I’ve been working on this post for a while, both in my head and here in my drafts. It’s about Marriage.
All of a sudden, I’m hearing about all these unhappy marriages. It’s crazy, but every time I get that feeling that everyone is coupled up or married, along come a dozen stories of miserable matrimony to validate my choice to be single.
I recently heard from someone who I thought was very happily married that he and his wife don’t even talk anymore, and sometimes he’s so aggravated and sick of her that he invents errands and finds himself wandering around the grocery store talking to people who work there, just so he can have non-frustrating human contact.
I also have a distant family member who was just married a year ago, already filing for divorce.
Then I heard from a friend that her sister and brother-in-law are fighting and there’s talk of divorce and who gets the baby – talk that has never occured in any of their fights before.
So, this begs the all important question ~ Are people getting married without really knowing each other or are they marrying the right person and just not trying hard enough? As the divorce rate climbs, I have to wonder what the real reason is behind the divorces.
My own feelings on marriage are this: I have never fantasized about a dream wedding. I think that fantasy clouds the underlying event – the marriage. I lived with someone for the better part of 6 years. In that time, we wavered on whether we should get married or not. I loved him dearly, more than anyone ever in my life, but his casual attitude toward money presented a problem for me. Eventually we parted ways, after deciding that we were no longer better together than apart. Our relationship lasted longer than a lot of marriages, and for us it was a clean break. No lawyers, no custody battles, no support payments. But, I know people who have those money differences, or religious or family differences, and they try to defy the odds and get married. Stupid.
Now, a pop quiz, but it only has one question:
How long does it take to really get to know someone?
a) You “just know” right away if they are the right person for you.
b) About 3 months
c) One Year
d) After your first major fight
Ladies and gents, if you answered anything other than “E,” thank yourself for jacking up the divorce rate statistic. You never really know someone. Why? Because people are always changing. You could meet me today and have me all figured out, but time can change and warp me in some ways. If you don’t believe me, watch the true crime dramas on A&E at night. Someone always kills their spouse for one reason or another, and the friends always testify that they never knew that the problems in the marriage were any more severe than anyone else’s issues, and that they “knew Bob since he was in kindergarden and he could never kill Lucinda.”
I’m not saying that everyone’s spouse is eligible to become a murderer. But give it some thought. Haven’t you ever done something out of character that you shared with almost no one, and most people wouldn’t believe you even if you told them to their face? I’m the host of about one scandalous event a year, that no one “who knows me well” would ever believe.
I don’t know the answer to this question of marriage. I do know that the right person for me at 25 wasn’t the right person for me at 30. So if that’s true, how do I know that a (hypothetical) person I marry today will be the person I want to be with in 30 years? They say “You just know.” Do you? I don’t even know which bra I want to wear tomorrow. How can I pick out a permanent mate? And who’s to say that marriage has to be permanent? Who made all these damn rules?
What about the issue of “other people’s marriages” – what’s the answer? Are people jumping ship too soon? Or are they walking down the aisle with people they barely know? Why is everyone getting divorced? Why is everyone in such a rush to get married in the first place? Is living with someone for the rest of your life really the way to go?
It is about complete commitment. and it is hard – just like friendships are. Or anything you love but have to do because you have chosen to. I believe the marriages that will really last are those that marry with the belief they will stay no matter what. So, while both people will and do change – both people are committed to growing together and having that as a cause. So, one person can choose to no longer try and cause the end. There are no guarantees. I read something interesting recently. Women need to know they are unconditional loved by their man. And the man needs to know she gives him unconditional respect. Often her hurt feelings lead to his feeling she doesn’t respect him. I believe there is some validity to this theory….
1/22/2006 09:28:49 PM
Actually, I don’t think the divorce rate is rising. It’s one of those scary stories the media loves.
Obviously, as someone who has never been married, I don’t know what the problem is. Maybe it’s some combination of the things you mention?
I have friends around my age (5 couples I can think of) who have been married for ten plus years; those marriages are still going strong. They give me hope. And make me wish I’d looked a little harder for Mr. Jamy while I was in college. 😉
1/22/2006 10:20:20 PM
I think about marriage only now because I feel like I found the one. We both do. But we are realistic, and that’s why we aren’t yet engaged, living together, or married. If it’s right will all come in due time. If not, then we cherish it for what it is.
