Til Death Do Us Part: How Modern Marriage Has Failed

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Marriage, the word is a demonstration of our language’s ability to evoke and provoke some of the strongest emotions possible. These range from the worshipful to cynical. It is simultaneously sought after and hated, not uncommonly by the same person. Is it broken? Was it ever right? I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot lately. I find myself at that time in my life (early thirties) where those inevitable questions start to arise, as though I perceive a door slowly closing. It’s my conclusion, after a good deal of thought, that I’ve been fooled, we’ve all been bamboozled, tricked, whatever you want to call it, into thinking that the oft referred to (holy) institution of marriage is something we should care and obsess over.

Let’s dig into this where I enjoy it most: its history. Marriage has not always been interpreted through its current incarnation. Now what do I mean by that exactly? Well most obviously would be this idea of marriage for eternal love. This modern consideration is an incredibly recent advent. Marriage in the not so distant past was carried out pragmatically: for family interests. The mewling protests of those involved, should there be any, were silenced quickly as selfish prattle that had better shut the hell up, or risk the wrath of their elders, and when I think about it, rightly so. Life and survival are difficult enough in an old world without youth bemoaning that they don’t get to love the person they are with. We’d have been far better off if marriage were actually referred to for what it was at its inception: duty.

But we are a forward thinking species. How dare the wisdom of the old be inflicted on the young. Better we let them decide who they should marry, and then divorce shortly after. This has led us to marriage’s current state. The mass majority of marriages end, it’s indefensible to suggest otherwise. Growing up my parents were in the absolute minority that they remained together through my youth. Their staying together was the exception not the rule.

Which leads me to my next point: the language of modern marriage in its aftermath. Having moved away from the more ancient form of marriage, we have landed ourselves in an existential hell. We’ve exchanged the mild grumbling of a couple learning to be with each other for the impossible ideal of eternal love. We even hold this lofty standard so high above our heads that if a marriage were to fail in this context we have no shortage of cruel descriptors for it: broken home and failed marriage leap to mind. We describe something so obviously natural—the falling out of love of those together for an extended period of time—as something abhorrent, hateful, and shameful. This I believe is madness.

Life in the last hundred years has changed so rapidly when compared to the previous it has left our older social constructs outdated and staggered, barely able to bear the weight of keeping up. I think fondly on my father’s joking description of the problem, “When they said till death do us part, that’s what it used to mean!” This albeit dark humour summarizes what I am trying to say. A progressive step was needed to reinvent the dated survival-style of marriage, but caught up in our solipsist view of the world we failed to see that we’d set out for ourselves an impossible standard. Couples rejoiced at the idea of marriage for eternal love, but soon found the reality was not quite what they imagined. It never is.

Now I’m not suggesting a return to the old style. We do live in a time when choosing who we wish to partner with is a luxury we can more or less afford. What I am suggesting is that we face a more difficult reality: we live long enough to have deep meaningful relationships with multiple people, and should allow ourselves to do so.

I’ll anticipate the soft soul’s argument who will cry, “What about the children? You blind fool,” and say this: we can, and already do, leave behind marriages with children yet to grow. All I’m suggesting is if we do so, let’s do away with all the weight of this crazy guilt. Good parents exist, lots of them, who are not in “wedlock,” another great term I enjoy. As long-lived human beings whose lifespans are continually stretching we must throw off the shackles that the ideal of eternal love has bound us in. We need a new love renaissance, one that correctly acknowledges both our strengths and weaknesses: Yes we can love, yes we fall out of love, there is no one single love of your life, there are many.

I cannot help but relate this to a series of books written by one of my favourite authors ‘Peter F. Hamilton.’ In his wild sci-fi imaginings he’s created a world wherein people can potentially live forever. Not only that, he considers the profound social repercussions of this world. The obvious question that comes about from eternal life is: do I eternally marry? He would suggest no. Instead, people spend as much time as they want with each other. Some raise children, some don’t. The norm of the citizens that inhabit his world is to marry many over the hundreds of years that they are alive. This to me seems natural.

And before those dissenters start screeching at the computer screen, allow me to clarify what I mean by natural. Natural is the world we have grown up in. I’ll borrow from ‘Aubrey de Grey’ to clarify what I mean. When people object to his suggestion—that we should be able to live forever—and say it is unnatural to have such long life-spans, he immediately counters with a very sound argument. When you say natural, whose natural do you mean? If you had grown up in the colonial era a natural life-span was far less than it is now. Eighty to a hundred is the natural life-span if you were born in recent memory. To cement what I am saying vicariously through Aubrey’s point: “natural” changes depending on where you are looking at it from. In effect, it is always changing given your perspective. And that is now what we need for marriage and the way we pursue it. A new perspective.

