Okay this post has very little to do with writing, but I ran across an item that struck a chord with me about something fundamentally wrong with our society these days. I just read a post on Scalzi’s Whatever page written by Lara Zielin. Her post was about a personal event that happened while she was on a storm chasing trip. It ended up inspiring the story behind her book The Waiting Sky, which I’m sure is lovely, but her revelation is about how she realized her marriage was not what she expected it to be. She found attraction to another man while alone on her trip chasing storms in Oklahoma. But while I was reading it I began to wonder which came first, her attraction to the new guy or the fact that she was unhappy in her marriage.
It’s not really clear, but the way she describes the events leads one to believe that in her mind she knew she was already unhappy but just hadn’t faced it. I can’t speak from firsthand experience but it seems to me that most people that cheat on their spouse will concoct a reality to justify their actions. The thinking goes something like, if I cheated on my spouse I must have been unhappy or I wouldn’t have cheated. So they start coming up with reasons why they aren’t happy. That’s not to say that some people aren’t justifiably unhappy beforehand and then cheat, but in this instance she hadn’t really come to grips with being unhappy beforehand. She talks about not wanting to return to her “mundane” life after meeting the exciting new guy and falling in love all over again. She began to see her life as unexciting and apparently came to realize she didn’t see her spouse the same way anymore. Her quote, “When was the last time my spouse and I had thought the other was a badass?”
The whole thing bothers me. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s become way too common. I don’t know her, and I don’t mean to pick on her, but she put it out there for all to see. It relates to a fundamental problem with our society. When did we stop valuing marriage in this country? This is not about Lara, but about everyone who treats marriage like something disposable. I can’t put my finger on when it happened, but we stopped teaching our young people how to be married. We focus way too much attention on the Wedding and hardly any on how to be married to someone. A marriage is rarely, if ever, a fairy tale. It involves people and most people have issues of one sort of another.
Marriage is work, even in the best circumstances. Learning how to be in a relationship takes time and both people have to be committed to the venture. They need to be thinking about their spouse a lot and trying to put them first. If both people are doing this it goes a long way to working through most problems. We haven’t armed our young people with the right tools for dealing with it or where to focus their energy. I don’t know when this turned sour, but somewhere along the line we stopped teaching the merits of trust and empathy and commitment and providing directions for how to do it right. We treat our vows as something less.
1. a solemn promise, pledge, or personal commitment: marriage vows; a vow of secrecy.
2. a solemn promise made to a deity or saint committing oneself to an act, service, or condition.
3. a solemn or earnest declaration.
We promise our spouse that we will stay with them through better and for worse, richer or poorer and in sickness and in health. At least most have something similar to this. It’s not kind of a promise or half of a pledge. I can’t even think of a word for a ‘not promise’. We don’t say as long as it’s convenient. We give our word to something it should mean something, but in this case you actually have a contract. Ultimately, of course, the only real arbiters of that contract are the parties involved.
I really wonder how much effort Lara made to focus her energy on being the best wife she could be. Did she ever talk about her feelings with her husband? I have no idea, but we throw marriage away way too easy these days. The bright shining object always looks enticing, the strange, the hunt, all those things are exciting, but just because it’s not exciting anymore is a horrible reason to get a divorce.
It does take two to make it work, but perhaps we enter into these things too lightly, without much preparation or forethought and it’s not necessarily the fault of the people getting married these days, because we stopped teaching them how hard it is and what commitment means. I am on my second marriage, so I hate to cast these stones from my glass house, but my second marriage is completely different, it is wonderful. It’s not perfect, but we have both worked at it every day for the last twenty years. Our marriage is stronger than ever and keeps getting stronger, but it’s not by accident. I have learned my lessons and I am trying to pass those on to my children. We talk about commitment and service and love and how hard it is. But these are things that should be discussed before the marriage, not afterwards when the commitment has been taken.
Is it fair to ask someone to stay in a marriage they are unhappy in? It’s not easy. An unhappy marriage is up near the top of the list of shitty things that we may have to deal with in life, right up there with severe medical problems or death of a close family member or friend or trouble in our career. But a relationship can be repaired. That part isn’t easy either, but it all comes back to the pledge we made when we got married.
Marriage has great value. It has been the cornerstone of our civilization for hundreds of years.
Parents, talk to your kids about marriage. Don’t just spend all your energy and time and money on the Wedding.
Teach them about honor and service to their significant other.
Teach them how to keep the marriage fresh by doing the little things they did when they were dating, to not take each other for granted.
Teach them to not put the other in a position to worry about fidelity.
Teach them about talking to each other and how to work out differences and provide each other with expectations.
It’s not just young people that suffer from this lack of education. People my age and older suffer from it just as much, this has been going downhill for a long time and the only way to get it back on track is to talk about it.
Step one- recognize we have a problem. My kids may not have a great marriage, but it won’t be because they went in with their eyes closed. I have high hopes.
Teach your kids and spread the word. Soapbox put away.