Growing up, I always knew I wanted a family. I wanted at least three children. I hoped for a modest home to love, with a garden, near the ocean, in a great town that I could live in forever. I dreamed I would share all of this with my love, my husband. And... we would live happily ever after...
What defines "family"? Is it blood? Marriage? Cohabitation? If marriage, then what is left when a marriage dissolves? What about babies born out of wedlock? Aren't they still family? I'm obviously asking rhetorical questions. With a 50% divorce rate, enough of us come from "creative" families to understand that the societal ideals rarely frame the real family portrait. But should we be any less proud of the family that is, when it is not the ideal? (Ok, before you start preparing your arguments, I'm not condoning mistreatment or a laissez faire approach to commitment here. I'm just saying, life doesn't usually work according to plan; and if it seems to, watch out.)
50%... I know I've mentioned this several times but, c'mon... fifty percent! And that's just on first marriages. It goes up consecutively with second , third and so on. So, if I've failed once shouldn't I just throw in the towel? Christianity doesn't appear to help either. In 1999, the Barna Research Groupdivorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups, and much higher than Atheists and Agnostics. So, if people are supporting marriage because of their faith, they might want to think twice.
Why doesn't it work? I can't believe that it's because half of those getting divorced are just bad people and therefore are to blame. Maybe it has to do with unrealistic expectations; looking for the fairytale. Or, it could be the business of it all; it is largely a business relationship. Getting married because, "that's what we do," is also clearly flawed. I know we've all watched friends walk down that aisle because they didn't want to 'miss the boat'. I remember feeling that twinge of stress when I graduated college single.
Are we just a hopelessly optimistic people? Why does anyone get married? I've read the arguments for marriage. Men appear to live longer if they're married. Married people are better off financially. The government clearly rewards the marital union with tax breaks, health benefits, etc.. There's a reduced risk of STD's. Maybe less loneliness as well? Probably the most obvious benefit of marriage is the team approach to parenting; good for the parents as well as the children.
Of course, several of the above justifications could be accomplished in a monogamous, committed relationship as well, right? Not necessarily marriage. Yes, I've also read the statistics of cohabitation. Women who cohabitate are 80% more likely to divorce when they marry than women who don't. Hmmm... Well, clearly, those women were cohabitating with the ultimate goal of marriage. And might I stretch that further to suspect that said women were living with their partners because their partners were, maybe, not as committed to the idea of marriage as the women were? Or, not as committed to the women themselves? I've also read that cohabitation is highly successful when both partners are committed to non-marriage as well as to each other.
Then you might ask, why not get married? If two people are committed to such a union, what's stopping them from the ultimate plunge? I think it might have something to do with the government's involvement. You know, sticking it to the man? Also, with the realistic possibility of breaking up at some point, maybe they're hoping to avoid the hassle of a divorce. There are also those who refuse to marry until gay marriage is made legal; more of an admiral humanitarian stand.
I think some have a deeper, more romantic motivation for non-marriage. There is something to be said for loving your partner enough to always grant them the freedom to leave. The idea that they stay because of love, choice, not legality. And knowing that you too have the same freedom. It's empowering to know that you have the freedom to leave, or stay and choose the relationship every day. Maybe it's the idea of a more spiritual commitment between just the two, without the dictation from society in general. (If only there were better identifications than: "significant other"- other? Really? "Boy/girlfriend" - seems kind of trivial, right? And don't even get me started on "partner". Hmmm... does "spouse" work?)
When marriage does work, it's a good thing. There's a sense of belonging, of comfort, in the bond of marriage. I guess it feels more like family when forever is promised. It fosters a real, "we're in this ship together," mentality.
AND, it comes with a pretty ring and a wedding! Beautiful flowers, long white dress with customary veil, tuxedo, friends and family... Or, maybe, like me, you prefer something a little less traditional, a little more intimate. However you go about it, you stand with another and publicly vow, "From hence forth, wherever you go, I go. Our home is together. Our families are each other's. Your joy is mine, your pain, mine." Outside of parenthood, marriage is (or should be) the boldest and most profound commitment one can make to another.
Perhaps that's why it is so very devastating when it fails. And why it is so scary for those of us who have felt its sting.
I guess, ultimately, no matter what form of union you choose, LOVE itself is a risk. And it's what we want so much. Even when we attempt to guard ourselves from falling, we eventually gravitate back to it. And then we are left, facing another vulnerable soul, hoping.
If you made it through this little dissertation of mine, I hope you will do me this favor. Share your thoughts with me. What do you think/feel about the value of marriage? Why did you choose to marry or not? What have you learned? Were you certain beyond question when you walked down the aisle, or were you afraid?
I leave you with this...
"A coward is incapable of exhibiting love;
it is the prerogative of the brave."
~ Mahatma Gandhi