I’ve decided to republish my all time top 5 most visited posts. Here’s #1…
Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawidge, the bwessed awwangement, that dweam wiffim a dweam… … Ven wuv, twoo wuv, wiw fowwow you fowever..
-Peter Cook as the Impressive Clergyman in Princess Bride
Perhaps I have taken the whole Skeptic thing too far because I am a Skeptic when it comes to marriage. I don’t believe in true love and I don’t believe marriage is a universal answer for relationships. I still dream that I can find someone who is a friend, who lights my fire and with whom I compatible for a long, long time. I hope my children will one day find a life companion. Marriage just seems an unnecessary part of that to me.
My problem is that I don’t know a married couple that I can look at and say,
“Oooh! I want what they have!”
Being single is far better than having a mediocre marriage like any of the married family or friends that I am close enough to to know some of the details. Of course in my wider social network I have married friends who appear to have their acts together and their marriages seem as solid as it gets. But then, I remember 12 years ago when my then sister-in-law was fighting with her husband, my brother, because she looked at me and my wife and said,
“Oooh! I want what they have!”
She wanted the temple marriage and the husband who was into the kids like I was, who and who was helpful around the house. Except… all wasn’t well in my marriage at the time. My Sister-in-law just couldn’t see it.
We were the model Mormon young couple at the time… the kind of couple where the wife is assigned to lead the youth in the Young Women’s organization because she’s the perfect example of the Mormon woman who has achieved it all … a temple marriage with a worthy priesthood holder. My Sister-in-law clearly didn’t have enough information (As a side note, this brother and sister-in-law have since divorced as well. They are far friendlier with one another and interact far healthier than anything I ever hope to achieve with my ex-wife. Now, I wish I had the divorce that they have).
Take, for example, the elderly couple married 40 or 50+ years. Often, the length of time is all that is said about the marriage and then it’s naturally assumed that the couple is happy and successful at working together and showing love. I usually say to myself,
“Perhaps, but we don’t have enough information to know whether they are happy and fulfilled or not.”
Society assumes that a long-lasting marriage is a successful marriage. I say that the information to determine if it is a successful marriage (As I define it) usually isn’t provided to anyone outside the marriage. Until couples make a firm commitment to separate or divorce, part of trying to make the marriage work is to keep the negatives circulating exclusively within the marriage itself. That’s why divorces often seem so shocking. It’s because until the very end, people are trying to make their marriages work and part of making it work is remaining loyal and closed-lipped about its failings.
That’s also why I remain skeptical when I hear public protestations of love and endearment. Who knows how much of the claim is real and how much is the person trying to convince him/herself. Mormons often do this in Fast & Testimony meetings all the time…telling their spouse publicly how much they love them. I always wondered whether that person had ever told their spouse privately. And if so, why wasn’t that sufficient? What did a public declaration accomplish that a private intimate moment didn’t? Since I was the bishop’s executive secretary much of the time it wasn’t difficult to connect the dots and notice that these sorts of people were the same ones for whom I was making counseling appointments with the bishop on a regular basis. But still, they’d get up and declare their deep love from the pulpit.
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks”
I see young couples do this on their Facebook status updates all the time,
“I have the best wife in the world.”
“Thank you XXX for being such an awesome husband.”
“Somebody just got some…”
“XXX must have just repaired something in the house.”
Am I bad? Yes, I know.
For a related example, take a typical exchange between some middle-aged Mormon folks,
“I have 8 children – all married in the temple. My four sons have all served honorable missions. We have 18 grandchildren with 5 more on the way next month. We are so blessed”
Having been married in the temple and having served an honorable mission myself, I know that we clearly don’t have enough information in that statement to draw any conclusions. There are a lot of assholes, losers and mental cases, men and women, who have served honorable missions, married in the temple and started to procreate excessively.
So what does marital success look like to me and how will I even recognize it when I see it?
I suspect that by its very intimate and personal nature one can’t actually see it at all. It can only be experienced. I don’t know if a quality marriage is recognizable in others. I suppose a rewarding marriage is only something that can develop, grow, mature and flourish internally between two people. I suspect, however, that from the outside a highly rewarding marriage and a mediocre marriage look essentially the same.
I think we can all point out characteristics of a bad relationship, but can we tell, from the outside, the difference between a mediocre one and fantastic one?
Is just a mediocre marriage worth it?
As much as I declare that I am happy being single, I’d still want my children to find life partners one day with whom they feel at home. Hell, I want to find that for me too! I’m just not willing to settle for what feels like mediocrity to me.
I’ll know it when I’m in it.