Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Love and Marriage

Screwed you there, didn't I? Now you've got the Married... With Children theme song in your head.

I wanted to start the blog off with a "Why So Serious?" humor entry, but I've been waiting so long to dump out all of my recent thoughts on love and marriage that I figured I'd just do an entry on that first to get it out of the way. Plus, I kinda really want to hear everyone else's thoughts on them.

That being said, I have a strong feeling that I might offend some people or make them defensive. That's truly not my intention. I realize that my philosophy here is in the minority, and there's probably a reason for that. But I also believe that mine is a logical philosophy, and it couldn't hurt to read something that could shift your paradigm. So, no offense is meant to any married or engaged couples out there (or to people who want to get married). I know a lot of people in those categories. Just read with an open mind and feel free to bring up your own points in the comments. I'll definitely answer.

So, here goes:

I don't want to get married. Or, at least, I can't realistically see myself wanting to get married. Why? Well, it has to do with the changes people go through in life.

Avoiding Cliché Song-Lyric Heading About Changes

People are constantly changing and constantly adapting to their current situation. Their financial situations change, their jobs change, their friends change, they meet new people, loved ones die, they contract diseases, and the list goes on. You, as an individual, change just a little bit every day of your life. You learn a small little lesson that you take to heart one day, and it sticks with you. Another day, your mom dies and it wreaks havoc on you to the point that you're instantly and forever changed somehow (you appreciate life more or, alternately, are more depressed about the futility/fragility of life). Those things happen every day. Over the course of a year, the sum of these changes is often pretty apparent. Over five years they're that much more so. In 10 years, I'll still be Shawn, but a much more experienced version of him.

It's All About the Butterflies

So, how do love and marriage play into that? Well, if you think that you truly want to be with someone for the rest of your life, you're basically saying that not only will she still love and respect the person you will be 10 years from now, but that you will love and respect the person she becomes, as well. So, you essentially have to meet someone who gives you butterflies and who you're head over heels for, and you have to bet on the unrealistic possibility that all of the changes you both will go through for your entire lives will be complementary or insignificant.

For what it's worth, I'm not ruling out the possibility of that happening. Some people hit the Love Lottery and find a person who is perfect for them and who remains perfect for them despite both of them changing significantly throughout their lifetimes.

I just think it should be more widely recognized that that is the exception, not the rule. We're taught from childhood that we'll find the one person who we'll love forever, and we live our lives with that goal in mind. Most of us won't find that person in our lifetimes, so we use cognitive dissonance to convince ourselves that the person we marry is the one for us, and always will be. (There's a great book on cognitive dissonance out there called Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) that I highly recommend.)

It's those last few words, "always will be," that are dangerous. Chances are, they won't always be the one for you. That leads to the bottling up of some powerful emotions and leads to a sense of resentment in our lives.

Life is not a fairy tale. Fairy tales give us psychologically harmful expectations of life and love.

No, Really ... I Love Love

But don't take me for a stick-in-the-mud pessimist. I actually relish this reality of love. Here's how I've decided to handle love in my life:

Step 1: Find someone who you connect with and fall in love with her (I'm actually really good at this step ... it's a problem.)

Step 2: Love the fuck out of her. Enjoy nearly every single moment with her. Do incredible things with/for/to her. Make sure that you both get butterflies as often as possible. The truly magical balance for a good love life is equal amounts of comfort and butterflies.

Step 3: As soon as the butterflies entirely stop, seriously consider moving on. Two notes here: 1) Don't instantly move on. Give things a chance to see if it was just a speed bump rather than a wrong turn toward a cliff, and then try to fix things. Just make sure not to prolong the inevitable if you know in your heart that it's not going to work. 2) Obviously don't cheat. Ever. With most people you date, your relationship will eventually turn into one of comfort only. It's important to realize that you're no longer in love with this person; you simply love them. They're more like a friend or family member than a lover now. Try to end things on a positive note and, if you can, try to remain good friends. This is a person who you have a lot in common with and with whom shared a number of incredible moments in your life. They were your best friend, and they can (and should) remain as such, if possible.

Life without the excitement and passion of "in love" love isn't human nature. We crave that feeling; we love it. There's no logical reason not to continue striving for it for our entire lives. People change, people move on ... so what? That's a good thing. Keep your life fresh, and keep yourself happy. Don't lock yourself down to one person for decades just because you've been told that's how it's supposed to be.

Kinds of Married Couples

Here are a few examples of the kinds of married couples I see out there today:

1) Married and Still in Love -- Yes, it happens. I never said it didn't. They may simply still be in the "in love" phase, as opposed to simply the "love" phase. Or, they may be the exception to the rule that I was talking about, the Love Lottery winners who will truly give each other butterflies forever. These people are the exception, though. Don't live your life trying to find this person; you're very likely to be disappointed or to stay with someone who you should no longer be with because you're still holding out hope that they're the one. To find this person, simply live your life and date people. Don't go into any relationship with even the remotest expectation that this will happen. If it does, it will happen naturally, and will happen whether you were hoping for it or not (and yes, it will be incredible). The only difference is that if you hope for it, there's a high risk of disappointment, and you can prolong the inevitable (a breakup).

2) Married and Comfortable -- These people are married and are no longer in love, but they still love each other. They're in a marriage of comfort. They like being with each other and they like talking to each other, but there's not really any passion left. They no longer get butterflies around each other. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this kind of marriage, and I suspect that a lot of people want to have a marriage like this, but I definitely don't. I get comfort and companionship from my friends and family. My significant other should serve a different purpose. I want to get excited around them, and I want to get butterflies. I think it might be true that a lot of married people are in this stage, and they're simply still together because they feel that they're supposed to be. They like each other, but it's more just like hanging out with your best friend every day. They feel no need to move on, even though they have a chance to truly find someone who they're actually "in love" with again (and again, and again).

