Till death us do part?

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B6B10P

You meet the ‘one’. Fall in love. Get married. Live happily ever after…

Yet even as a child, when the fairy tale rounded to its tidy conclusion and the pages closed shut, I was left with a lingering set of doubts which could neither be silenced nor clearly articulated. In the current social climate, I must admit to being no closer to any clarification on the matter of marriage.

The institution of marriage is under serious attack; subject to constant bombardment from a multitude of sources, with their sights trained on the purpose of blasting it out of any sense of relevance in modern western culture. Statistics regularly inform of the erosion of belief in the state of matrimony, perpetuating reports of rising divorce rates, the decline in marriages and the social norms of cohabitation and single parent households. Against this backdrop of hard figures is the media obsession with the well worn cautionary narrative of the lavish celebrity wedding, followed inevitably by the lavish celebrity divorce settlement, peppered with the essential ingredients of lurid infidelities and high profile divorce lawyers, considerably enriched by their participation in the undignified circus of a marriage breakdown. As the prevailing public template for marriage, it is no wonder that there is a degree of difficulty in viewing marriage in the traditional sense – as a lifetime commitment to one person.

Beyond the tabloid images, the shift towards secular values in Western culture has rendered the traditional justifications for marriage as almost redundant.  This sentiment is summed up by Betty Freidan:

“If divorce has increased by one thousand percent, doesn’t blame the women’s movement. Blame the obsolete sex roles on which our marriages were based”.  

Marriage is no longer the sole means of a woman’s legitimisation, and being a wife is no longer akin to attaining chattel status. However, with the dissolution of the traditional sex roles and a lack of a solid, recognisable structure to replace them, there has emerged a scrambling desire to fill the vacuum by clinging to the vestiges of the past; returning to an Austen-esqe outlook where a woman’s options were simplified to optimising her value in the marriage market, manifested in its extreme form through the (arguably distorted) reflection of the collective imagination – the Media. It focuses on a pervasive view of women intent on marrying a wealthy man for the status and lifestyle conferred through him. In this arrangement, she consents to be ‘kept’ by her husband as an accessory, with her primary aim to channel her creative energies on maintaining a ‘perfect’ home and achieving the objective of physical attractiveness at all times, through a regime of shopping, spa treatments, cosmetic procedures and starvation to conform to the aesthetic of a pre-pubescent schoolgirl, to keep his eyes from straying.

Consenting to an arrangement which diminishes or destroys your sense of self-determination can never be a healthy basis for a partnership – in whatever form. Besides, this is a story which I, for one, have heard quite enough of – It’s time for something more edifying.

Obsolete sex roles do not necessarily mean that marriage itself is obsolete. Although to some, marriage may just be a ‘piece of paper’ with no connection to a commitment of love, or even as a stable unit from which to raise a family, there is still something noble in marriage as an ideal, as an open commitment to another person to work towards an ultimate state of companionship, beyond the experience of friendship and blood ties, as specified by Alfred Adler who noted that:

 “We only regard these unions as real examples of love and real marriages in which a fixed and unalterable decision has been taken. If men or women contemplate an escape, they do not collect all their powers for the task. In none of the serious and important tasks of life do we arrange such a ‘getaway’. We cannot love and be limited”

In light of the possibilities that there may be no such thing as the ‘one’ and ‘forever’ cannot be guaranteed, marriage has attained its rightful place as a choice, rather than an expectation and the decision to marry, like every other in life must be interrogated within a deeply personal context. Such an interrogation requires the considerations that the very nature of love towards another is subject to change throughout the relationship; that the financial balance of power often matters; that some people are not capable of fidelity; that even with children, some couples are better off apart; that the person you see as your soul mate now, may not so easily fulfil your needs further down the line. These uncertainties are unavoidable and real – set against the unflinching ideals of marriage, which dictates a lifetime commitment to another, whatever the circumstances.

Marriage; like any other endeavour in life, should be entered into with the highest ideals – your own.

Comments

  1. by AlisonB On February 25, 2010 at 23:43

    Hmmmmm. I have really quite profound reservations about marriage. To my mind it is a legacy of the days when women were traded between men, and is anathema to any notion of gender equality. (The crying shame, of course, is that the only way non-heterosexual relationships have been able to gain any sort of legitimacy is by modelling themselves in the heteronormative anachronism that is a civil partnership.) The main benefit of marriage these days, that I can see, is that it protects women’s legal rights to shared property and financial arrangements. If the law could catch up with social change, and protect women’s financial arrangements regardless of their conjugal status, marriage really would become obsolete.

  2. by Andrea On January 20, 2011 at 17:15

    I really, really like your conclusion. This is what it’s all about…and no one has the right to dictate what a marriage has to look like. It’s a way of life that two people choose and it doesn’t have to look like the traditional role model we all know from our own families, movies, books, etc. But you still get strange looks or comments if you don’t fit into people’s ideas on how married life has to be. But does that mean that I want to live like they do? Certainly not.
    And even without others telling you what is right or wrong, it’s hard enough sometimes for these two people to sort things out anyway.
    I hope what I want to say comes across, even with my limited writing skills in English 😉

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