We in the West sentimentalize a whole lot of things. Marriage is one of those things.
As I drove to Kingston from Toronto yesterday morning I listened to a Q&A with Stanley Hauerwas that I had downloaded. In it he cuts to the chase about marriage. The paragraph below is a summary of the part of his argument I think is relevant to this post:
Christians today do not know how to think about marriage in a serious way. Singleness is the first way of life for Christians so those who are called to marriage bear the burden of proof, which is why you have to be examined, because we have to know if you are ready to keep a promise you made when you didn’t know what you were doing. Who could ever know what they were doing when they promised life-long monogamous fidelity? That’s crazy. So we’re going to hold you to it because we saw you make that promise. People don’t know how to think about marriage in a serious way. People think they fall in love and get married, how stupid. Marriage names the life-long commitment that people by being faithful to one another can look back over their years together and call it love. Because love is the non-violent apprehension of the “other” as other, and the great temptation in marriage is always to make the one you marry fit who you thought they were when you said I love you. And that’s the reason why marriage becomes such a hellhole of togetherness.
Preach it, brother Stanley.
There’s this idea that floats around and gets into our heads, that we find the “right person”, we fall in love, we get married, and we live happily ever after. This, I contend, is utter bullshit.
Who is this mythical “right person”? Presumably, they are someone who “fits” with us, someone we are “compatible” with (don’t get me started on compatibility!). In other words, the right person is someone who we can plug into our lives without having to change much about who we are. Someone who accepts us as we are without complaint, and who can serve to prop us up. How self-centered!
You will never find the “right person”, for they do not exist. He/she is a mythical creature much like Big Foot or Santa (sorry, kids). It turns out, that this mythical beast is actually the cause of a great deal of havoc and pain. We think we find them, so we marry them. Then it inevitably turns out that this person is not who we thought they were. So, we try to make them be the one we thought they were when we married them and things proceed to deteriorate.
My favourite piece of (usually unsolicited!) advice to give to newly weds or those considering marriage is this: you’ll always marry the wrong person. It’s just better to realize this and seriously think about it early in a marriage. Otherwise, when shit hits the fan you’ll be tempted to think you’ve simply fallen “out of love” with the person, or that this isn’t the right person for you (duh, read the title of this blog post). And when this is the case, once you’ve fallen out of love or figured out that it was the wrong person all along it becomes a hell of a lot easier to quit. Note the statement in bold above, from Hauerwas: Marriage names the life-long commitment that people by being faithful to one another can look back over their years together and call it love.
Love isn’t something one falls in and out of. Love is total commitment to a person that is other than yourself. Love is what you see when you look back over this life-long commitment of faithfulness to your spouse.
Five years ago today, Christina and I were wed. Let me tell you, looking back over those five years I’m beginning to see a lot of love.
Here is a post I wrote two years ago on our anniversary – Marriage as sacrament (or, how marriage is saving me)?: http://wp.me/p1vZo-bF