Yes, emotions get in the way and sure, it would be nice to feel all lovey dovey living together and engaged. But you’re right-what happens if it doesn’t work.
And I know if he can put up with me this long and still want to be with me, there is no rush and it will happen when it is meant to-be it 9 years or 9 months.
Trick is, he still has to get me to say yes.
1/22/2006 10:50:03 PM
Thing is the divorce rate is so high because of guys like “Ross” from Friends. The serial divorcer does exist, and as a result they tend to drive up the rate. Once you’ve done it once permanence no longer is an issue, and as a result they are more likely to divorce again.
Another factor is living together before being married has a negative corelation on the marriage itself. Since the relationship was founded as a semipermenant thing, it’s not that hard to envision breaking up, because nothing has actually changed in the relationship prior to the marriage.
Personally, I hope I get married some day. When I’m certain that I can’t live without someone. I hope to find a love where I’m where I’m being constantly surprised by their new changes.
But thats just me.
I’m a sap.
1/22/2006 11:19:02 PM
Love is about choices and sacrifices. I think that at some point people choose something else – like going to the supermarket to have non-frustrating human contact. Of course, not having been married before, it’s always easier said than done.
A former co-worker of mine was married for a long time, around 20 years, before she got divorced from her husband. The most profound thing that she said to me was that the elements of who he was when she divorced him were there all the time, but some things shifted over time and all those things came together in a way that was not beneficial to their relationship.
Long term relationships are about managed growth and change. And communication is the key to managing change. The dude going out to the supermarket just to get away… is he looking at the reasons why he and his wife can’t talk without fighting? I’m not blaming him, but what good is being in a relationship if you don’t do a little introspection or get an objective viewpoint so you can see the other side when things are less than ideal? We will never have the ideal, or not for long.
We as a society have to do better than this.
1/22/2006 11:53:05 PM
I think it boils down to hard work. We are so self obsorbed as a generation, and when we don’t get our perfect way, then it’s f-you and I’m leaving.
Relationships (good ones) require a daily commitment to making it work-without resentment.
Who can do that anymore?
1/23/2006 10:05:57 AM
I haven’t given up hope on the idea of marriage, but I do think way too many people are settling and rushing into things. Too many people just want to be married for the sake of being married. Fuck that. Give me single and happy any day.
1/23/2006 10:17:10 AM
I HATE it when people say the divorce rate is 50% or X%. What the hell does that mean? Is it too high or too low? Maybe 50% + is a good thing because now that social stigma attached to divorce is no longer present and women have thier own earning power they don’t have to stay in loveless marriages anymore.
Also, (as judge posner would say) since the divorce rate is so high, it must make the remaining couples treat each other better than they otherwise would because the threat of leaving is more credible.
1/23/2006 10:18:37 AM
you should see Closer.
btw my verification word is rohump.
1/23/2006 10:30:15 AM
DC Cookie said…
I think I come from a fairytale family…everybody who got married stayed married. Aunts, cousins, uncles, grandparents, parents… it’s really bizarre, but that’s the perspective I grew up with, so I’m biased that marriage does work.
1/23/2006 11:29:49 AM
The Mad Dater said…
Re: Are people getting married without really knowing each other or are they marrying the right person and just not trying hard enough?
I think it’s a combination of both but mostly I lean toward the latter. Like you said, you’ll never truly know someone… but once you get married I think you have to work like hell to tolerate them – lol
The Mad Dater
“Because there’s a Bastard in all of us”
1/23/2006 12:44:43 PM
glad to know I’m not the only one who didn’t dream about my ‘perfect wedding’ as a little girl. so many of my friends say they have, but nope, I haven’t. Maybe if I see myself at that point later in life, sure, but it’s not something I fantasize about for the sake of it.
1/23/2006 12:52:18 PM
I believe that marriage can work, but like others have said it is actual WORK. And perhaps there are a lot of people who tend to run when the going gets tough, and that’s why the divorce rate is so high. But 2 of my best friends just recently got married and it’s been so fun to watch them, because in all of their interactions it’s so clear that they are each other’s best friends. The love and passion are there, sure, but when it comes down to it they are 2 people who really enjoy spending time together. That’s what I’d love to find.
