“Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honour and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words “make” and “stay” become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.”
– Tom Robbins
I never thought I would be married at 25. I never thought I would be divorced at 28 either. I got married believing that this would be the man I would spend the rest of my life with, have children with and grow old with. At the time I thought I was marrying only for love, however in hindsight I realised that I married for many other reasons. Yes, we loved each other, but we also got married because it gave us a sense of security. We married because if we were going to have children it would be the ‘right’ environment to bring them up in. And because it seemed like the next logical step in our relationship. This is what society expected of us, so we got married.
And I honestly thought this is what I wanted, but strangely, and almost immediately after we got married, it just felt wrong. I remember so vividly sitting in bed only two weeks after we returned from our honeymoon, sobbing into my pillow, thinking that I had just made the biggest mistake of my life, but with no reasonable explanation why.
When I think about our wedding day I can’t seem to remember any of the important bits – the actual ceremony was like an out of body experience. It was a wonderful, happy day shared with my closest friends and family, but I felt strangely separate from everything and just went into auto-pilot to get through the day. The memory of exchanging our vows was a surreal blur. I don’t remember any of the details. I remember feeling almost completely numb, I remember the heel of my shoe sinking into the lawn, and I remember not feeling any connection to the man in front of me.
I tried for the next two years to make sense of this new dilemma I was facing and tried to make it work, but after two years of confusion, guilt, tears, awkward silences, arguments and deliberation I realised that in the depths of my heart I did not want to make this work. I couldn’t explain why, but I knew I was unhappy and I felt trapped. And most of all, my then husband deserved to be treated better than the way I was treating him. Splitting up with him was made even harder by the fact that he was a wonderful husband – loyal, strong, attractive, honest, trusting, considerate, hard-working, affectionate – all the qualities you could want in man, but just not right for me. Ultimately, he wanted the ‘two and a half kids and a white picket fence’ existence, and only by getting married did I discover that it wasn’t what I wanted.
And this is why now, when I’m at a wedding and I listen to my friends saying their vows, all I can think is ‘how on earth can you promise someone that, how can you promise forever?’
As much as, at that moment in time, you truly believe that you will be with this person for the rest of your life, there simply is no guarantee that you will.
I’m sure some of you are thinking that, “of course there’s no guarantee, but in the same way that some people have faith in god, an existence that can never be proven, we have to have faith in our marriage”.
So I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching recently and have realised there are many aspects of marriage that I struggle to understand.
Why can’t we make the commitment and have that faith without signing a contract and all sorts of legal documents? Doesn’t the fact that we feel it necessary to tie someone into a legal and binding agreement prove that we are scared of losing them? Aren’t we capable of devoting ourselves to our partner without all the paperwork?
Surely now that we are more pragmatic in today’s modern society, where the idealised nuclear family is becoming a rare phenomenon, we would favour a relationship that is open to change and has more flexible boundaries.
Also, marriage as we know it today was created by the church centuries ago, and is based on the kind of marriage that was not founded on love. Marriages then, were arranged according to the two families’ social status, their wealth, and their concerns of bloodlines and carrying on the family name. Love never came into the equation.
So now that most marriages, in western society at least, are not arranged, this antiquated institution is now obsolete. And that word right there; institution, is wherein lies the problem. No one really wants to live in an institution. It goes against human nature and our most natural instincts.
Occasionally you meet those inspiring couples who have been happily married for almost their entire lives, which is a rare and beautiful thing to see. But on the flipside the evidence is pretty damning when considering how many marriages end in divorce these days. As much as, when you’re saying your vows, you want to, and believe you’ll love and be with this person until death do you part, you simply cannot promise this to anyone.
Life happens, people change, evolve, fall out of love, fall in love, fall in love with someone else. This is just how we are, and instead of celebrating the insecurity of life we try desperately to lock ourselves into a relationship forever by getting married.
Perhaps I have become so jaded that I do not notice all the couples that are happily married or am I, admittedly, just disillusioned with the whole thing?
A friend of mine said recently that for a marriage to work you have to be with someone, not that you could love forever, but that you could live with forever. I think she’s probably right – we all know that the initial feeling of passionate love fades over time, and a long-lasting marriage is more about companionship than anything else. But why shouldn’t we be able to experience that feeling again? If the only thing keeping you in a relationship is the fact that there’s history, a joint bank account and you’ve learnt to tolerate each other’s bad habits, why not take that risk and seek a new relationship that fulfils and enriches you again.
Our love for someone is something beyond our control. As much as we try to control it and promise its existence until we die, we cannot. Love is a transient emotion; sometimes it lasts a few months, sometimes a few years and sometimes a lifetime, so why don’t our relationships last as long as our love does? I suppose casual relationships do end when there is no love left, as they rightly should, but once we’re married it’s suddenly expected that our love will automatically become everlasting. Of course it ebbs and flows as in any relationship, but once it’s dried up completely there’s no point waiting for it to come flooding back, because it probably wont.
However I do think marriage can work, but only when we are much older and much wiser. One needs to have experienced all of life’s joys and sorrows and be complete as a person before deciding to settle down. Otherwise if we are looking for someone to fill a gap, it will never work. Only you can be responsible for your own happiness and fulfilment, no one else.
I believe marriage as a state of mind, and marrying someone for nothing other than love is a beautiful thing, but marriage as an institution is deeply flawed and marrying for any other reason is futile. I believe in love.