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Random Thoughts...
Sunday, June 03, 2007

I Do

Do you know married people who aren't happy? I do. Do you know married couples who wish they weren't? I do. Do you know wives who cheat on their husbands? I do. Do you know husbands who routinely treat their wives with disrespect? I do.

Why am I asking? Because I recently put my finger on what bothers me about how Americans treat marriage: society values marriage over happiness. Maybe this isn't news to you, but to this 33 year old single female, it's unpalatable. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not anti-marriage, nor am I bitter or disgruntled about the fact that I'm single. I also don't think that "happiness" is something to which each person is entitled, no matter the cost to others.

Everyone has problems, things that upset them, things that stress them out. I'm not suggesting that just because a marriage has problems it isn't a happy one or that the parties shouldn't be married. Far from it. I know enough to know that marriage takes work. It's not easy and there would be no value to it at all if it didn't require work, sacrifice, compromise. I don't think marriages are "failed" ventures if every moment is not spent in wedded bliss. But I DO think that marriage should add something to the parties' lives, should enhance those lives in some way.

I'm confused. Why do we place such value on something, on an ideal, that in reality is so. very. often. NOT beneficial to anyone, least of all the participants? I can't be the only person in the world who knows SO MANY unhappily married people. In fact, I know I'm not. Individually, people will discuss this issue honestly. As a society, we behave as though marriage is the next best thing to sliced bread.

I know a fantastic woman. She lives in Indiana, and English is her second language. She put herself through college and then through law school. She is smart, funny, and a successful attorney, respected by her peers. She has much to be proud of. She recently spoke to a group of women and young girls - a role model to be sure - and recounted her efforts in getting where she is today. After she spoke, she took questions. The first questions: are you married? do you have children? how old are you? The waves of pity from the audience were probably visible to the naked eye.

I believe in marriage. I think it is something worthy of esteem, I just think we should be honest about the state of marriage in our country. And I wish we could, collectively, find ways to return it to an institution to be revered, if it ever was, or make it so, if it wasn't.

Americans play fast and loose with marriage. They throw raucous bachelor and bachelorette parties, host lavish ceremonies in front of guests they haven't seen in years, party 'til wee hours at extravagant receptions, and engage in mandatory gift-giving to countless "happy couples." If two people have found "true love" and have committed the rest of their lives to each other, then such celebration is certainly in order. But in my humble opinion, all too often the focus seems to be on these celebrations rather than on what should be underlying them.

Do parties to marriage engage in honest self-evaluation before they plunge into a life tied to another person? Do they consider whether they want to be married, why they want to be married, and what being married to their significant others might be like - for both of them? Do they endeavor to ensure they are building their lives on a strong foundation, one that will support them, and their potential families, through the inevitable trials and tribulations of life?

I'm not married. My short and ridiculous marriage was too unconventional to give me much insight into marriage. Many of you are probably thinking I have no right to be critical of marital relationships. Maybe you're right. It's not the relationships of which I am critical, however, it is how society automatically respects those who are married, no matter the actual status of those marriages - no matter if the very people who are married are eroding what is left of the ideal of "marriage" through their words and actions, in and out of the public eye.

There are no guarantees in life. There are no sure-fire tests to predict whether certain marriages will be successful, whatever that means. Maybe all people who marry engage in honest soul-searching, and there is no way to reduce the number of unhappily married people. And though I think people take commitment too lightly, I don't believe that miserable couples should stay married and remain miserable their entire lives in the name of commitment.

I don't know if I will ever marry again. But I do know that I will not settle. I will not marry for money, or convenience, or security. I will happily embrace any and all of those things if they accompany a person who loves me and for whom I feel the same. Maybe I'll regret this resolve in ten or twenty years, but I've had enough experiences in life to believe that I won't.

To each his own. I just get tired of feeling like a second class citizen because I'm single. Why is being in a loveless marriage, or a hateful marriage, or a marriage where the parties simply tolerate each other, or a marriage where the parties feel trapped, or, heaven forbid, a marriage where the participants have become totally indifferent to one another, more socially acceptable than being single? That I just don't get.


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A Girl Walks Into a Bar(exam)
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Taking Down Words
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advanced maternal age
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code blog: tales of a nurse
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Overheard in New York
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preaching to the perverted
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Stay
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