Thursday, July 15, 2010

Do You Believe In Marriage?

When my partner and I were starting to get serious, my dad asked me gravely, “Does Drew even believe in marriage?” And I had to bite my tongue. Sure, Drew comes from a less “traditional” family than my dad is used to, but still, the way he worded the question... Can we “believe” in marriage like we “believe” in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy? It’s not like its very existence is up for debate!

Of course, that’s not what my dad meant. He was asking, or trying to ask, whether we considered marriage worth it. Is it a goal for us, a thing we embrace? Seems like these questions are in the air lately. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her recent memoir Committed, doesn’t doubt marriage’s existence. What she doubts is whether it holds any value anymore for our relationships today.

If you were to ask Gilbert whether she believed in marriage at the beginning of the story, her answer would be an emphatic no. Both she and her partner have experienced ugly divorces, and they’ve vowed never to get married again. That is, until Homeland Security detains Gilbert’s non-American partner as he enters the States. Without a ring on his finger, the government insists, he can never enter the country again.

Gilbert is terrified—but figures the best way to cope with the fear is to learn everything she possibly can about marriage, and turn it into a book. (I love her typical writer’s solution to the problem. I’d do the same thing—that is, if I were lucky enough to have the money and brand name to get an instant book advance. But that’s another post entirely…)

Committed is an extended personal essay on marriage, each carefully researched chapter bracketed by anecdotes from her relationship, as she and her partner try to figure out how to build “a careful habitat of [their] own.”

Throughout the book, it becomes clear that she’s sorting through the pieces of “traditional” marriage—in all its complex forms—and carefully choosing the qualities that she wants. Gilbert wants a “Wifeless Marriage,” as she dubs it, where neither partner ends up taking on many domestic responsibilities. And when things are getting strained in the relationship, she wants to be able to take off for, say, Cambodia for a week alone, with a partner who doesn’t at all begrudge being left behind.

That could be threatening from some perspectives—the idea that she’s remaking marriage to suit herself. But I’m not so sure. Is marriage an all-or-nothing endeavor? I don’t know that it is, whether you come from a “traditional” pattern or not.

I went to the weddings of two dear friends this month. The first took place in a friend’s backyard, with a DJ playing a mix of video game music and Celtic airs. The second bride walked down the cathedral aisle to familiar organ tunes. The first bride plans to hang on to her maiden name; the second just changed hers on Facebook. So we know it’s official.

But I know them well enough to know that their marriages are going to look different than ever before. But I know them well enough to know that Tonight my non-“traditional” friend is probably cooking dinner for her husband … and my “traditional” friend may well be dragging her partner along on some spontaneous late-night adventure. Neither is going to be a “typical” wife to a “typical” husband. And that’s the way they like it.

What’s my marriage going to look like, when Drew and I get there? (And yes, for the record, we do “believe in marriage,” or at least it doesn’t terrify us as it did Gilbert.) The liturgy-geek in me is looking forward to designing a wedding, with words and songs and actions that reflect us both.

And the wedding will only be the first step—toward designing a marriage that will last much longer than one day. The “ordering of our common life,” as the Prayer Book puts it, will be just as much an act of creation as any story I will ever write.

It won’t be simple. Creation never is. Gilbert acknowledges the difficulty herself:

Wifeless, childless, husbandless marriages… there haven’t been a whole lot of those unions in history, so we don’t really have a template to work with here. Felipe and I will have to make up the rules and boundaries of our story as we go along…. I don’t know, though. Maybe everyone has to make up the rules and boundaries of their story as they go along.

I don’t know what it will look like, but I’m excited to find out. One way or another, I think, we’ll end up with a marriage that I can believe in.


Jen said...

Howdy howdy. It's your friendly neighborhood Jen.

So I come from a background that similarly led me to hate the idea of all the domestic responsibilities heaped just on the woman. I've also always blanched at gender-defined roles, or even designators, such as wife, missus (the abbreviation is MR with an S--as if possessive), and had nothing but loathing for the word "feminine" being applied to me.

I just can't stand it. So. Enter me and Eric. Very much committed to each other. So, yeah, marriage seemed logical. Except I'm disgusted by how it's been abused, and at the same time, repulsed by the idea that I should be "submissive" to a man. (I HATE THAT LINE, and discussed it at length with our minister.) I feel in our times, marriage should be a cooperative partnership (yet the whole "partner" terminology hasn't really meshed with me, either...I know, I'm special).

In the end, marriage is the more socially acceptable decision. BUT, I still believe it's the truest way of showing your commitment to a relationship. Because it is a social and, if you're so inclined, spiritually binding thing.

Maybe that made sense--I'm typing in a rather tiny box that makes this difficult to review. An actual conversation would perhaps be better.

Kelsea Nicole said...

Margee, glad to see you back in blog land! :D Thanks for posting an expression of honest feelings on the subject. It's so funny that we're at the time of life when "marriage is in the air." I still feel like such a child in some ways that the very idea of it right now seems absolutely impossible to me. And yet I know so many of my friends have taken that step (including one you mentioned, sad I couldn't be there), so it has become more and more real.

I guess my own thoughts are, that marriage is a real world expression of something that has immense spiritual impact. It's very akin to being baptized in the Christian tradition. If we don't get dunked in water, does that mean we cannot have a relationship with God? In my opinion, No. And yet for me, the memory of making that official promise to God before all my church family is all that gets me through the really rough times when I feel like the effort of faith isn't worth it any more. Just as with marriage/man- woman relationships, not being married doesn't mean you aren't spiritually and emotionally bound. But it seems to me that that promise is something to fall back on when your faith in the relationship is really tested.

And this all coming from a woman who you KNOW does not come from a traditional background! Anyway, heart you friend and blessings upon you and Drew's relationship!

P Mixter said...

Your thoughtful logic and prose made my trip from Facebook most rewarding! I concur that marriage today will never be cookie-cutter/June & Ward Cleaver/Ren & Stimpy unless the couple wants that to be their mode. A marriage is a formalization of a great relationship that should be as diverse as the individuals involved. I liked Kibran's metaphor of two strings vibrating in harmony to convey this. Marriage should have an added value, but not devalue either partner. "You complete me" may have become cliche, but it works for me.

I celebrate my 28th wedding anniversary next week. However, I work on the issues of TODAY with my partner, rather than resting on something institutional. I strongly believe in the commitment, whether you call it soul-mating or marriage or harmony. Being in that wonderful duration through highs and lows is a grace-filled blessing.

You go girrrrllll!