I will be a little bold tonight and talk about something that I find scary to talk about: my feelings about marriage. It might be somewhat prompted by recent debates about defining what relationships qualify as marriage but this post is more personal. What are my personal thoughts about a marriage that would involve myself, and why did I never marry?
I do pay attention to the various debates about marriage over the past several decades. What are valid reasons for divorce? What is the right age to start a marriage? How much time should be spent in courtship before marriage? What is allowable behaviors inside and outside of marriages? How much effort should be expended to save a marriage? What kinds of relationships should qualify for recognition as marriages?
Although I opted out of that institution, it is a topic that not only fascinated me but demanded me to participate. I resisted by avoiding any relationships that could start toward the path where marriage would be a consideration. Whatever the reason, I found satisfaction with a solitary life.
This is not always the case. I remember specifically at around the age of 12 listening to a preacher who convinced me of the virtues and necessity of marriage for a complete life. As I later joked to myself, I was ready to start the project right then to start a relationship that would culminate in a marriage at the earliest appropriate age. That may be an exaggeration of what really happened but it is probably fair to say I approached relationships more seriously than most people.
In my youth and young adult years, I subscribed to the theory that marriage fell at the far end of the progression of friendships. I visualized the project as starting as casual friends, then close friends, then best friends, and only then consider the possibility of love.
This sounds like a very conservative and old fashioned view, and to save time I’d often just concede that I’m old-fashioned in that way. However, for me this view is not driven by religion or even by tradition. I held this view due to philosophy. I always thought it made perfect sense that there would be such a progression.
Stepping back even further when I was too young to think about marriage, I thought a lot about friendships. At the earliest age I can remember, I treated the idea of friendships probably more seriously than it deserves. I remember the spelling lesson that goes something like there is a reason why friend has “end” at the end. Once started a friend is eternal. I also recall trying really hard and without any success to explain why the word started with “fri”.
That reminds me that maybe I should start even earlier in life when I was encountering language. Risking eye-rolls by child development experts, I recall making language more difficult than it needs to be. Instead of matching a word with a concept, I felt it essential to know why that word and not any other was the most appropriate. This may come off as the rebellious or questioning stage of child development where the child keeps asking why to answers of previous why questions and the final answer is “just because”. For whatever reason, I never really unlearned the ideal that there must be some deeper significance to words than just a means to facilitate communication. A word doesn’t describe reality. A word is reality.
Entering school, I used the word “friend” normally (or at least I think I did). I would come home and talk about friends at school when I referred to people who would talk with me. The opposite of friend was a stranger: someone who didn’t or hadn’t yet talked with me. I guess that means I lumped both good and bad as the same idea. There were good friends and there were bad friends. An enemy is really just specific type of friend on the good-to-bad scale.
In school I knew of more than a few people who didn’t like me. I ended up in a few fights to clarify that the dislike was real. I’d always lose the fight because my goal was to win a good friend. I’m sure I had advice that sometimes you have to fight back to earn friends, but I didn’t listen. I also didn’t learn that losing a fight did not further the project of turning the adversary into a good friend. At least I held true to my reputation for being stubborn.
To me, that word “friend” meant something much than describing whether an encounter would result in laughter or shouts. I believed that a friend was an eternal bond that would outlast the lifetime. Each and every friend permanently changes oneself. I believed that at a very early age.
The idea of marriage built upon this idea of friendship, but in gradual steps. Even the most slight friendships are eternal. What changes is the depth in sharing of inner experiences.
Clearly there is a parallel progression of my development of the concept of deeper relationships culminating in marriage with my psychological development as a child. I don’t know how to separate the two. I just ended up expecting that marriage was approached through a slow progression of ever deepening friendship.
I wasn’t really thinking in terms of a some specific religion, but I was thinking in metaphysical terms. It was much later when I read of the story related in one of Plato’s dialogs where there was a suggestion that love was the desire to complete oneself because at one time men were more complete but the gods split him into two halves so that each will need to seek out the other half. I always had that idea in some fashion, but probably not so binary.
