‘We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying, ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.'’
– Shall We Dance?
'Marriage can be viewed as the waiting room for death.'
Generally speaking, it seems today that there are more jokes and put-downs about marriage being the death of love and romance rather than the pinnacle of such. Quite honestly, marriage seems like an out-dated idea and totally uncool.
I mean, why get married? Just live with the person and don’t dig for anything deeper. Why make a public ceremony in front of everybody? Why do such weird things like vows and other traditions?
Really... Marriage is just some silly concept from the starry-eyed adolescence of our human history. It is definitely not for us modern world people that are more secular and logical or, perhaps, more promiscuously romantic.
Yet, it is still here. Why? Does it serve a purpose today?
As scary as it may sound, marriage is purposely choosing to tie our hands together. It is admittingly putting frustrations against our own personal wills. It is, quite simply, knowingly making it more difficult to break away from this stranger we call lover.
Why in the world would we do something like that?
It used to be that we thought it was for God. Today, God is less and less a part of our decision-making process in life, yet we still have ways to make it difficult to leave a marriage.
We invite people to watch to make it quite embarrassing to change your mind one day and say you made a mistake.
It’s a deep financial and legal knot tied and difficult to be undone. It can be done, of course, but most likely with a great cost.
Truthfully, if we take the time, we can see that these hindrances from being able to run from someone so easily might be a good thing.
I Can Resist Anything but Temptation
There is a very well-known test about temptation called the Marshmallow Test. It tested children and their ability to think long-term rather than give in to more immediate desires. In short, the children were offered one marshmallow and told if they didn’t eat that one marshmallow after a few minutes of sitting with it, they could have two. If, however, they ate the one marshmallow, they would fail to receive the second marshmallow.
It may not be a surprise that many of the children could not wait it out. The temptation was too strong. It is said that these children didn’t do quite as well later on in life as adults. But hey, they were living in the moment, right?
Relationships can just as easily be subject to temptation and long-term benefits for delaying immediate gratification.
Our lives always feel so urgent in this face-paced world. We need to escape and find something better. And why not with all the options that are out there and ever-present? We are fed up with what we have and we want out.
‘Sorry, love, it’s time to go.’
Yet, when we are married, even if that new person standing in front of us seems like a potentially better match, we can’t so easily just run to their arms and start a new life. We look for a way to get out of the marriage to start this exciting new love affair, but roads are blocked.
To take a chance at this new romantic interest:
It could cost us our wealth.
It could ruin our social status.
It could take so long that this new temptation has already moved on to someone more available.
Marriage makes taking risk riskier. It helps keep marshmallow-eaters from devouring their temptations too quickly.
Making a commitment such as marriage is a nice preventative that we create for ourselves to keep ourselves in line from all of our lustful and foolishly optimistic desires. It’s like thinking ahead to prevent pregnancy by using a contraceptive… though perhaps not always as effective.
It may sound depressing to purposely lock yourself into a situation - and it is obviously a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly - yet, there is still something both romantic and logical to this whole process that many fail to see.
By getting married, we are openly admitting that we are human and very likely to make mistakes based on very short, but strong motives. Marriage helps us protect ourselves and the ones we love from these passing inclinations. It helps us to remind ourselves of the long-term benefits rather than the immediate satisfaction that may arise from time to time.
Marriage is a structure built by those living in it to help them both weather the storms of mood swings and fleeting feelings. It is a proclamation of long-term intentions that protects ourselves from our passing fancies much like a bill of rights protects people from whatever politics seem attractive at the time.
It is not to say that the two people in marriage won’t sometimes want to escape from the bonds they once agreed to, but that these superficial pleasures and reactions won’t be allowed to lead to anything more than what they are. Marriage reminds us that despite how strong we may feel towards cupidity in one moment on one day, it is not something we truly want or need in the big picture of our lives.
Time to Grow
When a couple decides to commit to one another, it gives both a chance to grow and mature. It is no coincidence that many great minds, from Socrates to Carl Jung, also see it as an opportunity, even necessary, to become whole.