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13 comments

  1. There’s a show on TV where people that never met, meet for the first time and marry. I thought, like very few people in this world, surprisingly, that it was the most ridiculous thing for people to believe in and a joke. You meet somehow, drop everything in your life to be with a stranger, and by God you get through it till death departs you. In some way, I believe in the marriage thing if it works for you. I found some people that were soul mates their whole lives and that was meant to be for them. Some people have never found that one person and they found many people. Our whole lives we are taught that is a failure in life and that you didn’t reach your life’s goal or God’s goal. I’m 20 and I’m married. Through the time I’ve been married I, in the worlds eyes have reached my goal early; I’m suppose to be lucky. My personal view is that I have failed true love and it sucks and now I know what marriage actually is. I failed because I did something people back than couldn’t do because somebody hated love or the fact civil marriage is being fought for so they can finally be with their soul mate. Hopefully one day people as a whole will stop using God as an excuse to why people should be guilt tripped into being with somebody their whole entire life span no matter how you feel or if it’s meant. This was really well written and from the personal things I’m going through, this read was very enlightening.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my thoughts thoroughly. That you were able to find some personal reflection in it means the world to me. I Wish you all the best in the future and truly hope you reach where you feel happy with marriage, whether you are in one or not.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. First of all, thank you for reading one of my posts. Second, while I appreciate your logic and points, I think you are missing the beauty possible with marriage. With my husband I have found a companion and best friend that I feel safe with, cherish, and can count on for every situation. Fifteen years after meeting him, I still am “in love,” but more than that he knows me and I know him in a way no new person could replicate. I’m afraid that by indicating no relationship can last for a lifetime, people would miss out on this possible enriched relationship. No one should stay in a relationship, just for the sake of staying in one, but if one is always searching for the next best mate, how can you build a meaningful relationship for any length of time?
    To your point, no there should not be outside pressure for someone to get married at a certain expiration date. We are all at different professional and emotional stages in our lives at different ages, however having a partner to share what life throws at you can definitely add to your quality of life!

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    1. I completely agree with your saying marriage can be fulfilling. And I did not want to disallow for people who find that person who they can spend an exceptional period of time with from doing so. More I was trying to point out that if the flame does fade, don’t berate yourself. Thus my point at the end, imagine if you lived for some larger period of time than we do now. You highlight exactly what I’m trying to say when you mentioned the period of time you’ve spent married. I congratulate you on fifteen years well spent, but when you take a step back you might see, that is not really a long period of time. I’m trying to address all ranges of relationship: people who live much longer, people who are together for much longer. I’d hoped to offer some peace to those people who’ve after thirty fourty or fifty years identified their falling out of love as a failure, when it really isn’t. So I think we have a middle road here. Yes we can both agree marriage is wonderful. I just hope you can understand I’m calling for a reinterpretation of it, not it’s destruction.

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  3. A very thought-provoking item, especially the reference to P F Hamiton’s work which brings the issue into such revealing light.

    My opinion has always been that we are unrealistic in not accepting that the degree to which people change will potentially have a drastic effect on our relationships and that marriages can reach a natural end due to that development. I know several couples for whom this has happened, at least one who admit it yet refuse to separate due to religious convictions despite making each other unhappy. They would not see a relationship that has simply run its course, but rather a marriage which they would categorise as a failure and not a relationship that worked for a certain number of years.

    Having said that, there are other factors at play, of course. For example, fear of being alone, especially as we get older, will keep people together.

    For context I feel I should not that I am non-religious and have just celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary (I’ve known my wife for 28 years) and happily our marriage is not approaching such a natural conclusion !

    Anyway, enough waffle from me. I look forward to reading some more of your articles.

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    1. haha don’t stop wallfeling I truly enjoyed your stream of thought. It touched on just how complex the issue can be. Thanks so much for not only taking the time to read what I wrote but to comment as well.

      Cheers!

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  4. great post, and timely for me as i’m changing my views toward marriage. i was raised “old school” and my parents one wish for me was to just meet someone, marry, and be happy. tried it right out of college, as a form of extended dating, that didn’t work. the ceremony served only to legitimize. next marriage was 10 years and 2 kids, and hard to watch dissolve. now, i see relationships on a continuum. i don’t see myself marrying again. don’t want that structure and rigidity. thanks for saying what i’ve been thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well I can certainly say you’ve had the harder course to come to your understanding of things than myself, but I’m sure you’re all the stronger for it. Importantly as well you realize that it’s obviously not your fault if things sometimes just don’t end up in eternal love. I wish you luck with your kids that’s definitely one good thing that can come out of it.

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  5. I love what you wrote
    We are unsure what marriage is anymore I feel. I was married, I have children, I love my ex-husband for the father he was and is but we didn’t know what marriage was when we married. We happily sit with our children at dinner time a few times a week and wonder how it all came to be. I think that marriage can no longer be defined by our parents marriage. I think we’ve become different people all of us in this culture. I love seeing couples together in everything and in love, even if they dont have a contract of marriage between them, it’s still a marriage!
    Thank you for this….I needed to read it!!! 😉

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  6. I think you’re right – it was one thing when marriage was a social necessity and you only lived til 45 – now it’s quite another. With this topic and others, I think as a society we collectively wear a pair of rose-tinted glasses: the idea of loving someone forever is appealing to us and we don’t want to let go of it. Nevertheless, it’s becoming increasingly impractical and our expectations of human behaviour are out of touch with our true nature. Not a comfortable thing for us to confront.

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  7. Life isn’t just about what we feel. What we feel changes from moment to moment. No . . .second by second. There is something to be said about commitment and faithfulness and growing together. It’s not easy. It’s a choice. There are so many forces out there that are decrying marriage as obsolete when in fact it is the answer to so many social ills. You have to believe. You have to try. You have to depend on God, who doesn’t put rules in place to condemn us, but to protect us. No one’s perfect, but if by God’s grace you choose His ways, He’s right there to back up your choices. His relationship is everything. After that, the other choices become much easier. Stick with it. It’s worth it.

    Married 40 years this coming January.

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