Monday, July 7, 2008

On love - On marriage

"I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer." ~Jim Carrey

I think if anyone has illusions that marriage is all fun and games, they ought to take a peek at True Wife Confessions. I get sad, sometimes, reading post after post of downers about marriage, so I don't go there very often. I know that the site is primarily a place where women go to discuss things they feel they cannot discuss with other people--the ugly stuff, the embarrassing stuff, the sad stuff. There's a lot of anger there, too, and it's not under the surface either; it's raw and incredibly heartbreaking.

It didn't dawn on me until just recently how much of marriage seems centered around "the man" and making him happy--how marriage seems like it's something men get more out of than women. The expectations that women have placed on them to be everything to everyone are staggering and impossible to live up to, while men are expected to bring home a paycheck and if they do that then they're pretty much golden. Most of the women I know who are in marriages that would be considered "good," feel as though men benefit from marriage more than women do. This isn't a bunch of woe-is-me women pulling nonsensical theories out of thin air, it's real women looking at their lives objectively and feeling like the scales are tipped in favor of men more times than not in relationships, and saying to themselves that if they ever did get divorced, they'd never, ever marry again.

I feel that way, too, mostly because I married young when I could not know what it took me over 20 years to learn. And it has nothing to do with my husband--it's more about me wanting to experience life on my own terms--because I've never done that. I've always been defined by the relationships in my life that have ultimately taken over my life.

When I was growing up, I was told that getting married and having kids was what women should want for themselves, and I bought into that without question. I feel a little disappointed in myself that I never challenged what other people felt was my lot in life, that I did not dare think for myself because ultimately, that is what it was. I look back and think I've sleepwalked though parts of my life when I should have been awake and paying attention. I wonder, sometimes, why no one slapped me into consciousness, why no one looked out for me. Was it a generational thing? I don't know. All I know is that I would never presume to chart the course of anyone's destiny the way certain people felt entitled to chart mine while I went along like a good little girl who could not think for herself. I try not to dwell on it too much because it makes me angry. Why didn't I fight more for what I wanted? I just kind of went along. It's maddening. I really piss myself off.

My husband is always telling me how much he and the kids love me and I jokingly tell him that doesn't surprise me one bit because if I wasn't me, I'd be in love with me, too. I mean, who wouldn't love someone who does everything and expects so little in return?

I learned a friend of mine is getting a divorce because her husband cheated on her. For three days now, this is all I can think about. I cannot tell you how this breaks my heart because I want to believe in the sort of love that lasts forever, in the sort of love that takes commitments and vows seriously. I want to believe that love and marriage cannot be traded away carelessly after too much booze and too little thought, but this is what happens every day all around me. I want to believe that people are too smart to fall for that grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side bullshit, but we do it all the time. We think what we have is not enough, or not exciting enough. It's this constant looking outside of ourselves for something to fill us up. I don't get throwing away a family for a little fun that simply CANNOT be worth what it costs you in the end.

I'm not even sure what the point of this post is. I think a common theme of my blog is that love isn't easy. I never want people to walk away thinking I don't believe in marriage or love, because I do. But I think the day in and day out of it is tricky and difficult to navigate at times, and I think pretending that it is not does a disservice to everyone.

As often as I am disenchanted by love, I am swept up and away by how wondrous it is. Those are the times I try to keep with me. Those are the times I hold close.


Christy said...

Oh my...a lot to think about. I agree that when you get married, nobody tells you how hard it is sometimes. Nobody tells you that sometimes you sacrifice...A LOT.

I got married young too--I had just turned 22, so now it's been 14years. And my husband & I started dating in our senior year of high school, so we've been together 18 years. YIKES!

We've worked really hard through some very difficult times. We've also bee lucky in that we've grown and matured in similar ways, and are actually are more alkie and get along better than we did when we first got together. I don't think that happens very often, and I wouldn't recommend getting married that young to ANYONE. You don't even know who you are at 22!

We do seem to live in a society that doesn't value marriage & family as much as it used to--people throw in the towel w/o even trying sometimes, it seems. That said, I think in prior generations, many of the people stayed married even though they were very unhappy b/c of how it would look. I don't think that's any better.

K @ ourboxofrain said...

You raise a ton of really important issues that are really hard to wrestle with and that most people choose to ignore. Marriage (or, really, maintaining meaningful relationships of any kind) is hard work. In my marriage, I earn 80% of our household income, but my husband picks up a lot less than 80% of the slack otherwise -- I still do much of the cooking, half the cleaning, most of the errands, and almost all the planning, financial and otherwise. I work longer hours, but also have to gestate our child(ren, in the future) and expect I will be responsible for more than half of the care too. I often feel like I'm sleepwalking through life too, but inside of a pressure cooker. And sometimes it sucks, and most of the time it is really overwhelming. But I know I'm happier with him than I would be without him.

I feel very fortunate that the minister at our wedding gave a sermon that touched on some of these themes, and it is a sermon I come back to often in the moments when my husband drives me nuts. (Seriously -- who remembers the sermon at their own wedding?) He told the story of an older couple, how each of them did things that drove the other nuts. When one passed away, the other missed the things that used to drive them crazy. His lesson: marriage is hard work, so when it comes to many of the small things, overlook. Of course, it doesn't address what to do with the rest -- i.e. the big things -- but it does help remind me to always ask whether I'm happier dealing with the things that drive me crazy than I would be without the person I love. The answer has always been yes. And I think holding on to the wondrousness of that has to be a key to sustaining any marriage longterm.