My neighbor Ryan proposed to his girlfriend this week.
She said yes.
I live directly across the street. So I’m going to have a front-row seat to their marital journey. From her moving into his house permanently. To the honeymoon period. To having children. To the seven-year itch. To whatever comes next.
I found out about the engagement on Facebook.
I “Liked” it. Then I typed: “Holy shit. Congratulations!”
I’m trying out this new life strategy where I try to be more honest—searching for freedom in truth.
So I asked myself: Am I really happy for them?
Do I really believe in the institution of marriage?
In Defense of Marriage
Conservative, Catholic upbringing aside, marriage does make some sense to me.
1. A life partner
I don’t really like being alone. I think most people feel that way. I think we inherently crave human connection. There are many ways to achieve it. Marriage is one of those ways. I know what you’re thinking Person Who Hates Marriage. I don’t want some ball and chain tying me down! My friends, my family and my dog keep me company! Yeah, I get it. But, guess what? Someday you’re going to be old. OLD. And I don’t want you dying alone at the local Bingo game reeking of Ben Gay while suffering from gout and fibromyalgia.
2. A sexual partner
Having sex is important. It’s good for you. It keeps you sane. And it chemically and spiritually enhances your relationship with your partner. Sure, you can have sex with a bunch of randoms, if that’s your thing. But if you do that too much, you’ll just end up with bastard children and gonorrhea. And then you’ll die alone. With herpes on your mouth. It’s better to do it with just one person. More boring? Probably. But that’s why you practice often. So you get really good at it. So good that all other people in the world could never do it as well as you guys can. Then, even in your most hedonistic moments, the really selfish part of your brain will kick in and remind you that the hot person at work just isn’t worth it. You don’t need the guilt. And you don’t have time for bad lays.
3. An emotional partner
Everyone has a different childhood experience. But for the most part, we’re raised by parents in some form or fashion. They are the people who love us, and teach us, and provide for us, and care for us, and fill a million different roles as we mature through our youth. And then one day, maybe when you least expect it, they’ll be gone. It’s a hard time. And having a strong, loving, emotional connection with someone—someone you can count on to carry you when you’re too weak to walk, to hold you when you need to cry, to sit patiently when you need to scream—is a valuable thing. We all leave the nest. Well, not you Guy In Mom’s Basement. But most of us do. And there is wisdom in building a new nest. Otherwise, you might just end up flying from one tree to the next, shitting on freshly washed cars and singing for a mate who never comes.
4. A spiritual partner
I understand not everyone makes faith or spirituality part of their lives. I don’t intend to ever use this space as a means to preach to anyone. But I absolutely believe in a Higher Power. And I aspire to Christian principles, which I’d break down into a super-basic philosophy: Love people. Give more than you take. Don’t be a dick. I’m almost decent at two out of three. No matter what faith or philosophy you practice, some days are harder than others. Life gets in the way. We question things. We have doubts. We search for meaning. Having someone around to help you walk your walk is a helpful life tool. More importantly, if there are children, having mom and dad on the same page really helps establish whatever foundation you want your kids to have.
5. A parenting partner
Science supports the notion that having both a mother and father at home is a wonderful thing. Children are better off when they receive the daily benefits of both. And it’s invaluable for them to have their male and female role models show them what unconditional love in a family is supposed to look and feel like. Ever notice how kids who grow up with mothers or fathers who do something great, seem to make following in their footsteps look so easy? Happens in sports all the time. Great football player has kid that goes on to be a great football player. Successful attorney has kid that goes on to be a successful attorney. Famous politician has kid that goes on to succeed in politics. The list goes on and on. Genetics have a little to do with it. But mostly, it’s the example. The football player’s son knows nothing but how to succeed in athletics. The attorney’s daughter never dreams of doing anything but going to law school. The politician’s child never considers any career but public service. They have the blueprint. They follow it. Because they don’t know how to fail at those things. The same can be true of marriage. The same SHOULD be true of marriage.
