On Marriage


I have never been married, and there was more of a stigma about that when I was 22 than there is in a post-Sex in the City society. When I was 22, I figured I would get married, when I met the right guy and the circumstances were right. I wasn’t waiting for anything more than that. I wasn’t making any social judgments on my friends who married in their early 20s; in fact, I was a bit envious.

I have served as a bridesmaid seven times, I think. (Maybe eight; I stopped counting, and it’s been a few years now.) Of those seven marriages, three couples are still together. The other four couples divorced—after three, eight, 12 and 18 years, respectively. Only one of those couples did not have children. And this does not count the divorces of friends or family members in whose weddings I did not have to purchase a special dress which I would never wear again, counter to the assurances of the opposite.

Because of the experience of walking through painful divorces with friends—in most cases, comforting the person who did not want the divorce, and in one case, trying semi-successfully to maintain my friendship with both parties—I long ago stopped thinking of marriage as The Ultimate Prize. I decided to live in the now and enjoy my singleness, for however long it shall last. Which may be forever, but I’m OK with that. (Ten years ago, not so much, but today, absolutely.)

So, the day after I posted my reflections on my first boyfriend, I stumbled upon this Washington Post article, which quotes the same Tennyson line that I used in yesterday’s post. The article appeared over a year ago in and is titled “Say Yes. What Are You Waiting For?” It begins like this:

Spring is here, that glorious season when young men’s fancies lightly turn to thoughts of love, as the poet Tennyson once suggested. “Lightly” is right.

The writer goes on to suggest that people are waiting too long to get married, for all sorts of reasons and to their economic, procreative and environmental detriment. I think I need to reread the article to see if I’m tracking with him on all of that. It’s interesting though, as is this observation:

Marriage actually works best as a formative institution, not an institution you enter once you think you’re fully formed. We learn marriage, just as we learn language, and to the teachable, some lessons just come easier earlier in life. “Cursed be the social wants that sin against the strength of youth,” added Tennyson to his lines about springtime and love.

I realize that marrying early means that you engage in a shorter search. In the age of online dating personality algorithms and matches, Americans have become well acquainted with the cultural (and commercial) notion that melding marriage with science will somehow assure a good fit. But what really matters for making marriage happen and then making it good are not matches, but mentalities: such things as persistent and honest communication, conflict-resolution skills, the ability to handle the cyclical nature of so much of marriage, and a bedrock commitment to the very unity of the thing. I’ve met 18-year-olds who can handle it and 45-year-olds who can’t.

It’s an interesting premise, and I agree with much of what he writes. I suspect that there are many factors that contribute to whether or not a marriage works, the two main ones being the bride and the groom. And there are very few divorces that are cut-and-dried, where there is one right and one wrong party.

Life is nothing if not complex, and as one who has no firsthand experience of the complexities of marriage or divorce, I’m the last person who should pass judgment either way.

All I know is that I wish we didn’t live in such a broken world.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Lora says:

    Okey-dokey, honey, I’m about to rant so sit back and have some hot chocolate.

    That article? Patriarchal bullshit.

    People are waiting longer to get married due to rising levels of female education. I’m sure marriages would last longer if we were wed at sixteen and our opinions and rituals formed by the partners of our fate. Still, Mansfield Park makes me gag.

    There’s an interesting article in Time online disseminating recent Pew Institute research on the topic. The trend seems to be that marriage is becoming more an upper middle class institution of the more educated and concerned with social standing (see England).

    Regardless of sociological waves, it boils down to the personalities of the individuals, just like you said!
    I was breathing on 31 (decrepitude in my rural area, Carrie Bradshaw notwithstanding) and had only two friends at my wedding who hadn’t been divorced already.

    I think it’s best to know your own mind and goals first…but that’s only one chick’s opinion.

    1. Amy says:

      Good points, Lora! All I know about this issue is that it is far too complex for a single diagnosis, especially given the myriad reasons people choose to marry, or divorce, or stay single. Have you read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Commitment? It’s not my favorite book ever, but I found some of her historical and cultural insights about the institution of marriage fascinating.

  2. I wish our world wasn’t so broken too!!

  3. Carol says:

    I’m with you and Elizabeth, I wish our world wasn’t so broken too, especially to little children.

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