Do love and marriage really go together anymore?
CBC News Viewpoint | January 30, 2004 | More from Georgie Binks
In the book Still Life with Woodpecker Tom Robbins asks the question that plagues so many people these days - how do you make love stay? Can you make it stay by marrying, by enshrining it legally, by putting a ring on a finger and swearing to love till death parts you from your loved one?
According to Statistics Canada, in 2002, there were 1.5 million divorced Canadians - that's 1.5 million people who walked down an aisle, took an oath, looked into someone's eyes and said "I do" forever, presumably with a few dreams of what that meant. Apparently, forever felt a little too long after a few years so they decided to call it quits.
Was the problem them, or was it just that we expect too much of marriage?
Many people speak of spending the rest of their lives with a soul mate. But is it even reasonable to look for a soul mate to be your spouse? Maybe your soul mate is one of your children, who you met in a past life. Or maybe it's one of your best friends. Samantha, Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte all discovered on one episode of Sex and the City that they could be each other's soul mates, instead of hoping to find that in a man.
When men and women have such a difficult time trying to figure out what the other is trying to say, is it reasonable to think that they can spend eternity together? And should marriage be based on something as fleeting as what starts out as a chemical reaction for many (although not all. For some it's a financial calculation).
Marriage is the union job of the love industry. If you've ever been a member of a union, you'll know that once you're in it, you enjoy protection from a number of injustices your employer might choose to wreak upon you. When one marries, there is that false sense of security – the makeup can come off, the undershirt can go on, the bathroom door can stay open.
For many it's a safety zone from cheating, from unfaithfulness. But for others, it's a jail, one that must be escaped by sex with random partners. Some say that men don't cheat in a marriage because they want more sex, but that they hate to be possessed 100 per cent by a woman. Cheating is their way of keeping that little bit of themselves.
In a Reader's Digest poll last March, 19 per cent of married Canadians between 35 and 54 admitted wishing during their marriage that they could wake up one morning and not be married. Remember, that's from those who are still married.
I have three female friends who to the world appear to be happily married women, but each of them has confided to me she hates her husband. One waits for the final misstep that will justify divorce, another can't oust her mate and the third waits for her affair to be detected. As a wise lawyer once said to me, when I bemoaned the growing number of divorces, "Divorce is all some people have to look forward to."
True love for the rest of your life has not always been an expectation of marriage. In the past, marriage was more of a practical economic union, which seems to have morphed into a meeting of the emotions somewhere in the 18th century. But the expectations these days are different and when a marriage starts to falter, the couple is urged into counselling, so they can "work" at their marriage.
Laura Kipnis in her book, Against Love, mocks the idea of working at a marriage, and the whole counselling industry that goes with it. After all, if you have to work at love, what's it all about? She says obviously maintaining a relationship nowadays is something no one should attempt to do on their own - it's far too complicated for ordinary non-trained professionals.
The self help books abound with titles like Love in the Present Tense: How to Have A High Intimacy, Low Maintenance Marriage and The Sex Starved Marriage: Boosting your Marriage Libido. Just add water and it's all fixed.
I've spoken to young men about their greatest fears in getting married and sadly they don't focus on falling out of love, but rather that their wife will gain weight, cut her hair and stop having sex with them. Is their expectation of marriage simply good sex? Men's Health magazine jokingly refers to marriage as "sex for life" but men soon find out that it's usually anything but.
The newborn passion of an affair is like a drug, that people want to prolong by enshrining it in marriage. For the more cynical, marriage to a good breadwinner is the answer. And to some, it's the scene from An Officer and a Gentleman where Richard Gere carries Debra Winger out of her factory job, "saving" her from her life of drudgery.
Does any of this do the trick? Many women and men disappear when they marry, complaining about noisy beer drinking friends and gossipy girlfriends. People's careers are sacrificed to meet the agenda of the other person who makes more money. In front of the mirror, people watch as their personalities, their sense of humour, their joy of living disappears rather than flourishes in a marriage.
Kipnis believes that falling in love doesn't just mean committing to another person - it means committing to commitment. Maybe marriage is not the right place for those who love each other and want continual passion. Maybe the permanence of it is what takes the magic away. Maybe it's not the way to make love stay.
The ideal, of course, is those rare couples who genuinely enjoy each other's company, not to be confused with those people who have been married for 50 years. You've seen those people verbally abusing each other over the grapefruit in the supermarket. It's only because we still live in a dream that no one has made banners that herald "Too Old to Get Divorced" rather than "Happy 50th."
Now that gay couples can marry, it will be interesting to see how their relationships fare. For awhile now, it seemed that perhaps it was the problem of putting men and women with their opposing needs and wants together that caused the problem, like expecting cats and dogs to live in harmony forever.