I’d return back to the idea of even the most initial friendship. Seeking friendship is seeking becoming more complete. Instead of a binary match suggested by the Plato story, it is unlimited. Expanding one’s completeness can come from either expanding the number of friends or developing deeper relationships with existing friends. In both cases, the motivation is to become more complete.
This is not a selfish motivation. Consider life to be a container of water and you are a solid substance dropped into the water. To seek friendships is to be soluble, to dissolve a part of that solid into the water. The ultimate goal is to be like pure salt and be completely dissolved into life. Friendship is about dissolving that inner part and allowing it to diffuse into the water of life.
To get back to the idea of marriage. On the scale of friendships, marriage is at the end where it is possible to be completely dissolved into life. This idea is different than the idea in the dialog where two parts find their match and become one. Instead it is where two parts join to enable both to complete the process of dissolving both individuals into the space of life.
Allow me to interject that I am just making this up as I go along. I’m just writing down what is coming to my mind as I try to describe what my thoughts about marriage. This idea seems about right but I admit it needs a lot more work to be a philosophy that can make sense to others.
My idea is that marriage is a partnership for two people to realize their full potential at participating in life. I want to clarify that I’m talking about the non-private aspects of life of engaging with the world at large: engaging with all humans, all life, and all nature. The private life shared between two people is what enables that outcome.
I think this gets close to what I expected from the project of marriage. It also describes my view of the handicap of not being married. Being unmarried is to leave a cinder of self that will never dissolve into life.
This post is actually combining two completely different questions. One is what is my definition or marriage. And the other is why I never married.
They may be related because I’ve defined marriage in such a way that it may be impossible to achieve. Single people who show great ease in being engaged in life and comfortable with life are very attractive people. The attraction is the prospect of sharing what is already demonstrated. I understand this and I agree with it. I’m not very attractive in that sense.
If my goal in life were to have an outgoing and adventuresome life, there is plenty of evidence that this is possible to achieve as a single person. Even if I were more outgoing or as outgoing as the most outgoing single person on the planet, I would hope that getting married would make me even more outgoing. That almost certainly puts too much burden on the marriage. Burden of unrealistic expectations is something that should be avoided in a relationship.
A healthier approach to marriage would have been one that puts no such burden on the project. The more realistic approach is to share complementary but independently achieved capabilities to engage with life. I had an unrealistic approach. This is not a complaint. I’m comfortable with how things turned out.
This still doesn’t fully define marriage. The missing part of the definition is what do I expect when I learn that someone is married. Besides the idea of availability, what do I perceive as different between a person who is married and a person who is not?
I revert to the same dysfunctional definition that doomed my own prospects. I expect something different from a married person than I would a single person. II expect a change to occur when a person goes from being single to being married. I don’t have a precise definition of what that change is. It has something to do with how the relate other people friends or strangers. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are more outgoing, more friendly to others, or more reliable.
Vaguely, I expect marriage to make each person to be more comfortable with themselves even when they are by themselves. Being comfortable is to be less defensive or even uncaring about what others think.
Perhaps that is what I meant when I described it as dissolving into life. To live more freely with little care of whether others approve is to be comfortable with oneself.
In my expectation, a married person would have no need for approval of others.
One way to unify all of the debates about marriage is that each is a demand for societal approval for a particular relationship choice. In my mind, a married person would find such approval as being irrelevant. The married person is past the point of caring about approval.
Turn that idea around. If one is comfortable living ones life without caring about the gaining approval from others, then that person is married. Demanding that a certificate of that marriage is admitting that there is still a need for approval from others and thus there is no marriage.
The point of this post is not to come on one side of the other about when marriage certificates are appropriate. My point is only to describe what I think changes when a person marries. Marriage liberates the individual from the need for validation by others. The claim of marriage is an assertion of that liberation.
In some ways it is like the story from Plato after all. At first there were liberated men so powerful that the gods felt threatened. The solution was to split men into two halves and scramble the pieces. To regain that potential awesome liberation, the two halves have to find and join each other. That is not that different from my thoughts.