Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Marriage: The Easy Burden, The Light Yoke

I want to extend sincere and grateful thanks to all who offered anniversary congratulations. Darwin and I have not turned out to be members of that set of gracious bloggers who acknowledge and respond to every comment, but we do read and appreciate them all. (In fact, right here I'm going to say thanks to Brandon, whose use of the phrase "trolleyology" in a recent comment has given me a valuable new descriptor for a certain subset of philosophical inanity.)

Commenter BurgoFitzgerald, in particular, has inspired much discussion here with his (just guessing here, BurgoFitzgerald; feel free to correct the gender) recent remarks amid anniversary congratulations:
I loved the fact that you didn't go on and on about how hard marriage is and how much compromise is involved and how there are days when you just want to walk away from the whole she-bang. I am sure all of that can be true about marriage in general, but for once, it was wonderful to read a post that didn't bring anything of that up let alone put an emphasis on it.

...These days there are many married couples who, I suppose, in an attempt to be kind will go on and on about how marriage is often a Bataan death march that is filled with aggravation and back breaking work. It just smacks as either insincere and condescending or indicative of two idiots who engaged in absolutely no discernment before they chained themselves together in a domestic version of The Octagon. Comments to singles by bloggers who have recently married that point out that singles don't think about how married people have an entirely separate vale of tears: burying a spouse and infertility, well, these just ring as hollow as well.

Whenever a married person tells me how "smart" or how "lucky" I am to still be single? I suppose that says a great deal more about how so many people approach and view marriage.
BurgoFitzgerald has performed several kind services here: given lovely congratulations, paid an elegant compliment, been witty in the combox, and provided us with a platform from which to pontificate on marriage, which we dearly love to do. Thank you, BurgoFitzgerald!

I, for one, am here to tell you, dear readers: there has never been a day, not once in my marriage, when I felt that marriage was a burden or a hardship. Everything I do is better and richer for being done with Darwin. Every part of my life is brighter for being shared with him. We have never fought, never sparred or insulted or skirmished or accused, and I can count on one hand the times we've experienced the briefest of coldnesses or silences in our fourteen year relationship. Any conflict is external, never internal; circumstances do not touch the core of our unity.

Some of this may be a function of our personalities. We are very similar, and do not thrive on conflict. Neither of us have any history to overcome or legacy of sinful relationship interactions over which we reproach ourselves. We share strong religious, moral, and intellectual convictions, which give us a solid foundation on which to build a secure and prolific family life. Incorporated into the bedrock of our marriage are the basic manners and etiquette that ease all social interactions, and to which spouses are even more entitled than friends, co-workers, or complete strangers. Enriching this etiquette is the familiarity which breeds confidence, not contempt. And this confidence is expressed not in using the other person as a secure dumping ground for daily frustrations or existential irritation, but in sparing the other as much as possible from both small annoyances of daily life and the vagaries of mood or whim.

Many people would claim that this too is a description of their marriage, and yet I'm often appalled by the condescension, the sharpness and sniping, and the petty or childish behavior that I witness in even the most committed of spouses. And if this is the public face, what must the private life be like? One speaks from the fullness of one's heart.

And so, from the fullness of my heart, I say: I can't imagine a better life than the one I've had these past ten years. I don't know anything about being married to anyone else, but there's no one else I'd rather share every moment with, whether good or bad, than Darwin.


Foxfier said...

What you see might be a cultural difference as well as one of personality; part of the joy of marriage is that I can fully trust my husband, and we can focus on avoiding what actually hurts instead of what might look bad, or what can be taken wrong. I yell, he's got biting oratory, but we both KNOW that if something actually gets to us we can say so and the other is on our side.

With us, formality indicates something is wrong in the other's world-- sort of like wearing armor to dinner. (It can go in three directions: most rarely, mad at the other; sometimes, fear that oneself will say/do something harmful to the other; most commonly, upset about something "outside" and trying to hold control, but locked down too far.)

I notice that the folks who either had an authority figure that was verbally abusive or who didn't have an authority figure who teased/verbally sparred tend to see what we hold as simply teasing (and know can be stopped instantly if it hits a sore spot) as a horrible disrespect/ attack/ serious problem.

Best metaphor I've heard is comparing it to cats fighting-- most of the time you would't know, from the yowls, growls and hisses, or from the lightning slaps and teeth buried in each other's throats, that two cats are playing and not trying to kill one another until it's over or blood has been drawn, and it's generally dangerous to jump in either way.

Foxfier said...

*sigh* And, as I meant to say in the first place...

I generally put the "marriage is tougher than people think" talk into the mental category of either "no, things aren't magically perfect, you can't be selfish" or in the "polite smalltalk" section. (Sort of like baby advice-- doesn't keep it from driving me insane. Especially when cousins that I had to ride herd on tell me how hard it is to control more than two kids that can walk....)

mrsdarwin said...

Foxfier, I think it would be a mistake to equate courtesy with formality. I was thinking of the rudeness, blame-shifting, and carping which some people think is acceptable when talking to or about their spouses.

Teasing doesn't happen to be my style, but I see no problem with a couple making it a mutual mode of interaction if it doesn't become a method of picking at scabs. And if it doesn't become ridicule, which I think is unacceptable.