Sigh…. Trueborn, too bad you’re in WV! 😉
1/23/2006 02:43:39 PM
Stumbled into your Blog few days ago. I think people are not taking the time to get to know each other. Most people rush into a relationship because they don’t want to be alone. And, most people mistake lust for love. I blame it on sex. Don’t get me wrong, I love sex. But it does cloud your judgment and when women have sex, their bodies release a certain type of chemical that makes them emotionally attached to the guy they have sex with. Of course, I am referring to most women. Some can do it with no strings attached, but they are the minority I suspect. It’s usually a one- or two- or three- night stand and you’re not that interested in that person to carry on further anyway. But bottom line, when you have repeated intimate physical contact, you tend to get emotionally attached. It’s just human nature. So, back to my point, people rushing into things and without making an effort to understand who they’re getting married with, they’re usually marrying a fantasy. That’s my theory of why some marriages don’t last. And, there’s always that fact that people marrying for different reasons (money, power, status, and what not), which might be more prominent in my neck of woods than yours which adds complexity to the whole marriage equation. So, one of the solutions to a better relationship is taking the time to know someone before getting physically involved. I don’t mean withholding sex to punish the guy or game playing, but just shift to a different mentality about dating. If you want something (whether your goal is love, relationship, marriage etc) in your life, you gotta focus and approach it in a more strategic manner. But, most people are in a such rush to cash in on that physical bliss anyway. Is it love at first sight or lust at first sight?
By the way, I’m not a nun. I do love sex, but I guess I’m just wiser now.
1/23/2006 03:59:34 PM
Washington Cube said…
No one wants to work on anything anymore, Velvet. It’s easier to bolt.
1/23/2006 08:53:58 PM
Well, as you know from my last couple posts, I’ve been pondering a similar issue.
I don’t know the answer, isn’t it scary?
I think the best thing I can think of for a marriage to really work is compromise, and growing/maturing at the same rate. Yes, people change and evolve – but it’s important to be at the same (or similar) stage in life, to find the same things interesting or relevant. I think that’s the most important.
Then again, what do I know.
1/23/2006 09:26:44 PM
Rhinestone Cowgirl said…
I’ve had a hard time formulating my comment to this post, because I’m struggling between my current on-cloud-9 state, and my normal pragmatic, screw-romance stance on marriage.
Marriage is HARD work. HARD. I think people like you and me, Velv, have it harder because we don’t necessarily have a template for what a good relationship looks like to work from. But, for me at least, it also makes me feel free to make my own rules.
Honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine being with the same person forever. There was a post on Kiss & Blog a while back about marriage with a five-year renewal option, and I LOVED that idea. Every five years, you decide whether to chuck it or keep it going, and in between, you are forbidden to break the contract. It sounds odd, but I think it actually lends you some freedom (and, perhaps, a pressure valve).
Okay, gonna stop writing now because this comment is practically a post in and of itself. Sorry.
1/23/2006 10:09:43 PM
Funny that you should raise this question. My husband (after looking at some of the pics from recent happy hours) asked me why most of the 30-something-year-old bloggers seemed not to be preoccupied with getting married and I really didn’t know, although that seems to be the case. I always felt that I knew fairly early on if there was a fatal flaw in the other person that I just couldn’t live with. I mean, no one is perfect, but there are degrees of imperfection. I think staying married and staying interested in each other is somewhat a function of how much either partner has allowed temptation to creep in and how much effort you’re willing to put into letting your relationship evolve. It’s when you get stuck in a rut that things can start to fall apart. It does help tremendously when both people have the same attitude toward important things like money, children, vacations, fidelity, even pets, etc.
1/23/2006 10:10:59 PM
To me, marriage is the result of making a conscious commitment to a person who you love just as much, and feel just as comfortable with, as you do yourself. I mean, you don’t always adore yourself, right? And sometimes you do something you find downright reprehensible. But you know that no matter what happens you’ve got to keep plugging. In terms of marriage, that means loving them even as (and because) they’re always changing, and seeing the relationship both a foundation for your life, but also always a work in progress.
That said, I’m not sure that lifelong monogamous relationships should be so enforced as a universal goal, even though it’s what feels right for me. I’ve been with my spouse almost 12 years, married in spirit for almost 4, and in law in good old Massachusetts since June.