Perhaps those who are truly happily married have different expectations of marriage. Maybe they see it as the home of two companions - two very good friends sharing the good and bad times, rather than wondering where the passion went. Is that object of everlasting love really simply that partner who sits patiently outside the antique store as you paw through the old cameras, and who gazes lovingly at you as you rejoin her?
Maybe by trying to keep love alive in the glass jar of marriage we simply smother it. Maybe marriage is a great place to bring up kids, share companionship and know that there is someone there with whom to share your daily goings-on (whether or not they actually listen).
Perhaps it just isn't the place where you can make love stay.
Pretty fair analysis, I've been married 20 years and I am just someone to help support the wife and kids. Iv'e been married 15 years too long unfortunately.
I found it interesting that, though other factors which could have an impact on, or justify the institution of marriage were mentioned (economics was mentioned more than once), children were virtually invisible as considerations, being referred to only fleetingly, and even then only to poke fun at the concept of "soul mates".
Obviously, kids are a part of the economic picture. They loom rather large on most people's emotional landscape as well, at least as large as bathroom doors remaining open and undershirts going on, not to mention arguments at Walmart.
If I can permit myself to push the landscape metaphor a little farther, talking about marriage as a long term social structure to satisfy emotional needs without considering the complex impact of children is a little like trying to discuss Banff without considering the mountains. It's possible, but pretty narrow.
The bilateral couple relationship between parents loses its star quality, since it is no longer the sole focus. Does a more diffuse focus impoverish the bilateral union, or enrich it?
One the one hand, romantic love is traditionally associated with a high degree of involvement, if not complete absorption. This is indeed pretty hard to reconcile to married life with kids. I guess in exchange, instead of one star painting in a room, you've now got an art gallery.
The point is that marriage as an institution exists not just as a way of generating intensity in the bilateral bond, but as a way of reconciling and balancing that bond with the distractions posed by the rest of the world. Viewed in this way, I don't think marriage as an institution has become obsolete. In fact, I think we need it more than ever.
Mark Kolt | Flin Flon, Manitoba
Do love and marriage really go together anymore? I never imagined to read such a ridiculous article from CBC. The ranting of a bitter and miserable love starved woman is an unfortunate consequence of her errors in judgement over the years yet it is not newsworthy.
As a "viewpoint" which is intended to reach countless listeners, it is pathetic and without substance. The fact that she knows three friends who hate their husbands say more about her character and the people she hangs around with than it does about the love and marriage in today's society.
Marriage has a role in society, and is more than a ring and a few pretty words, it is the institution by which our country was able to be created and it is the institution by which we have thrived for thousands of years. Marriage, love and romance do "go together" but they are joined by compassion, and devotion and responsibility.
If marriage is not successful it is OUR collective fault. I know of many marriages which are indeed happy, even if they need work. Anyone who owns something of value can tell you that they are prepared to work at maintaining the value, whether that be a house or a car or a marriage or a relationship or one's waist line.
Is it not foolish and irresponsible to start throwing around divorce statistics and painting the marriages with a single brush. Britney Spears' little "performance" a few weeks ago put two more names on the divorce ledger...does that really count....should it really count?
While this article mocks what is personally very dear to me in my life, I am most frustrated by the authoritative tone which it takes. Marriage and love do go together, but love is not the only requirement for marriage.
Perhaps that is the problem in society. People think that if they "love" or "lust" then they have a right to marry. Perhaps we should start having stricter marriage laws (and stop giving anyone the right to marry).
Carrie Plamondon | Montreal
Maybe after only 13 years together I'm still naïve in believing that love and marriage are compatible, but believe it I do.
There was one perspective that you didn't mention in your column. The view I have (and I'm not alone in this) is that in a relationship of any sort there is the two individuals, and the relationship between you.
I don't view marriage so much as a commitment to the other person......that does sound rather like slavery-but to the relationship between you. You commit to care for and grow that relationship, and in doing so you make that relationship strong enough to hopefully keep you together. I guess you could also call this "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" view of marriage.
In response to "Do love and marriage really together anymore?" I would like to say that I believe Georgie Binks had a bitterly cynical attitude.
Perhaps the real reason why so many marriages fail is not the fear of commitment, but instead the pressure to commit is so great that men and women no longer wait for "the one".
All too often I have watched friends of mine date (and in some cases marry) the wrong person/people, because they felt left out. They wanted to have "someone" just like all their coupled friends. Personally, I have fallen into that trap far too many times than I would like to remember!
Time and time again I have watched countless women worry too much about wedding details as opposed to talking to their partner about the realities of "forever". Instead of discussing real life issues, future goals/desires, couples allow themselves to get swept up into the romance of lust.
