic and gushy. Still though, I encourage you to dig deep. What makes this person so highly unique and dear to you that you are willing to make a lifelong commitment to them? Get it all down. Be extremely personal, reflective, and specific. Then, when you hit those rough spots in your relationship, come back to this document and remind yourself what a precious being you have the privilege of sharing your life with.
Of course, there are many more questions to ask oneself, but this is not intended to be a guide on finding the right partner (when I figure that out I’ll get back to you ;). My intention is simply to draw your attention to two basic questions whose answers are often taken for granted rather than sincerely discussed.
Yes, I do believe in Love. I believe in commitment, I believe in family, and I believe that humans are meant to live their lives in togetherness, not isolation. I want love, I want babies, and I want to experience the crazy journey of being with someone for a very long time. Would I get married again? Only if the reasons for it truly make sense, and that if I decide to take that step with someone, that we have been openly thoughtful about it and see eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart on the why.
Take action now:
1) Share your reaction to this article in the comments below.
2) Send this to someone preparing to embark on the marriage journey. It might offer them a little guidance before taking the plunge. And share it on facebook! Maybe you can start a frenzy too (share button below).
Lots of Love,
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