It’s a common expression, much backed by psychology today, that opposites attract. These opposites don’t have to be based on anything obvious, but something deeper, something we need but have failed to accomplish on our own.
We may occasionally have sparks of realization and change for the better from a mystical moment of enlightenment, but unfortunately, for most of us, our hero’s journey rarely happens during the normal timespan of a movie.
Maturing can be disturbingly sluggish and hard. We can spend months or decades blaming our partners for our problems that arise out of our own insecurities before we finally see the true culprit. We resist by saying we don’t want to be changed. We want to be loved for who we are. We want to be accepted for all our faults.
These are all nice ideas, but not entirely the best idea. Yes, before there can be change, there must be understanding and acceptance, but that does not mean that change… growth… maturing is still not in order. If you aren’t growing, you are dying.
Years of tending support and genuine interest will be needed before a person can reach their true heights.
This is not so easy and hence why marriage can be such a crucial aid in this adventure together of anxiety, frustration, crying, and fighting, all in the name of progress as a human and as a team. We may have 349 screaming matches about one thing before both sides start to see just a little of what the other one was talking about.
Yet, these hard-fought, seemingly tiny, victories, help us get insight into ourselves that would never be possible without. We start to see and understand our own issues through the eyes of someone close to us. We begin to draw maps of the dangerous areas of our psyche where there may be dragons. Ultimately, this awareness that is impossible to see without a loving and trusted mirror that is our partner makes us better people, and a lot easier to live with.
Our partners may seem like a villain to us for being associated with the bad that lies within us, but someone committed to you in that way is most likely the hero you need and (hopefully) deserve.
It is far too easy to be polite and normal and kind to someone new. Yet, we can’t get to the truth of ourselves and begin the first step to a better and more complete version of ourselves with someone we run to and only reassures us that there is nothing wrong with us. Of course, there is something wrong with us.
This type of knowledge and awareness only comes from time and being with someone there for you, not so ready to give up, but so ready to believe in you they will consciously lock themselves into confinement with you ‘til death do you part.’
Ventures, Insurance, and Freedom
Anything worth having is worth sacrificing for. Marriage will require this from both parties, as it is only natural to sacrifice for someone you believe is also sacrificing for you.
Having a committed partner, someone who has pledged to fight this world together with us, allows both people to specialize in what it is we do best. One person may be more adept at making money, while the other naturally takes care of the house a bit better. One person likes to shop and the other enjoys cooking. Most things may be done together, but it is a nice advantage to have a teammate in this game of life who we can count on to cover us where we might normally stumble or fail.
This is practical and productive, even ideal, but carries a risk if one member should leave without warning and the other is left having spent many years taking care of the home. The difficulty of leaving someone, particularly with the bonds of marriage, helps keep one from leaving the other in a disadvantaged state.
With true marriage, we can take risks that otherwise may not be possible or a bit too scary to take without knowing you have somebody in your corner backing you up.
Brave New Marriage
It may very well be that we live in an era as Aldous Huxley predicted in 1931 with his novel ‘Brave New World.’ A plastic techno-society where the masses are distracted with virtual reality rather than actual reality, entertainment is light rather than deep, consumerism is rampant, people gobble up pills for happiness, and hook-ups take the place of commitment and love.
And though marriage may be the brunt of many comedians’ jokes and they can be comically truthful, but there may still be something romantic and logical about marriage in a world that seems to believe that marriage is anything but logical or romantic.
The reasons for getting married are in the process of being changed. It isn’t just about matching a family of cows to a family of pastures, nor is it about hopelessly romantic ideas we steal from novels. It isn’t about religion or society or the state.
What it is about is focusing on the idea that some of our needs may require a more long-term structure. It’s a psychological and material effort to not so easily just throw something away in a world that seems so wasteful and wanton.
The test for us should now be to remember that some things are worth waiting for. Some things are worth fighting for. In a world of ‘one-marshmallowers,’ perhaps we should start to think about seeing the benefits of having that second marshmallow.