Are we corrupting the youth if we say that the marriage should last while it works for both partners, or are we sending the wrong message if we say that one person is for a lifetime? Do we set ourselves in a trap romanticizing this union in this way?
This dilemma wouldn’t have–existed if marriage was a happy place to live in (according to author and film director Dana Adam Shapiro, only 17% of married couples are happy, and also many sociologists agree that marriage nowadays simply fails, which is a complete disaster). What about the remaining 83%? I hope I won’t sound sarcastic or insolent if I say that lies are not strangers to many, especially adults. For example, studies have found that if you ask people–Are they lonely?–a defensive mechanism activates, and they respond with a–No. Something similar happens with the happy marriage question. People usually don’t admit they don’t have happy marriages, but if you are good at listening and asking the right questions, you’ll find out the real truth.
This study comes as a confirmation of my own life experience. In my surrounding, I haven’t met almost anyone who hasn’t said that they wished they were single, sometimes jokingly sometimes wrapped, that they think about what their life would look like if they hadn’t taken that road. Simply put, their expectations do not correspond to marriage reality.
All this leads us to one crucial question: Where is the problem? Is it in pumped-up expectations or in reality?
Few references from childhood vs. few references from real life.
In the story of Snow White, she meets her prince in the end, and they go on to live happily ever after. That’s the message all fairytales send us, princes and princesses fall in love, they get married, and happy end. That’s it. We don’t get to sneak a peek into their life after the wedding, oh no. Well, there was an attempt for Cinderella part two, so we could take a glimpse of the life after the happily ever after, which was a failed effort to illustrate marriage. However, we slowly get addicted to that idea of eternity–hence the till-death-do-us-part line–when it comes to marriage. Consequently, an idealistic postulate of the institution of marriage is modeled and planted into our minds as a seed. The whole community picks up on this idea–even when they know of the hardships in front of the newlyweds–that marriage is THE happiest moment helped, of course, by the whole wedding industry. Wedding photographs of endless happiness and unseen love, with a bunch of grotesque elements, for example, cakes–the higher, the better, it has to correspond to the magnitude of the moment, princess-like dresses, and so on. Oh my, can it get any better than this? The balloon expands, getting bigger and bigger. Pow!!!
Fragments from reality: A few days ago I saw the latest film adaptation of “Anna Karenina” and remembered the agonizing love-hate marriage of Karenina’s author Leo Tolstoy with his wife Sophia, with episodes of severe depression, paranoia, accusations and triumph of hatred, not love, at the very end of their life together. Those episodes surpass the love adventures of his most famous heroine.
Another example is the marriage of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera–the least we can say is that it was a complex marriage with messy fights, divorce, cheating–which doesn’t fit into the happily ever after mold. (The Mexican folk song “La Llorona” beautifully describes that pain to the hilt, the complexity, and contradictions of their marriage.)
But in both cases, works worth admiration were created. Think about it; if it weren’t for those tumultuous relationships, we might have been deprived of many pieces of art. As you can see, we are able to romanticize destructive marriages under the guise of great love, but that’s another topic. Maybe these relationships would have been the same without the institution of marriage, but that’s another topic, too.
Not to mention so many other examples from pop culture: the “Brangelina” phenomenon, the actual prince Charles and Princess Diana, Kelly Clarkson and Brandon Blackstock… Fairytale beginnings and horror endings with messy divorces, hostility. Suddenly, marriage becomes a synonym for imprisonment, a trap, accusations, silent suffering, powerlessness, loneliness…
“Let’s take the wings off and try writing on foot, shall we?” – Szymborska.
Nobel Prize Laureate Szymborska stubbornly insists on poetry’s “prosaic side.” The line above can also be applied to marriage. For a moment, let’s take off the attractive marriage candy wrapping with pompous promises of eternal love, fulfillment, and all that in good times and in bad. Let’s stop wasting energy on creating an idyllic projection of marriage as if it’s a utopian painting of perfect happiness for sale.
Let us loosen up this unity from the burden of obligation and eternity, concepts that obsessed humans in every sense because of their superiority and inaccessibility. Let’s get rid of the long-term romantic expectations. We should stop trying to compensate for harsh reality with our marriage because it’s tremendous pressure, and often marriages cannot withstand that. Also, we can all agree that when institutionalized, love is somehow publicly exposed, deprived of its innocence. It becomes a property of the wider family, community, and society, which determines that relationship, and it no longer belongs to the people being married.
So, in the end, you might ask what the solutions are? Should we reinvent marriage altogether? Certain sociologists propose ending the marriage ceremonials and instead transforming it into a contract, not for an indefinite time, but extending it every three years or so if it suits the concerned parties. Suppose it doesn’t; simply dismiss it without drama.
All indicators point out that marriage needs to be redefined and its intimacy restored.
Should we deconstruct the myth of marriage, and continue to live happily ever after?