on getting married in america

continuining the theme from alain de botton’s interview on design matters, marriage is a beautiful and difficult thing. so how is it that we see so many bad marriages? alain lays out a few points that i think are brilliant (my favorite parts are around the 32:00 mark, but the points really are scattered throughout).

for starters, we really want it to work! most of us have been socialized to believe that marriage is one of the primary goals of life. to go without it, for better or worse, is observed as cultural failure. we have been given SO much societal pressure to couple that when a good enough opportunity presents itself, we take it. people rarely stop and really pull the lid off their relationship before getting married because they’re often afraid of what they might find. being so close to achieving success (being married), the fear that a deep assessment might result in them not getting married is too great.

and so people rush in, hoping that it’s right enough.

but obviously that’s bad.

so, not only do many marriages here get off to a rigorously examined beginning, we also don’t have good training on how to do it well. the closest examples we have, our parents, don’t often really let us in to deep truths of their marriages until we’re older. and even those aren’t often good example. and then the other examples, friends and tv, are often particularly bad.

all of alain’s thinking on this stuff lines up really well with many of the lessons in all about love, one of my favorite books of all time. here’s just a few relevant quotes:

“When we see love as the will to nurture one’s own or another’s spiritual growth, revealed through acts of care, respect, knowing, and assuming responsibility, the foundation of love in our life is the same. There is no special love exclusively reserved for romantic partners. Genuine love is the foundation of our engagement with ourselves, with family, with friends, with partners, with everyone we choose to love. While we necessarily behave differently depending on the nature of a relationship, or have varying degrees of commitment, the values that inform our behavior, when rooted in a love ethic, are always the same for any interaction.”

“I had been raised conventionally to believe this relationship was “special” and should be revered above all. Most women and men born in the fifties or earlier were socialized to believe that marriages and/or committed romantic bonds of any kind should take precedence over all other relationships. Had I been evaluating my relationship from a standpoint that emphasized growth rather than duty and obligation, I would have understood that abuse irreparably undermines bonds. All too often women believe it is a sign of commitment, an expression of love, to endure unkindness or cruelty, to forgive and forget. In actuality, when we love rightly, we know that the healthy, love response to cruelty and abuse is putting ourselves out of harm’s way. Even though I was a committed feminist as a young woman, all that I knew and believed in politically about equality was, for a time, overshadowed by a religious and familial upbringing that had socialized me to believe everything must be done to save “the relationship.”

“In retrospect, I see how ignorance about the art of loving placed the relationship at risk from the start. in the more than fourteen years we were together we were too busy repeating old patterns learned in childhood, acting on misguided information about the nature of love, to appreciate the changes we needed to make in ourselves to be able to love someone else. Importantly, like many other woman and men (irrespective of sexual preference) who are in relationships where they are the objects of intimate terrorism, I would have been able to leave this relationship sooner or recover myself within it had I brought to this bound the level of respect, care, knowledge, and responsibility I brought to friendships. Women who would no more tolerate a friendship in which they were emotionally and physically abused stay in romantic relationships where these violations occur regularly. Had they brought to these bonds the same standards they bring to friendship they would not accept victimization.”

“To love well is the task in all meaningful relationships, not just romantic bonds. I know individuals who accept dishonesty in their primary relationships, or who themselves are dishonest, when they would never accept it in friendships. Satisfying friendships in which we share mutual love provides a guide for behavior in other relationships, including romantic ones. They provide us all with a way to know community.”