Velvet, I’ve been lurking on your blog for the past few weeks — thanks for writing! It’s really a compelling & inspired site.
1/24/2006 08:31:28 AM
Reya Mellicker said…
This is a great post, Velvet. Thank you for making us think. I’ve been married twice. Both times i worked as hard as I could to stay married, both times I failed in that attempt. I’ve had great couples counselors, especially the last one from my second marriage/divorce. What he said over and over again is that everything has a lifespan. Nothing lasts forever. What’s important is how a person behaves while a relationship is ongoing, and what we can take from the ending of a relationship.
I’ve never known anyone who has gone through a divorce who didn’t, at some point, benefit from that experience. Not that I’m advocating divorce, and too I want to say that I agree people get married for all kinds of reasons, including the “wrong” reasons (whatever that means).
Marriage is hard. I know very few people who do it really well. Barbara is one of the most happily, actively engaged married people I’ve ever known. She should guide us all!
Word verification “wwork” – no kidding!
1/24/2006 09:53:32 AM
Velvet – you rock. Best lesson I ever learned was that you can’t trust the ‘I Just Know It’s Right’ feeling regarding marriage. So don’t look for it or wait for it. I was soooo sure and it turns out I was wrong. Now I’m not so sure and it’s much more likely that it’s right.
1/24/2006 10:33:20 AM
relationships, and in particular, marriages are a lot of work. and maybe some people just can’t put the effort into it after a certain point. i’ve been thinking about this a lot because i’m getting married in six weeks. there really are no guarantees. The person you want to spend the rest of your life may not be the same person in 20 years. i may not be the same person. but it’s worth trying, i think. (i never fantasized about a dream wedding. in terms of wedding planning, it might have been helpful to have had a fantasy or two, just to have some ideas. but i came into this whole planning thing in virgin mode, and it’s been awful.)
1/24/2006 10:37:47 AM
Love is hell, but if it was Heaven we wouldnt want it :9
1/24/2006 12:02:48 PM
Marriage is like a bank account. You put it in, you take it out, you lose interest.
1/24/2006 03:30:46 PM
Rhinestone Cowgirl said…
As usual, Confucius has wise words for us all.
1/24/2006 03:53:12 PM
I work for the government on welfare policy, and a big part of my portfolio is marriage and divorce. Promoting marriage is the current centerpiece of this administration’s anti-poverty efforts (did I mention I’m single, a Democrat, and not particularly working on this by choice. Ah, the joys of being a civil servant).
Anywho, the big factors in predicting divorce are education, income, race, and age of first marriage. You’ll notice that none of those things are emotional or relationship factors, even though studies test for those types of things all the time. That’s because if you have the structural things in place – money, a well thought out future, and low levels of stress – it is highly unlikely that your marriage will collapse because of other factors. (And for the record, the divorce rate is declining, and has been since its peak in the 80’s. It’s now down to about 47% and will continue to decline in the coming decades).
Furthermore, having those structural facets in place lends itself towards having a more fulfilling relationship. If you are educated, you tend to have better communication skills. If you have money, you’re usually not yelling at each other about the bills. If you wait until you’re older before you get married, you have a clearer picture of what you want out of life (children, career, where you want to live) and you tend to be much more up front about it with your partner before you get married.
Of course, statistical probability doesn’t predict the outcome of any individual – which is why I’m a hopeless romantic who spends a lot of time practicing my listening skills. But in general, if you want a happy marriage, the best thing you can do is finish college, lock in a good career, be up front about all your expectations, and wait until you’ve dated the person for several years before you tie the not. If you do that and are conscientious about communication, showing affection, and meeting each others needs, you’re marriage will most likely be a long and happy one.
Great post and comments. This site/group of folks rocks.
1/25/2006 10:53:12 AM
So glad that DC commented–I almost linked to his post on this topic.
I would also like to add that divorce is a GOOD THING. People no longer feel obligated to stay in abusive or just plain unhappy marriages. We get to choose to be happy and marriage is no longer an economic transaction. Isn’t that for the best?
1/25/2006 12:20:50 PM
Well, you know how I feel, but let me just reiterate: Don’t EVER EVER EVER get married. Married is BAD and STUPID. And anyone who thinks differently is clearly insane. And by the way, NEVER get married 😉
1/25/2006 01:04:29 PM