Why Marriage Sucks
1. You can’t control the other person
Lisa at Lessons From the End of a Marriage says it better than I can here. It doesn’t matter how much you want it. It doesn’t matter how against divorce you are. It doesn’t matter how committed you are to making it work. If your partner changes his or her mind? You’re finished. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Go straight to your new home. It’s quiet. You won’t get laid. You’ll miss your kids. And it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than just rolling doubles to move on.
2. It fails half the time
I still can hardly believe this is true. I NEVER thought I’d be a party to divorce. But life is slowly but surely teaching me to expect the unexpected. Some of the very best people I know in this world—people I admire, respect and aspire to be—are having a lot of marital problems. One of the side effects of getting divorced is that everyone you know starts to tell you their most intimate secrets. I know of about 10 marriages that have either flamed out or are on the rocks as I type. Will Ryan and his fiancée be among the half who fails? I don’t want to believe it. But I know better than to rule it out with conviction.
3. You trade in YOU for WE
This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. But often, it is. People lose their identity. They stop pursuing personal passions in the interest of compromise. Before long, when the relationship goes through a dip or sours completely, the resentment builds. Because the pursuit of dreams was sacrificed for the other person. The other person who now treats you with cold indifference. We are inherently selfish beings. The best of us find ways to put our partners first. To serve others. To think about and care about more than just ourselves. To love. But when all the lights are off and it’s totally silent and it’s just you and your thoughts: What do you want? What do YOU want? If the answer to that question is not morally reprehensible, there’s a strong argument for pursuing it. With vigor. And in many instances, marriage is a roadblock.
4. Bad sex, or its first cousin who lives at my house, no sex
This is an inescapable part of the human condition. No matter what anyone says. I’m right about the following: You WILL take for granted things and people in your life. Things and people that you shouldn’t take for granted. You’ve already experienced it. With your partners, and your health, and your cars, and your TVs, and your jobs and a million other things. An unfortunate downside of marriage is that the sex often gets stale. Now, I don’t believe it has to. And we’ll probably get into this some day in a future post when I’m feeling much more feisty and brave. But with A LOT of honesty, an adventurous streak, and a burning desire to get REALLY good at one of the best things we humans get to do, I believe two monogamous people can have an amazing sexual relationship. I know you want to, ladies. All I have to do is check out the Fifty Shades of Grey book sales figures. And your partner? They want that too. They just might not know how to get there. But there’s a way. Like salsa dancing! Except they probably don’t want to go salsa dancing. But they do want to have an amazing time in bed. Put a little thought into it, why don’t you? Because bad sex and/or no sex is one of the sure-fire ways to make your marriage a statistic of the bad variety.
The Final Analysis
Listen, I don’t know if I’m ever getting married again. On paper, I’d like to.
But I intend to spend the coming months and years doing a lot of soul searching about what really matters in this life and to what extent marriage should be part of the equation for me.
We live in a cynical world full of cynical people. People that will tell you why marriage is awful, and predict doom and gloom, and how there’s no God and that we’re all going to get cancer and die if climate change doesn’t kill us first.
And I won’t live like that.
I won’t echo that chorus.
I kind of hate marriage right now. Nothing has ever felt like this. Nothing has ever robbed me of the spirit and passion for life that I always remember feeling prior to a couple years ago. Nothing has ever felt this horrible.
But I also won’t sit here and tell you that it’s impossible.
Nothing is impossible. Except me getting laid, apparently.
But, seriously. It can be done. It is all the time. Just look around at those beautiful couples married 30, 40, 50 years. They’re out there.
It wasn’t magic that got them there. It wasn’t luck.
It was love.
The real kind. Not the bullshit kind from those lying, evil and soulless romantic comedies.
The good love. The gritty love. The no-nonsense love.
The love that says: “I CHOOSE you. I DECIDE every day when I wake up to love you. And I will make that same choice every day, come Hell or high water, forever.”
Two people doing that? They’re going to make it. Give me that, and you’re damn right I believe in marriage.
Toss in some blindfolds and ice cubes in the bedroom, and these two souls might even enjoy the ride.