That is the real heart of the matter - confusing LUST for LOVE. Often times it is not even lust for the other person, simply a lust for being in a relationship: having a hand to hold, a person to kiss on New Year's, to take to the company party.
So among patience and practicality, I believe that we need to inject abstinence in to the equation. And I am not talking about "waiting until marriage" necessarily (although there is nothing wrong with that), but teaching our teens that sex without love is empty. A meaningful marriage is probably harder to maintain when you've had intercourse with more names than can be found in your local phone book. (Not to mention the health risk of multiple sexual partners)
Marriage is not a jail. It is certainly not meant to be the end of intimacy - it should be the beginning. Unfortunately we often start being intimate (in all sense of the word) with too many people too quickly.
Susan Elizabeth Dalby | Victoria
Marriage. It's a COMMITMENT. Does anyone know what that is anymore? Love is not a feeling, it's a choice, it's a verb - meaning action. When you marry, you have committed to meeting that other person's needs.
In no marriage vows I've heard, is that commitment conditional - other than death. Is life totally meaningless these days? I think so. there's nothing worth doing that for anymore.
Think about it - if every one MEANT what they said at the alter, divorces would be not so common. There's nothing wrong with marriage. There's something wrong with us. And by the way, now that gays can be married, why NOT cats and dogs?
I guess my husband and I are one of those rare types who do believe love and marriage can be mentioned in the same sentence. As we enter our 13th wedded year, I feel strongly that in our marriage, my husband is the one that really works the hardest.
While I feel more committed to us and our life together than ever, it is he who lavishes compliments and love on me. Oh no, he's not perfect I'll admit that. But as we made our life choice to commit to marriage at the ages of 26 and 33 we entered into this commitment accepting one an others differences.
He from a white, religious, "Beaver Cleaver" family and I from a bi-racial, emotionally dysfunctional family. As we raise our children (8 & 10) we have definitely seen the highs and lows. Admittedly nothing catastrophic, but some normal marital highs and lows.
What we share today as we see our children grow and gain independence, is a kind of closeness and intimacy I can only imagine that can come from sharing this much time together. While we may occassionally argue over child rearing issues or family problems, it's not a "deal breaker" in our marriage.
"Til death do us part" is still part of the equation for us. I love my husband more than anything and I would do anything for him. The best part is, not having to ask if he feels the same way. He demonstrates it every day in the love, respect and appreciation he gives me. Call it weird, call it whatever you want - but we call it real.
Denise Eckert | Calgary
After a 32 year marriage ended, because sex and passion and eventually love left 17 years before it came to a halt, you are right - it is a place to bring up children, to feel financially secure and if it is the kind of marriage they call low-conflict, we are advised now-a-days to simply stay in it for the children.
So I did, but I short-changed myself on LIFE itself. As much as I loved bringing up my kids, I gave up on the one thing that makes life worth living: love and passion.
So now, being single once again, I have decided to stay in a relationship, but not get married. I will even live in my own place for a few years, and see how it goes. For some weird reason, marriage seems to ruin it all for most folks.
I never cheated, and I didn't leave because of someone else, I left because he did not treat me right. He abused me emotionally, the children and I were almost scared of him, he was very controlling, had a horrible temper, was miserable most of the time, had no patience, yelled a lot, swore, called me stupid, and it felt as if I was just one of his kids.
I lost confidence in myself, had low self-esteem and I was desperately unhappy. I am sure, if I had a chance to go to a "shrink", I would have found out that I was manic depressive. Tried suicide once, and was told by him and his clan, that if I ever tried something like that again, they would have me locked up in a nuthouse.
Now I am struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, trust, confidence and a few other things, like financial security. Not a penny from him. But I am basically happier. All I want now is peace of mind, feeling comfortable in my own skin, financial freedom and a trust-worthy man, who doesn't want to get married, because he needs a cheap cook and cleaning lady.
So, what is the answer? If you want children, figure out if you could possibly survive as a single parent, and have the father of the child co-parent. Forget marriage. Try and make it on your own first, and then, find someone who wants to just share your life a few days a week and spend weekends together. That way, you still have your space.
I wished my daughter would have listened to this, she would not find herself on the brink of divorce after a 2 year marriage.
Interesting viewpoint - could the problem be that people do not know how to be married or be involved in a successful relationship? In my opinion, most people do not know how to have a successful relationship, myself included.
How do we define a successful relationship? Why are we expected to know how to be successful in relationships? Where have we been instructed on what is required to build and maintain relationships? Where do we receive our emotional training? Let me see if I can recall where I learned about relationships: - early education system - don't recall any formal relationship training. - post-secondary system - don't recall any formal relationship training (but then again I was a Science student)
So I guess we get to learn about relationships by watching our families and society, and so many families and society offer such great examples to learn from (Yes that is sarcasm). We get to learn by luck more or less - thats a great system!
