Before I start this it’s important for me to note that a cornerstone of my marriage is respect. My husband respects my desire – my need – to create, write, record, etc. about anything and everything. In return, I respect my husband’s need for privacy. With that said, this post is not based on my marriage, but rather observations and conversations I’ve had with other people in marriages 10+ years.
We have a lot of examples, both IRL and through media of the beginning of a burgeoning relationship, but not many examples of how to sustain one. We see the first kiss or the I Do’s and then fade to credits. If we’re lucky we may get a title card or two about what the rest of the couple’s life looked like. Even those of us in the U.S. who have parents or relatives married for decades don’t necessarily have a guidebook for how to do long-term partnership in a healthy manner.
In fact, a lot show what we don’t want in marriages.
You’ve seen it, the marriages that seem rooted in resentment and hostility. The barbed comments, the barely tolerating one another’s presence. The merely existing. How does that get normalized? Is it bit by bit or overnight that you suddenly look at your spouse and realize you feel, well, not nothing, but maybe something a little more like hatred?
To pivot briefly to Europe, Data from Eurostat in 2022 shows that marriage rates have declined among young Europeans in recent years, in particular as laws have made it easier for unmarried couples to have the rights of married couples. But their stance on marriage goes beyond legal reasoning and toward a cultural shift: nearly three-quarters of young Europeans agree, “I don’t have to be married to feel complete.” (ypulse)
Do we view marriage in the US as something that completes us? Another checked box? Another milestone to post about on social media? Would we benefit from a culture that embraces couples bound, not by a piece of paper, but rather by their actual relationship that they choose day after day?
But, in the U.S., we also have to consider the legal realities in a country that makes it incredibly difficult NOT to be married if you want to receive your partner’s benefits, make consequential health decisions on their behalf, etc. How many people do you know that rushed into marriage for health insurance? In a country without social safety nets, aren’t we forcing people into marriages for the sake of survival, ignoring the moral and spiritual reasons we claim marriage to be founded on? I think there’s a larger discussion we could have about pushing marriage on people or even monogamy in 2022, but now is not that time.
We don’t talk enough about the reality of marriage and that’s not all that surprising given how we treat pregnancy and motherhood. When I was pregnant with my first I was prepared for the joyous, all-consuming nature a child would have on my identity. When that reality came crashing down I became depressed and turned to the pills prescribed for post C-Section pain as a respite from those intense feelings I thought I alone was experiencing. I credit Renegade Mothering’s post, “I became a mother and died to live” for pulling me through that time. Nearly a decade later it’s still a piece I offer up to expecting mothers telling them to save it just in case they need it. Just in case they are feeling ways they don’t think they should be feeling, so they too know they are not alone.
We all need to know that we are not alone whether it comes to motherhood or marriages. It seems like that conversation is starting to happen around motherhood; maybe it’s time for marriages as well.
There are two quotes from women in long-term marriages that I found while researching this blog post that I want to share with you. The first one is from the afterward to her memoir, in which Anna Dostoyevsky, wife – partner – of the famous author wrote,
In truth, my husband and I were persons of “quite different construction, different bent, completely dissimilar views.” But we always remained ourselves, in no way echoing nor currying favor with one another, neither of us trying to meddle with the other’s soul, neither I with his psyche nor he with mine. And in this way my good husband and I, both of us, felt ourselves free in spirit. (The Marginalian)
In some ways this goes against the grain of marriage being something that “completes” a person. The success of their marriage was in part their ability to respect each others passions and strengths and not hinder them. Not stopping them from being exactly who they were supposed to be which, in turn, created a fertile ground for long-term love to flourish.
Another quote on marriage that is more recent. In an interview with NPR, Michelle Obama spoke about the need to be ready for long periods of discomfort in marriage. She went on to say:
When it comes to long-term relationships, not enough people give realistic advice, Obama said. (…) I am fascinated by how little we talk to young people, young adults about what it actually means to partner with somebody and what those compromises look like,” she said. A common misconception about marriage is that there is equal give-and-take at all times. “Marriage is never 50/50,” she said. “You kind of wonder how that idea got out there.” (CNBC)
Perhaps we are not forthright with ourselves about the realities of marriage because honesty isn’t always pretty. Maybe we’re afraid honesty would force us to reevaluate our own marriages. Maybe that honesty scares us more than being alone. It doesn’t present well in a couples’ TikTok or spark comments of #goals on an Instagram post. It maybe wouldn’t encourage marriage, the very thing our society seems fixated on.
Right when I thought I was done with this piece, my vinyl record player started playing “Coming Around Again” by Carly Simon, a song I have loved since I was a child. Maybe it was the use of a children’s choir in the live version from the ’80s with Itsy Bitsy Spider sung behind Simon’s pleading refrain, but ultimately it is a song about marriage. Specifically the ups and downs of a marriage.
Daddy breezes in
So good on paper
But so bewildering
I know nothing stays the same
But if you’re willing to play the game
It’s coming around again
And maybe that’s marriage. Bewildering. Romantic. Stagnant. Changing. A game that you have to recommit to playing sometimes yearly, sometimes monthly, sometimes hourly.