One day my daughter will find herself at the crossroads where she has to choose to take the step toward marriage. I may or may not be around to guide her or I am not sure she will even seek my counsel. So, I thought of putting it down for her, anyway, hoping she may find it useful someday.
A commonly accepted and encompassing definition of marriage is the following: a formal union and social and legal contract between two individuals that unites their lives legally, economically, and emotionally.
Today marriage is a legal, social and religious institution. It is a contract that is policed by society, religious bodies and courts of law. It is policed by your friends, family, relatives and even peers at work. As the laws regulating marriage and separation have evolved, they have increasingly become based on compliance, threat and fear, not trust, mutual respect and love. Many relationships begin with mutual love, trust and freedom but within a few years of marriage, they turn into obligation, insecurity and fear. Is it still a relevant institution? Does it still make sense to marry? Should we marry for love? Let us explore some of these facets.
In a Huffington Post article, Susan Pease Godoua gives us 3 reasons why we should never marry for love:
1. Love is an emotion and like all emotions is fluid and changing.
2. Love doesn’t make for a strong foundation. Again l, because it is a changing emotion.
3. Love is not enough to survive, thrive and flourish.
Love is simply one of the many emotions that we feel and is transient and changing depending on circumstances and other physiological factors. So, when the emotion vanes, the relationship feels empty. Love, being fluid, cannot make a strong foundation. What we need is to have a strong and committed partnership toward common goals.
Does that mean one shouldn’t marry? No, it only means one shouldn’t marry for love alone. And does that mean one should simply adopt co-living without getting into the legal hassle of marriage? The answer to that is also ‘no’. It may make more sense to look at marriage as a contract rather than co-living. Here are some reasons why:
1. Long-term Stability: Strong emotions like love make us vulnerable and they make us impulsive. This impulsiveness leads to many decisions that we will soon regret and some we cannot even undo. That’s is why this impulsiveness needs to be regulated, so that we have the necessary stability to grow and prosper in life, by putting our energy and attention where it is needed. Marrying for stability means that you want your marriage, your partnership to be the foundation on which you can build a stable future, a canvas on which you can paint your aspirations, dreams. Before you get your canvas, we need to have the clarity of what we want to paint, before we build the home of our dreams, we must know that the foundation can support it.
2. Sacred Companionship: It takes years for people to grow and mature and you want a companion with whom you can take this journey. We need someone who can at the same time teach us and learn with us. However, this companion should be one with whom you share values, goals and aspirations. Also, a companion with complementary strengths makes for a better partner. It is rare to find such a companion when you use the lens of love to find them. It requires objectivity and clarity to match such people in matrimony. It needs to be a sacred contract- for a purpose higher than meeting one another’s carnal needs. It needs the sanction of a commonly revered sacred being, faith or institution. We can’t be companions when our journeys and our goals are different. When the marriage is held together by an institution, goal or purpose larger and considered more important than individual preferences and priorities, the chances that the marriage holds in rough times is more.
Marrying merely to find a companion to dispel your loneliness is another recipe for disaster. Anton Chekhov once suggested, “If you’re afraid of loneliness, don’t marry.”. The sociologists Natalia Sarkisian of Boston College and Naomi Gerstel of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst found that marriage actually weakens other social ties. Compared with those who stay single, married folks are less likely to visit or call parents and siblings—and less inclined to offer them emotional support or pragmatic help with things such as chores and transportation. They are also less likely to hang out with friends and neighbours.
3. Value Parenting: This is the last sensible reason why it may make sense to upgrade from being committed to being married. Marriage as a contract should be considered when the couple’s pregnant. It is the start of a long investment journey to bring a new individual into this world, nourish and protect it and guide it to grow into an educated, cultured, independent and resilient adult. Any such investment requires commitment & security and the legal contract of marriage to some extent provides for it. It is not just enough for parents to partner in parenting but with their own example, show their children how to conduct themselves and grow.
We may make many mistakes in life and we learn from them, and we may grow out of them. But marriage is one such act, which is not easy to undo. Although the legal institutions provide for it, one may never fully recover from a marriage or fully undo the damage it may have done to you. And that makes it the most important decision of one’s life- more important than choosing a career, your next holiday destination or the stock you want to invest in.
I am not saying one may not find great stability, companionship and parenthood in marriage based on love, only that it is highly unlikely. It is more likely to find love in a great marriage.