"Good morning ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Flight 103 from Toronto to Paris! The aircraft you are travelling in was designed and built by engineers trained by simply observing others, enjoy your flight." Would we expect this plane to crash and burn? - I think so - then why are we so surprised when relationships crash and burn?
Is marriage supposed to be easy? Life in general is not easy, it has ups and downs - so why should marriage be any different? Do we learn when things go smoothly or when faced with adversity? It is great that we have developed into a society of "this is too difficult so lets run away"!
Just some ramblings from a person who is learning about relationships and marriage the hard way - by making lots of mistakes, and trying to learn and grow instead of taking a quick fix solution.
The attitude in this write-up about marriages saddens me. I just celebrated our 50th anniversary. To us our marriage is the most beautiful thing in our lives. What keeps it that way?
1.) Same values and similar backgrounds.
2.) Common interests and hobbies that we share.
3.) Same goals. Perhaps this is the single most important element. Without goals there is no future. With goals there is always something to look forward to. Something we want to accomplish with each other's help.
4.) Caring about the other's happiness and welfare. In a world where everybody wants to take and nobody wants to give small wonder that marriages, or any union are falling apart. When somebody cares enough to want to give and the partner feels the same way then giving and receiving comes naturally, not as a burden.
I feel sorry for those who can't have this kind of relationship.
I am a 17 year old girl in love and hope to marry my man someday so naturally I find it entirely disheartening that this is what some people have come to think of marriage.
I loathe that the author even proposes the idea that perhaps love isn't enough or that it isn't necessary for marriage. What is marriage without love? It is merely a signed certificate and a ring on two fingers. We, as a society, are in fear of this 'divorce epidemic' however we do nothing but perpetuate it with articles such as this.
Why must we always focus on the bad? Love is a beautiful thing and one of the best feelings in the world, lets not give in to the notion that it is simply not enough. It is everything.
I am a 40 year old woman who has been married for 15 years. When I met my husband I did think that we were soul mates and were meant to be together. We have 3 children now and I am reasonably happy. My heart doesn't jump anymore when he walks into the room and I don't get sick to my stomach if I know we won't be together for weeks at a time. When he is away, I do look forward to him coming home but I also enjoy my bit of iindependencewhen he is gone.
That is why I loved this article!!! I truly bbelievethat people do have a distorted idea of what marriage is supposed to be. When I got married at age 25, I was very romantic in my idea of what my marriage was going to be like. Sleeping together every night and seeing each other every day seemed like paradise!!!
After five years and one baby, listening to his snoring and knowing that he wasn't too tired for sex got on my nerves aa lotof the time. But he was always there for me and the kids when we needed him and I could always count on him to take up the slack when I was exhausted or crabby or at the end of my rope. He also knew that I would do the same for him.
We are still that way after all of these years. I know that I can trust him with my life. He is still my best friend. That sounds kind of sad to some people because I don't have an intricate circle of girlfriends but I am very happy with my situation.
I definitely look at other men and wonder what it would be like to have that excitement of firsts again;first kiss,first sex.etc. I sometimes even wish that I could break free and start again with someone else. Then my husband will do something for me like cook dinner for all of us and clean up afterward and my heart will swell.
When butterflies stop and the heart palpitations slow down,there's no better feeling than having someone with you to share real life!
P.S. I didn't cut my hair and I'm not fat and neither is he.
Your view on marriage takes the side of the cynic. Though based on: stats that seemingly tell the truth; and, I'm sure, a mmira deof personal experience and disappointment this article tells a tail of a lack of personal ambition.
There was no room in your writing for growth and sacrifice. No one has every achieved greatness without an ample amount of self denial. Isn't that what love is, a willingness to sacrifice of self for others.
In it most infancy love exists as a sacrifice. Helping the homeless on the street with a dollar, giving up your television show for a friend in need. Without love there would be no lasting relationships.
Your comment about gay marriage is interesting. Though I personally do not believe in gay marriage, I do believe that they will fair better than today's straight marriages.
Gays have something in common that holds them together; the fight for the rights they want. This alone would be enough to bond them together for a substantially longer time then the new passive marriages that we see today between straight couples.
Of course my opinions are based in on only a philosophical knowledge and minor hands on experience, but next time you encounter a long term healthy relationship ask what part sacrifice played in their success and weather they think marriage should be thought of as a privilege or a right, and I think my response will start to become justified.
Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, and I wish you all the relationship good fortune I have to give.