Friday, October 14, 2011

Modern Marriage*

None of the emotions that we expect to find inside a good modern marriage are unusual in themselves. We find them well described in art and literature across all cultures and eras. What makes modern marriage extraordinary in its ambitions is the expectation that these emotions should reliably be entertained over a lifetime with the very same person.
From this article.

Writing to a friend about relationships, and thinking about myself and my own fears/worries/apprehensions when it comes to my own very new one, and the memory of the last one, I was reminded of this article I had read ages ago. This point it makes is something I strongly feel on an intellectual and rational level**, and have discussed a billion times, of course, with The Bride. What can/should one expect from a relationship? What will one realistically get? Where to draw the line between compromise and doormat?

For starters, the article says the phenomenon of expecting everything from your partner only came about in the mid-eighteenth century, creating an idealized notion of marriage.
The new ideal set before the world the compelling notion that one might solve one's most pressing needs all at once with the help of just one other person.
I love that sentence. It so beautifully describes what we all do to relationships today. By we I do mean a specific sociocultural class of people. Everywhere you look, you are told that the ideal sexual-romantic life is one where you party, have multiple partners--but not, if you're a woman, too many--and then one day you will meet this Person, in whom you will find everything. He will find the snow globe you lost and thought you'd never find; she will fix your broken psyche--whatever it is that's hurt or sore in your life will be made magically better because this Person is so exactly your complement that nothing will ever be difficult anymore.

So why does this happen? (De Boton goes into a really cool politicized historical reading of this whole myth, so read the article.) I think sometimes that in the modern world, we've moved away from the family unit as it used to work. Families are nuclear, if that, and the speed with which society is changing means that there's a lot of generational conflict. Essentially, it's harder to feel one has the cosy comfort of love and belonging with one's family, especially if one doesn't know one's cousins. (I mean, not knowing family members means the likelihood of finding kindred spirits is lower. I do strongly think that family matters, just because, despite how much they can annoy me, there are not many people like my family outside, and on some very basic level they just GET how I work, which often takes a lot of effort by both of us for an outsider.) Then we also tend to move around a lot--some people travel too much on work to build a community of friends, others don't stay in one place long enough; very few people get to be near their families even if they are close.

This generally makes life feel lonely. So when you meet someone who you think can be your companion, they have to be mother, father, sibling, lunatic cousin, best friend from school, best friend from college, dance partner, singing buddy, drinking buddy--you get my drift. We begin with the weight of so much expectation, even if it isn't conscious or articulated. The expectations that many people quibble about in relationships--call me every day, don't be late, hang out with my friends--are really nothing compared to this!

Then, popular culture teaches us to believe that there exists a person who is perfect and not only can and will, but actually wants nothing more than to be all this to us. If you don't find this Person, you're settling. And settling is bad. In actual fact, finding a person to be everything to you is not really possible. So settling isn't settling. but we think it is, and we always hope the perfect thing will come along--there is no such thing as perfect.

(I find myself doing this all the time, and I'm trying very hard to just stop myself and ask myself one question: when you're physically with him, are you happy? The answer was no by the end of BBot, and the answer is a resounding yes with TA. I hope that works as a guide!)

I find so often that women are angry that their boyfriends don't respond the way they want, or like the things they do. You can't possibly have one person to like everything you like, and thin like you, and know how you feel all the time. It generally works if you have friends who can take up the slack. Sometimes you're both having an awful time, sometimes your problem is the other person--how can you turn to them to solve it? (And trust me, it doesn't work!) A guy will want to solve your problem--even my dad is like that when I call him upset. Sometimes you want someone to listen. A guy might not want to giggle for three hours straight. Sometimes you need to do that. Your SigOth might not want to wake up ay 6am and go birdwatching. Sometimes you might want to do that. You can't give up your lives so all you have is the space they intersect--and you cant force the intersection larger. That's why god made girlfriends and poker buddies ;)

In the end, I think one question you need to ask yourself is: Is there anyone else I want to be with? By anyone else I don't mean David Beckham, or your ideal partner, but an actual person you know who makes you think 'oh I could be with him?/her'. And if your answer is no, then leap on in. Because one thing we always forget is that relationships are SO MUCH WORK. ALL relationships. My parents and I do fine because of all the work we put into it, and still have to for maintenance. All the love in the world is not enough sometimes when you've had really bad days and you know each others vulnerabilities. At the end of the day, thats the key. Whoever youre with, however sorted they are, you'll have to work HARD to be happy. There is no one you can be with where it'll all be easy and simple--the only way you'll ever know if something can work is to jump in and try. The leap and the faith.

*Marriage here standing in for relationship, committed or not so committed, but essentially being with a person in a sexual-romantic way that implies building a life together.
**See, I'm not saying anything about the emotional way I interact with this idea ;)

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