Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Marriage and the Bad Advice it Generates

There's a lot of bad advice out there about marriage and the latest by Seth Adam Smith is near the top of the heap. I've re-printed it below, a short painful read if you're interested, and my reaction follows.

Marriage Isn’t For You by Seth Adam Smith

Having been married only a year and a half, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that marriage isn’t for me. Now before you start making assumptions, keep reading.

I met my wife in high school when we were 15 years old. We were friends for ten years until…until we decided no longer wanted to be just friends. :) I strongly recommend that best friends fall in love. Good times will be had by all.

Nevertheless, falling in love with my best friend did not prevent me from having certain fears and anxieties about getting married. The nearer Kim and I approached the decision to marry, the more I was filled with a paralyzing fear. Was I ready? Was I making the right choice? Was Kim the right person to marry? Would she make me happy?

Then, one fateful night, I shared these thoughts and concerns with my dad.

Perhaps each of us have moments in our lives when it feels like time slows down or the air becomes still and everything around us seems to draw in, marking that moment as one we will never forget.

My dad giving his response to my concerns was such a moment for me. With a knowing smile he said, “Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”

It was in that very moment that I knew that Kim was the right person to marry. I realized that I wanted to make her happy; to see her smile every day, to make her laugh every day. I wanted to be a part of her family, and my family wanted her to be a part of ours. And thinking back on all the times I had seen her play with my nieces, I knew that she was the one with whom I wanted to build our own family.

My father’s advice was both shocking and revelatory. It went against the grain of today’s “Walmart philosophy”, which is if it doesn’t make you happy, you can take it back and get a new one.

No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?”, while Love asks, “What can I give?”

Some time ago, my wife showed me what it means to love selflessly. For many months, my heart had been hardening with a mixture of fear and resentment. Then, after the pressure had built up to where neither of us could stand it, emotions erupted. I was callous. I was selfish.

But instead of matching my selfishness, Kim did something beyond wonderful—she showed an outpouring of love. Laying aside all of the pain and aguish I had caused her, she lovingly took me in her arms and soothed my soul.

I realized that I had forgotten my dad’s advice. While Kim’s side of the marriage had been to love me, my side of the marriage had become all about me. This awful realization brought me to tears, and I promised my wife that I would try to be better.

To all who are reading this article—married, almost married, single, or even the sworn bachelor or bachelorette—I want you to know that marriage isn’t for you. No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love.

And, paradoxically, the more you truly love that person, the more love you receive. And not just from your significant other, but from their friends and their family and thousands of others you never would have met had your love remained self-centered. Truly, love and marriage isn’t for you. It’s for others.

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As is the case with much mediocrity these days, this near-viral article is receiving a lot of applause. Why is anyone’s guess since giving the article anything more than a second of critical thought devastates the author’s assertion that marriage is something we should do for the sake of others. Such an assertion is all well and good for people who want to approach marriage from such a perspective I suppose, but such an approach is not necessarily the way it ought to be. 

The author begins the article by voicing his concerns about getting married, but his fears are soon assuaged by some “sage advice” from his father. “Sage advice” is in quotations, naturally because his father’s advice is about as potentially bonkers as you can get. Personally, had my father given me such advice about getting married, I would have doubled my efforts to ensure I never put a ring on someone’s finger. Marriage is not about the other person more than it is about one’s self. Such an assertion almost guarantees a miserable marriage due to the undercurrent of resentment the unhappy person harbors. For example, I once knew a woman, Emma, who married her husband given the understanding that neither of them wanted children. Six months into the marriage her husband began pestering her to have children because he thought she’d change her mind about children after they married. Was Emma supposed to cave into her husband’s hidden agenda because marriage is about making her spouse happy? That is the outcome the author’s father’s advice leads her towards. Of course, we could argue that Emma’s husband should not have hidden his agenda from her if he wanted to make her happy, but he may have been under the false assumption that having children will make Emma happy and may have believed that she just doesn’t know it and cannot know it until she has children. Unfortunately for the husband, Emma remained true to her original, honest position on children and divorced her traitorous husband because marriage is NOT about the other person, it is about both people. 

Furthermore, the father is off the mark about marriage being about having kids. Sure, he’s giving good advice if the couple wants children, but the old argument about marriage being about children is practically medieval at this point in history. What would the father’s advice have been if his son said him and his wife didn’t want children? That his son was being selfish? Uh, wouldn’t it be selfish of the father to demand that his son and wife have children (selfish insofar as having children upholds the father’s beliefs about marriage)? The father’s advice becomes even worse if the point of being in a marriage is to make one’s children happy. I say this because the constant placating of children has produced a generation of spoiled brats who think they’re entitled to everything and don’t even appreciate their parents. I never wanted to have children myself because, frankly, I don’t want to put up with their shit (both figuratively and literally). I guess that makes me selfish, though I fail to see how I’m any less selfish than people who actually want children.

While I agree that there are often times you might want to please your spouse – because their happiness is meaningful to you – such desires should not come at the constant expense of one’s own happiness. For too long, Western notions of romance have kowtowed to the notion that love implies self-sacrifice, as if being interested in one’s own happiness is immoral. I would have never married my wife if I didn’t think that commitment would make me happy. What do I get out of marriage? Someone to share experiences with, regular sex, and good home-cooked meals. And, I had the same fears going into marriage as the author because as a rational person, if I think I could be making a mistake but go ahead with it anyway, I’d be unhappy and wind up with an unhappy marriage with no one to blame but myself because I didn’t properly analyze the situation. How is it a mistake to examine such an important decision? If marriage is all about the other person, then really, you might as well marry anyone since your own happiness is of no consequence. Oddly, by virtue of the father’s advice, going all out to please your spouse is what gives you worth, which hypothetically should make you happy. Surely, though, it must be difficult to happy when all pursuit of self-fulfillment is abandoned. Oh, that’s right, I keep forgetting that complete sacrifice is a virtue, except that in the real world, it is not. As one commenter on the article wrote, “Self-suppression and denial create mentally, emotionally, and spiritually unhealthy circumstances that inevitable end in tears. What horrible advice this guy got from his father.”

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