Marriage: A Complicated and Evolving Institution

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By D. A. Wolf, Featured DM Blogger - July 23, 2013 - Updated December 09, 2016

 Run Away Bride.jpg

As a culture, we seem to be examining marriage in all its configurations, as well we should. It’s a complicated and evolving institution, and its inner workings vary depending on the individuals involved.

 

It was an off-hand remark, but it startled me. Especially coming from a woman who had known me for years, and saw the misery of my divorce, albeit from a distance.

She, on the other hand, has been married for 30 years, with her union intact despite the usual ups and downs that families encounter.

They were young when they married. They’ve weathered their share of storms.

Still, when she said to me, “Maybe you aren’t cut out for marriage,” it surprised me. And it stung.
Naturally, the context of the conversation situates her comment, and I’ll get to that in a moment. But beyond taking offense (which I did), my first thought was “Oh, she thinks I’m not the marrying kind.”

Not the Marrying Kind?

The expression “not the marrying kind” was once assigned to men alone. Now somewhat outmoded, it nonetheless designates a man who is unwilling to commit to one woman. In other words, he’s a player, whose preference to remain “free” doesn’t reflect that he is a lesser man – only one who wants no permanent attachments.

As a label, “not the marrying kind” acts as a kind of warning system to a woman who is interested in tying the knot.

When my friend said I wasn’t cut out for marriage? Frankly, it shocked me. I was married for more than a decade, aware there were problems, but generally speaking, I liked being married.

I felt belonging. I felt safe. I was wrong on both counts, but at the time, my commitment was absolute. To say that I’m “not cut out for marriage” is, among other things, inaccurate.

“Togetherness” to the Max

When we take vows of marriage, we effectively promise to stay together forever. But we don’t mean we’ll spend 24 hours a day together, or 18 hours a day together – every day – do we?

I recall hearing that we “marry for love, not for lunch.” It’s a point well-taken, isn’t it? Don’t we all need other activities, other friends, work time without interruption, and a few hours on our own?

This is the context in which my conversation had unfolded. I work long hours from a home office, and the man I’m seeing is off during the summer. His freedom is a source of pleasure for us as a couple, and equally, a source of conflict for me. Much as I love being with him, I need solitude for writing, editing, and other professional tasks, and my nature is more introverted than his.

How Much Time Before You Remarry?

I was raising the issue of that stress – his being on vacation while I am not, the amount of time we spend together, my need for alone time. This is something that we talk about; my partner is clearly aware that I need to disappear into my head to write, and he is also aware that I’m used to being on my own.
We’re happy with things as they are, for now.

That I’m “not cut out for marriage” is a damning statement. On the receiving end of that remark, I felt judged. I felt as though I’d been deemed inferior, as though I was somehow incapable of whatever it takes to make marriage work.

I believe people remarry too quickly. I believe people are afraid to be alone with themselves. I believe we cannot know the quality of a marriage, and longevity doesn’t automatically equate to a union’s “success.” I am reminded marital status prejudice is alive and well, along with its implicit hierarchy – “married” sits at the top of the heap, divorced remains better than never having married at all, remarried after divorced is better than not having remarried, and so on.

I refuse to be judged because I feel in no rush to remarry, or for that matter, a need.

Change of Tune: Empty Nest, Retiree Couples

A few weeks later in another brief chat, this same woman eased my previous discomfort as the conversational thread picked up where it left off.

She was tired, she had a long list of errands ahead of her before the arrival of extended family, and she made a point of saying she didn’t know what it would be like when her husband retires and is at home full-time. They love each other, but when he’s around, she said, he’s really around. Wherever she is, he wants to be.

It’s only natural – to me – that she would wonder about the changes in their relationship when that time comes.

Of course, I find myself thinking about Empty Nest couples getting reacquainted and the adjustments they must go through. I think of retiree couples, as spouses are suddenly thrown together in a very different rhythm, and again, adjustments must be made.

Marriage Readiness

Will I remarry someday?

Possibly. And if I do, it will be a joint decision and an explicit choice, not because it’s expected. Living together is an option, as is living together part-time, as is not living together at all – but loving, from our own separate spaces.

Aren’t we entitled to decide on the ideal living arrangement that suits us? Especially post-divorce and post-child-rearing?

As a culture, we seem to be examining marriage in all its configurations, as well we should. It’s a complicated and evolving institution, and its inner workings vary depending on the individuals involved. To presume that there isn’t love, respect, and commitment simply because 24/7 togetherness can be a strain strikes me as off-base. To presume there isn’t a serious commitment because there’s no rush to the altar is equally wrong.

To presume that a man or woman is somehow superior for the fact of being married – or slightly less worthy if not – is both silly and archaic.

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