For Better or …

A friend asked me recently, rhetorically he says, “Is there more to marriage than carnal relations?” This was entirely out of the blue, and really got me thinking. I’ve got some relatively firm beliefs on marriage, myself, and what it should represent, but I’m sure we all know that my idealized version of existence rarely has anything to do with the way things really are. So, I set to probing more deeply in my mind to dredge up some answers.

First and foremost, I think, it is important to separate marriage from itself. That is, that the bond between two people and the legal paperwork which represents the societal benefits and obligations should be abstracted from one another entirely; people can be married on paper without being devoted to one another, and people can be devoted to one another in the absence of paperwork. I would argue that, despite the legal classification and ability to file taxes together, paperwork-marriage is simply a gesture that is meant to represent a trust formed between two bodies who wish to, for all intents and purposes, be joined. It is a very nice gesture, but ultimately, I think, relatively unimportant. Being married on paper does not make one husband and wife, but rather, solidifies the intent to behave as such in the eyes of the State, like a public announcement of these individual’s intentions with one another. Beyond the feel-good metaphor for a joining of things, this paperwork represents a cold bureaucrat’s view of what it is to be married; the legal definition being a binary ‘Yes/No’ option wherein certain obligations and opportunities exist within the societal structure based upon that value. It removes all emotion, attempting to replace it with the calculated acuity of a hundred generations of joy-killing desk jockeys bent on ensuring the solidity and legal plausibility of the contract that is signed to represent that.

Then, of course, there is the other side; the loving devotion, the emotional side, the true “bond” that exists between two people, all legality aside. There is more here than I can readily describe, but the basic premise of it is that when two people are truly married in this sense, it means they are wholly dedicated to a lifetime together. There’s no half-in, no prenuptial agreements, no regard for what the state will or will not allow — those things are all tangential to a pair that is honestly enamored with one another, and damned be the consequences for any who would get in the way of this kind of union. Just as the paperwork-married can use their shared status to protect themselves in a legal fashion, so will those bound only by their desire defend themselves against other forms of assault, their strength together driven beyond that which either would be capable of alone.

All that said, though, I’ve still carefully dodged the task of defining marriage except to touch on two possible meanings. Without that term further defined, I can’t rightly weigh in on any benefits or expectations thereof — and that’s the real rub. I’ve been married twice now (still happily on round two), and so my viewpoint is somewhat skewed; personally, I believe that the state-run institution of marriage should be abolished. Remove the term “marriage” — one spawned from religious ceremony and tied to the moralistic ethos of the ruling elite of the day — from the books entirely, and recreate it as something new. Allow the benefits to anyone wishing to join themselves thusly in a civil union (for that, truly, is all the paperwork represents), and leave the emotional side estranged from it. Not only does the icy banality of the government forms steal the warmth of what a marriage, and a wedding, should be about, but it strives to choke out all the best parts of a true marriage by trivializing them in the media, escalating divorce rates, and general flagrant disregard for the concepts from which the tradition itself is borrowed.

Marriage today seems to be less about the idea of forming a lifelong bond, but about signing away some measure of rights so as to gain additional rights afforded those willing to take the plunge. It’s become a thing of fad, where people get married within the first few months of a relationship because “they know he’s the one” or it “just feels right” — before they even have a chance to experience living with this person, or coming face to face with the fights that are bound to come up. No marriage can exist without some conflict; people will naturally find things about each other which they find disagreeable, and wish to change — even when this is denied, it can become a festering thing which eats away at one or the other over time, until the last straw causes such a schism between the two that there is no chance for reconciliation. The popular dichotomy, though, seems to sway towards one extreme or the other — that marriage is either an unlivable hell dominated by servitude to the other partner, or that marriage is a blissful, perfect serenity which is unblemished by such foul things as disagreements or personal strife.

But it’s neither of those things; it is also both of them. So, I can only ultimately conclude that marriage, by whatever definition you may choose to apply that term, is about one thing: Compromise. It is about being willing to forego your own prejudices, about overcoming your fears or doubts, about conquering the unknown. It is about achieving a happiness unlike any you have known, and it is about a struggle against the worst of all things that can befall a person. It is about learning everything about your partner, and everything about yourself. It is selfless and greedy, reserved and lustful, satiated and voracious. It is a reconciliation of the highest emotions and the lowest, of the soul and the state, of the flesh and the mind. It’s about exploring the boundaries of logic and reason, and casting them to the breeze in an instant, indulgent and calculated. In short, it’s the best and worst of all things within the human experience.

And that’s just the first year … 😉

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  1. drewflicker
    Posted 26 October, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    My wife and I didn’t draw up any prenuptial contracts (For one, they’re only arguably effective at their purpose, good attorneys still throw them out all the time), but I don’t think a contingency plan reduces the validity of what you call the “emotional bond”. One can form a bond, intended and hopeful to be lifelong, and still make conscientious contingency plans against the possibility that problems arise down the road.

    Years ago, I thought I’d never marry because it involved an a priori certainty that one could commit to a permanent bond. I changed my mind because I could conceive of it as a hope and likely estimate of permanence instead.

  2. Posted 26 October, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I must say, I very much like the phrase “likely estimate of permanence”. Sounds very right; I suppose I just wished that more people considered ideas like “permanence” (whether in absolutes or in hopes to attain) when considering marriage. What it’s become now is nothing like what I think I would imagine it to have been meant to be when the concept was first forged in the history of humanity.

  3. Skittles
    Posted 26 October, 2009 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    You are permanently with me Xarexerax. A paper we’ve attained together is nothing but a bit of proof to the State, just like you said. I’m happy to be married to you. To be bonded together through love and devotion. I love you honey (REMINDER: you are the one who wanted me to sign up on this damn thing in the first place to leave comments. This means you have to deal with me writing stuff like this when you post about marriage.)

  4. Posted 27 October, 2009 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    What, and that’s going to deter me from wanting you to post here? Psh. Gonna take a lot more than that … 😉

  5. ragemonkeytalon
    Posted 3 November, 2009 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    Marriage is one of the most convoluted of concepts within society; as it represents a true breakdown in the statement “separation of Church and State” that reads clearly within our Constitution. It is why the subject of “gay marriage” is still such a hot topic. Marriage is a religious concept that has not evolved along with our society.

    Our society, being an ever-changing one, possesses a much different concept of marriage today than it did during the days of the “Nuclear Family.” However, religious beliefs have not evolved along with it. We now consider women to be equal to men and we consider homosexual couples to be equal to heterosexual couples.

    It also has to do with this paradox we call “tolerance” in society. Unfortuanately, as much as we may not want to admit it; the Constitution, and America as a whole, was based on English Christian beliefs. And Christianity, as a whole, is a rather rigid religion. At its core it is selfish, demoralizing to women, and also racist.

    To myself rather, marriage is simply a state of mind that I bind myself spiritually to another. The piece of paper means little to nothing other than legal piece of mind, and also requires that you pay a little tax to your local government for the priviledge.

    Having a priest marry two people without any paperwork whatsoever means the same exact thing. Except that is illegal isn’t it? Because if it were, then everyubody would do it. But regardless, we only jump through the hoops because society tells us that we need the paperwork because the “system” has told us that the marriage is not acknowledged in the eyes of the “law” if we do not.