3) Married and Unhappy -- There are more of these people out there than you might realize (for the record, I have zero research to back up that statement and am thus talking out of my ass). It seems to me that whether it be for moral reasons, religious reasons, or some other societal pressures, a lot of people stay together when they shouldn't because they're unhappy and depressed. They might be annoyed by their spouse, have contempt for them, or simply find them unattractive now, but they stick with it because they're married. They don't want to become a statistic, or their religion says that divorce is wrong, or they don't want to admit that they made a mistake (again, cognitive dissonance).

There also may be children in the equation that complicate things; you're supposed to stay together for the children, whether you're happy or not. Well, guess what? The children usually know that you're unhappy, and that rubs off on them. Just get a divorce already. Your children ultimately want you to be happy. They may have to deal with the divorce for a while mentally, but they'll have to deal with it eventually. I've known people whose parents have divorced, and very rarely do I hear about how it ruined their lives. More often, I hear about how they're happy that their parents finally just did it and moved on. Kids aren't as stupid as you think. And if parents are divorced and happy, that's a lot better than being married and unhappy (or pretending to be happy ... which rarely fools kids, by the way).

What's a Marriage if Not Symbolic?

As a final reason for why I never see myself getting married, marriage simply doesn't mean anything to me personally. I'm an atheist, so there's no religious significance. As far as symbolizing my love for someone, I'd rather show my partner that I love her every single day than in one expensive and overblown ceremony. A single ceremony on a single day doesn't mean anything to me. If I truly love someone, I'll show her with both little and big things constantly, which hopefully would make a wedding relatively irrelevant and pointless.

One example that I like to bring up to people is this: Let's say you have two couples, one that has been married for 20 years and one that has been together unmarried for 20 years. Which couple's love would you be more likely to respect? I obviously can't answer for you, but as far as I'm concerned, the unmarried couple is the runaway winner.

With the married couple, you really don't know much about their love. They may still be together because they truly love each other, or they may still be together simply because they're married, and that's caused them to overlook the fact that they don't feel the same way about each other that they used to.

With the unmarried couple, they could leave each other at any time, pretty much on a whim. Sure, there's comfort in their relationship that might keep them together, and after 20 years they probably share a lot of possessions, but if they really wanted to leave each other, it's pretty much as simple as that. No divorce lawyers to call, and no real reason to worry about ending a marriage or becoming a statistic. They could call it quits at the drop of a hat and be done, but they haven't. They're still together for no other reason than that they want to be. I can't help but respect that.

The Kid Conundrum

OK, fine, you may have me here. Again, if you have kids with someone, it very well might make sense to get married for the kids' sakes. But don't jump right to that conclusion. In fact, if you don't think you two will last, wouldn't it be easier on the kids if you never got married in the first place? They'd never know you two as married, and there'd be no divorce or resentment to deal with later. In a progressive society like today's, I'd like to think children in single-parent homes do OK.

That being said, I don't really know on this one. Kids definitely complicate things, and I can see it both ways. I simply don't think it makes sense to be unhappy for the sake of children. Be happy and love your children to death, that's all that should matter. If you're happy, they'll be happy; if you're unhappy, it's likely to rub off on them.

And for the record, I'm fairly certain I don't want kids, so this is a moot point for me, anyway. I'm not ruling it out, but I've never had the desire to have children myself.

Don't Worry About Me

Seriously, don't. I'm excited about the prospect of loving many women over my lifetime. I love the idea of not knowing where I'll be in 10 years but being pretty damn sure that wherever it is and whomever it's with, I'll be happy. If I happen to find a girl who's perfect for me and stays perfect for me, I'll consider myself a lucky man. On the other hand, if I find five girls (or hell, why stop at five) to fall in love with and share experiences in my life with, I'll feel equally as lucky.

My outlook on life hasn't impaired my ability to love. If you doubt that, ask any of my close friends how easily I fall for women. I'd venture to guess that my outlook has in fact enhanced my ability to love. I know I'll never be afraid to end things when love ends, and I know I'll be able to experience the butterflies throughout my life. That's pretty damn awesome.

Anyway, so those are the current, entirely malleable tenets of my philosophy on love and marriage. Feel free to try to mold them into something new in the comments below.

- Shawn


mercutio18 said...

Righteous spew bud. I cracked a smile when you offered a wikipedia link to cognitive dissonance. I have two comments (to start at least)

1. I'm surprised there's no mention of Prop 8 when you talk about marriage as symbolic. Think about how being married affects things like your credit, taxes, Social Security, etc. This shouldn't have anything to do with commitment or love, but it does in many peoples decision to get married.

2. Also the idea that married couples with children should get divorced is a little one-sided. A younger child might not understand divorce, and hatred can easily develop stemming from divorce (centered on step-parents, actual parents, assuming blame, etc.). A child's point-of-view and/or feelings must always be considered

SPG said...

Haha, well, who knows whether or not people reading this will know of the cognitive dissonance concept. A lot of people don't know much about it.

Regarding a mention of Prop 8, I was going to put in a segment talking about the non-love-related aspects of love, like tax breaks, etc., but I figured it was getting pretty long already, and it was a bit off-topic. You could get a civil union to get the same benefits, I think. But then civil union ends up simply turning into marriage. Regardless, people who don't want to get married get screwed in the end.

2) I agree that the kids thing is a bit one-sided. Like I said, I don't really know on that one. I kinda figure, though, that if you know it's not going to work out and get a divorce when they're very young or never marry at all, it would likely be better for the kids than staying in an un-loving marriage throughout their childhoods. If you fall out of love in their preteen or early teen years it gets a lot more dangerous to divorce with respect to the kids' mental health.

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