Ellis Martin's Opinion
Against the Myth of Marriage
February 16, 2012
It’s been several days since Valentine’s Day, and you can still see them everywhere: the hearts, chocolates, bears and expiring jewelry ads -- all the objects, the things, that we buy and sell, give and receive in honor of love.
Not that I object to Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is a lovely day for a lot of people. You wine and dine your significant other. You call your family or your friends, and you tell them that you love them. That’s all good.
It’s when we turn love into yet another thing that we want; when we turn relationship or, by extension, marriage, into an object of desire; when we turn it into something to be achieved or won or accomplished; when we buy the myth…that’s when we get into trouble.
The myth of love and marriage is this: We go to school. We get a good job. Along the way, we meet that person. We live happily ever after. That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s what so many people think.
But marriage is not the end-all to life. It’s not that you get married and suddenly you’re good. It’s not the brass ring or a magic lantern. It doesn’t fix everything. It certainly won’t fix you. And it won’t complete you, no matter what the songs say.
But we think it will. Worse, we expect it to. Even when almost 50% of marriages end in divorce, we believe in the happily ever after. We get married for all kinds of reasons, but one big one is that we think we should. We assume it is the right outcome of a romantic relationship.
I certainly did. Like many people, I married young. I was in my mid-20s, and my ex-wife was 18 at the time. How could we know much about each other? How was it possible to know every nuance? There was infatuation. There was lust. Some variation of love brought us together. And we married – without any mutual interests, without a discussion about family, about the future, about children. We just “fell in love” and got married.
But the infatuation wore off after a few years. The lust went away. And we wound up having nothing in common. It’s an all too common story. Five to seven years into it, we were not happy with each other. The marriage itself felt like a prison. I wasn’t looking forward to going home. I worked entirely too much. I didn’t make quality time with my wife. I didn’t have the wherewithal to understand what it was like to love somebody properly on a multitude of levels, not just romantically. Romance on its own doesn’t build a 20 or 30 or 50 year marriage. But I believed in romance, and I stayed another five or six years longer than I should have.
There is a depression that can set in from leaving a relationship, even if it’s not good for you. Even in a difficult relationship, there are things you come to love on a deep level. As human animals, we are supposed to be in a family unit. There is some balance to our having a significant other, so when we pull away from that unit, we experience a lot of pain...whether or not we’d be better off with, or without, our spouses.
But I did leave, and leaving was important. I’ve had a very full and exciting life since then, a life I would never have had if I’d stayed in that relationship. In this sabbatical of being single for the last 22 years, I’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences. I’ve met great women, great people, and had passionate exchanges of love – and I don’t mean that in the biblical sense. I mean it conversationally, communing with others in ways I never could have had previously. There’s been a lot of value for me in the time I’ve had on my own.
I know must sound like I’m anti-marriage. But I’m not. I’m anti-myth. I believe in the tradition of marriage, but I have high expectations for it. Not to complete my life, but to enhance it. Which means that, first, you must have a life to enhance. If you’re not happy with yourself, there’s no chance for you to be in a mutually beneficial love relationship.
So, if your goal is to find a wife, or to find a husband, because that’s what you believe you need or want to do, consider marrying yourself first. Fall in love with yourself first – with who you are and what you do. Be happy with you. After that, once you’re complete, if you meet somebody along the way, and you go about the business of enjoying your life, your work, your play, whatever you do; if you meet someone with similar interests, who you connect with on every level – intellectually, physically, spiritually, even professionally (why not have similar work interests?); if you get along with each other; if you feel you want to be married, to tell yourself and the universe, your friends and family, “I’m putting the seal of approval on this relationship with a piece of paper and a holy union,” then do that. But don’t make it a thing: “We must get married.”
Nobody has to do anything. Not get married. Not stay married. If you get married, and if you find it doesn’t work – if you have done the work together, kindly, and there’s still nowhere to go – you have the option of ending the relationship. After all, why prolong the inevitable?
I could have chosen to stay married and work through more of the difficulties with my wife. Who knows how it would have turned out...I might have been one of the married people who say to me, “Ellis, I envy you and your lifestyle.” I know more than a few couples who are not happy, but they’re waiting for the children to leave for college or until their finances improve, or any number of reasons for staying in an unhappy union.
But you always have a choice. You don’t want to kick a marriage to the curb for a blemish, but if you truly can’t go anywhere with the relationship, you can make a different choice. I’m not saying the grass is greener on the other side – it’s not – but if you’re unhappy, at least take a walk and find out what it looks like.
Our days are precious and they go by quickly. If there’s anything in your life that’s impeding you from happiness, freedom, and growth, then you need to eliminate it, even if it’s a long-term relationship.
On the other hand, if you truly have common interests, share mutual compassion, and are thrilled to be in each other’s company, and if you long for that person, in a loving way, month after month, year after year, then you won’t have a sweetheart or a teddy bear or a valentine or any other symbol of love. You’ll have a marriage, not a myth. And that would be worth keeping.
Copyright 2012 Ellis Martin Report
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