I think that "marriage is tougher than people thinks" is different, however, from BurgoFitzgerald's example of "there are days when you just want to walk away from the whole she-bang". There are days when it's difficult not to take out frustrations (usually of the small and stupid kind) on Darwin when he comes home; this is entirely different from wanting to call it quits or wondering if we made a mistake or whether I should go stay at my parents' for a while. I think everyone deals, with differing degrees of success with the former -- the "toughness" here comes from acquiring the habit of striving day in and day out to be loving and generous and genuine. The latter is something we've never encountered in our marriage and don't even really understand. Different strokes for different folks, perhaps, as my mother used to say.

If I sound cranky or combative, it's because I've hit the late afternoon wall and am trying to determine how much energy it would take to bust up the neighborhood tea party going on in the next room. So maybe I'm not taking my own advice, but then, you and I aren't married. :)

Foxfier said...

Since I've got a post on the three types of advice-- bad (don't follow it), good (hard to follow) and great (good advice you didn't already think of)-- I much know the advice thing.

...realized I could've done an immensely shorter post by just saying "sometimes what looks like rudeness is just how people are with their near and dear, and sometimes what looks like respect is a safety valve."

Then again, since I still feel the urge to add a story about the cousin I couldn't stand that everyone assumed was a best buddy with because I was trying not to KILL him, "shorter" is going to stay as a height category, rather than a reply characteristic.

BurgoFitzgerald said...

Thank you so much for the exceedingly kind words. For the record, I am a woman, and I don't take offence at being mistaken for a man, on-line at least.

I, too, find it disheartening to see the myriad of real life examples everywhere around me of spouses treating each other like absolute offal in public. The saddest part is that it doesn't even seem to phase the person on the receiving end of the treatment. Now, I've been told by others that a single person has no business commenting on other people's marriage because she has no "idea what it is like to be married", and this may be true. However, if that is the case, many married people might want to rethink the knee-jerk reaction of claiming how excruciating it has been being shackled to such a towering @##$&& and how much they miss being single.

Anyhoo! Thank you once again for two great posts and your kind words.

Anonymous said...

It is Eden to marry well, and the opposite is not.

The Sojourner said...

Thank you so much for this post.

One of my pet peeves is those "Can this marriage be saved?" kind of articles that are regular features in some Catholic as well as secular publications. (Maybe I'm reading the wrong Catholic publications, I don't know.) I'm not saying those don't have a valuable place for people who have radical misconceptions about how Catholic marriages are supposed to work, but I'm not one of those and it gets to me that the only narrative presented to single Catholics is, "You will be pushed to the brink of divorce and only then learn things that will help your marriage thrive." What if I want my marriage to thrive from the get-go?

I'm probably cranky because I've only been engaged for a month and I've already encountered the "lowest common denominator" approach in marriage prep. Can I get some instruction that doesn't assume I don't go to Mass, am on the Pill, and think divorce is peachy?

(There's a segue between those two paragraphs; promise. If it's unclear I can ramble even more in your combox.)

mandamum said...

I hear you, Sojourner! You forgot, "and are already living together" I think ;) I married with a dispensation for "disparity of cult" (married a non-baptized person) and we really wanted some tailored preparation to make sure we had thought about all the special issues that would present. Birth control wasn't one of them--he read Humanae Vitae and found it sensible/acceptable before we were even engaged. But despite our best efforts, we still got the lowest denominator prep with a bunch of cohabiting couples that didn't want to be there....

It's funny--we spar (peace is not my strong point--my poor husband gets to help me learn the virtues associated with it) but I would still never trade my vocation :) It seems to me that *life* is the vale of tears, and it is good to have a team to make the journey better and more successful. Everyone, with the exception of those few called to be hermits, is called to community of one kind or another, and no matter the kind of community, it will call for hard work and bestow benefits both.


mandamum said...

Oh, and Sojourner--I would recommend the book "Letters to a Young Bride" by Alice von Hildebrand as part of your prep or your first year (mystagogia for matrimony, LOL?) She does a good job gently highlighting ways we can build up our marriages and spouses--good habits to form :)

Foxfier said...

On the bright side, at least you two were able to get a class... I spent months trying to contact anyone and was just shoved back at the phone system that was never answered and which no-one returned calls from; pointing out that I had called, left messages, there'd been no response, couldn't I leave a note for whoever was in charge...? just resulted in being told to call again, and be patient.

And they wonder why they have such a low number of young families. >.<

JMB said...

So I remember (on this eve of my 17 wedding anniversary) sitting with my mom and asking her if I should marry my husband (who was very persistent) and I was shy, and seriously afraid of marriage. And she said, you have to like your spouse, because you will spend a lot of time together. And I thought, I do like my spouse, and so hear we are. Now my kids are older and often all four will be gone for a weekend here or there at a time, or a week or two in the summer, and it is just me and my husband. And it's nice. Congratulations you two! Marriage is good!

The Sojourner said...

Thanks, mandamum.

AmieLou said...

Excellent post. I've been married for just over two years. We've been through my devastating job loss and had to change plans about buying a home, etc...Yet when I say marriage is not hard and horrible people tell me it is because we have not dealt with hard times and we'll learn. Not true.

If you marry the right partner,even the hard times aren't as hard.

Foxfier said...

Yet when I say marriage is not hard and horrible people tell me it is because we have not dealt with hard times and we'll learn.

One of the most annoying responses possible. Variation on the No True Scotsman, yes?

Gregaria said...

Thank you for this post! I'm single and seriously considering not getting married because of all the negative stories I've encountered (both on-line and in real life). I am afraid that it will be hell. Your post (and the comments box) gives me hope! I just hope I can be wise enough to marry the right person.