Monday, May 11, 2009

Why marriage is so hard:
Jim Styro's Meaning of Life, Part Four

Was there ever an endeavor so burdened by outrageous expectation as marriage?

And I'm not even talking about sex...* (OK, I'm going to keep my focus here.)

I think people have a hard time avoiding the fantasy that they can marry someone and change them into their "dream spouse" - and assume (whether they would admit it or not) that their beloved won't develop any new undesirable qualities under their watchful eye. Often, in this scenario, one party has a plan how they can "improve" their flawed partner and transform her/him more fully into the spouse of their dreams. If you aren't married yet - and this is your plan: Please sober up before you tie the knot. The harsh reality is: the cares of life are as likely to push a relationship apart as keep it together.

I'm sure all of this sounds pretty pessismistic - certainly not very romantic. And maybe that's the point. While I think romance is wonderful**, it's not very helpful in dealing with the day-to-day reality of marriage. Marriage is hard work - and if you enter into the arrangement thinking otherwise, you are at a definite disadvantage.

Let me put it this way: Marriage vows are a declaration of love without criteria. Love for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health.*** (Or as I like to put it: I don't love you because you're not an @$$hole - I love you in spite of the fact that you are an @$$hole.****)

That's why marriage is so hard. Even if you can control your initial expectations for this person - that you've chosen to be closest to in the whole world - how do you deal with the changes that time and experience will inevitably bring about? Particularly when those changes are for worse rather than better, or poorer rather than richer, or sicker rather than healthier?

Here's where the fact that love is not rational, that it can't be measured or proven comes into play. These qualties - that could be a detriment in other areas of life - become a distinct advantage in marriage. Because, if one of the unique aspects of love is its willingness to put the interests of the beloved first, then it helps us to understand how to bear the times in a relationship when our expectations are not being met. We can know, at least, that our spouse is not set out to undermine our happiness - because they desire the best for us, as we do for them.

Outside all but our closest relationships, there aren't many situations where we can count on other parties being more concerned with our well-being than ourselves. Imagine having this conversation with your boss:

"Hey, Boss"

"Good morning, Valued Employee"

"Boss, I know my timing isn't very good - but the birth of another child and my wife losing her job is really putting a strain on my finances. My wife is worried sick and life at home is really making it difficult for me to do my best here in the office. You know that I've been busting my hump just to make sure I don't get laid off. Any chance that you might be able to see your way clear to get me a small raise or a bonus?"

"Well, Valued Employee, I feel your pain. Perhaps I should take a temporary pay cut and free up a little money in the budget to get you that raise. I'll have to put a little less in my 401(K) or skip eating out so often - but you need that cash more than I do."

Once you pick yourself up off the floor and your sides stop hurting, remember this: The whole scenario of seeking the best for others rather than ourselves can only be sustained if that love is reciprocated. If our love is unrequited - if one side is always giving and the other taking - the dysfunction of that situation can only be sustained until the giver has nothing left.

If you find yourself in a situation like that, whatever fantasies you may have entertained at the outset of your relationship will need to be abandoned. Even our closest relationships should be able to bear the scrutiny of dispassionate reflection.

Love can't be taken - it must be given. But love that is not returned - or love that is rejected - will turn rotten, like manna from heaven (edible for one day only). If you find yourself in that situation, my advice is: find someone who can love you back.

And if you've found someone who loves you truly: return their love in kind - and keep them close for as long as you can.

Take care.

* Although I will be following this case closely. I don't think this guy stands a chance. Maybe if the ban had latest for a quarter or something. But a week? What a p*ssy! I hardly even notice anymore until after the first week has passed.
** I don't like to make many judgements about myself that I feel are better left to others. But I am very affectionate - quite the touchy, feely guy. I don't think that necessarily comes through much in my writing - 'cause I'm also a hard@$$. But my inclination is more in the direction of Chubby Hugs.
*** You made up your own wedding vows that left open larger loopholes, it may be that none of this post applies to you.
**** A statement which I have often applied to friendship - not marriage. My wife is like Mary Poppins.


Middle Aged Woman said...

Practically Perfect in Every Way? I was thinking Extremely Stubborn and Suspicious.

Jess said...

I have really enjoyed reading your meaning of life entries! I am glad you finally got out here and started up a blog! You have good things to add!

Middle Aged Woman said...

Jess - He is a mighty, wise fella, that man o' mine.

Jim Styro said...

MAW: Problems of self-image can be so debilitating. (I try to build it up, you knock it down, I try to build it up again, you...etc)

Jess: Many thanks for your encouragement. I'm glad you're enjoying the MOL posts - 'cause there's a lot of ground to cover. Hope I can keep it interesting the whole way.

MAW: I would say something self-deprecating - but then I'd look like a f*cking hypocrite!