Call me jaded, but in my workshops on authentic relationships I sometimes joke that, "Marriage for life was a fantastic idea in the 13th century when the average lifespan was 27. But now that the average person gets married at 26 and lives until 77, committing yourself to one person for 51 years may not be the smartest thing you ever do (or did)."
Obviously, when a couple creates a child there are obligations that require them to stay united in some capacity until that baby becomes an adult, but aside from thwarting men from planting their seeds willy-nilly and scurrying off to fresher pastures (which many marriages fail to do nonetheless), I think it's safe to say that the institution, in general, has outlived its purpose.
At some time in the future -- and in places like Mexico City people are already exploring this possibility -- marriage contracts will be time-limited and renewable. It will be more akin to a rental than a purchase, leasing rather than owning. And since outside of Beverly Hills women are no longer considered to be chattel, females can easily escape being possessed.
Chris Rock said, "You're either single and lonely, or married and miserable." Many imminent divorcees would agree with my paraphrase of Sartre: "L'enfer, c'est l'autre."
Role models for couples of my generation ran the gamut from Archie and Edith Bunker to Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. But as I told students when I taught narrative theory, there is no "Pretty Woman II." Julia Roberts does not flip pancakes while Richard Gere plays golf and then they meet at the multiplex to snuggle and watch Gone With the Wind together. Rather, like Tristan and Isolde, or Jack and Rose in Titanic, their putative love is illicit, prohibited, and thus they have to unite to overcome a common obstacle. Without societal mores regarding social classes (money) impeding their potential connection, would Richard Gere fall in love with a streetwalker, or would he just bang her and send her on her merry way to Neiman Marcus? If Rose wasn't en route to marrying an insufferable bore would she realize that a down-'n-out stowaway was really her soulmate?
But the greatest cinematic tragedy to modern relationships must be Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire telling Renee Zellweger "You complete me."
Were you unwhole or fundamentally lacking before she showed up, Jerry, or were you just a misguided jerk? And what will you do the next time you're without her?
Comedy is tragedy plus time. Hollywood without the institution of marriage would be like late-night talk show monologues without presidential candidates.
I've asked many ex-husbands why they divorced their wives and the most common response I've heard is, "She was crazy. Borderline. Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs."
"Were you unaware of this before you spent $20,000 on some metal and a shiny rock, gathered all of your family and friends, and asked her to be by your side for the next 50 years?" is my next question.
"Yeah, but... mumble mumble excuse excuse..."
And for ex-wives, they often answer the divorce question with, "Because he was a narcissist" (or insert your favorite unpublishable adjective-noun "stupid jerk" combination here).
Again, "Were you unaware of this before you birthed his four children?"
Out here in Lotus Land, where we've all been taught to put our best boob forward (oops, sorry, Freudian slip, I meant "best foot forward"), the politically correct response to the divorce question is, "We grew apart." This translates into "We have restraining orders and court injunctions against each other, we only communicate through texts and nannies, and I'm waiting for the motherf****er to pay up so I can't say anything negative until then."
"It's all good!" as they say in Los Angeleees. (sp)
Oh yeah, one slight problem with putting your best boob forward: When you seduce another person into loving your inauthentic self, inevitably you'll resent him or her for not loving your authentic self -- even though you've hidden that sometimes unseemly beast away from him or her. It's a Catch-22.
Speaking of seduction... in graduate school I learned that the average married couple has sex once per day during the first year, then it drops to once per week during the second year, and then it wanes to once per month by the fourth year.
And the average marriage lasts four years.
Do you think there might be a correlation between the average marriage lasting four years and a couple's sex life unexpectedly becoming an icy-cold affectionless sea of blistering misery?
Ever hear the highly-offensive adage, "Women trade sex for love and men trade love for sex"?
I've counseled many husbands whose high expectations after the first year of Bacchanalian feast went careening into oblivion with the birth of their first child.
"You feel neglected?" I ask. "Between breastfeeding and changing diapers your wife hasn't had 90 minutes of continuous sleep in 12 months and you expect her to stay awake through a sex act?"
May the force be with you.
People who have been married for 50 years to the same person seem akin to marathon runners. It takes a degree of commitment that sprinters and instant gratifiers can rarely muster.
Let's call a spade a shovel: Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors for a reason (or at least they did the last time I was there in the 1970s). We like variety. Marriage for life might be like only eating vanilla ice cream every day for 50 years. Even if it's Haagen Daas, after a while the succulent delicious cold cream is going to taste like icy putrid congealed caulk. Particularly if you can see the other flavors sitting on the other side of the glass but have been prohibited by a piece of paper and a blood test from tasting them.
Eckharte Tolle states that the only reason we should be in a committed relationship is because we want to learn. When we sign up for a relationship we are surrendering to the growth of our own soul. Our partners act as our mirrors. They reflect back both our divine love and our shadow side, our ego. They are our greatest teachers.
If we go into relationships thinking that our partners are the missing parts that complete us, then we objectify them and fail to see them as separate living beings with their own wants and needs.
Marriage is a dance, a union that should facilitate both party's greatness.
Now that evolution has tripled our lifespans -- and 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, which is often excessively traumatic -- isn't it time that the institution of marriage for life evolves accordingly also?
If renewable marriage contracts aren't available by the time I get married, I'd like whatever born-again atheist (thank you, Gore Vidal, for that wonderful phrase) who officiates the wedding to set the bar extremely low: "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join Ira and his beautiful wife in union... Listen, let's be real... it's probably not going to work out. If I were a betting man, I'd bet that in four years she'll be calling him a narcissistic jerk and he'll be telling everyone she's bonkers... so let's just have a nice party and enjoy this happy day in each other's loving company.... cool?"
That's cool with me. Four years is a long way off. And 51 years seems like Archie and Edith Bunker to me. Call me jaded.
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