Marrying For Love Is One Big Mistake

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Love is a lot of things. Beautiful, patient, kind and gentle. Love (supposedly) keeps no record of rights or wrongs and love is exciting. Love is soothing and love is chaotic. It begins and ends and begins again, as all fickle things do. Love is forever temporary because love is love. And for every aforementioned reason, love is NOT a reason to get married. 

Now if you were raised watching fairy tales or daytime television or evening programming or cartoons or really anything on television at all, then you’re probably in a state of disbelief right now. Somewhere between Cinderella, Pocahontas, Snow White, Bella, Ariel, Rapunzel and Princess Jasmine we learned that a guy didn’t need to do anything to earn our hand in marriage other than provide a serious case of the warm fuzzies. (And ask, of course.) Because when a guy brings your comatose ass back to life with a single kiss, the least you can do is marry him. Based on this conditioning, we grew up correlating marriage with love, internalizing the idea that marriage is something you do when you love someone. This ideation makes it virtually impossible to have a conversation about marriage apart from its perceived emotional component. So for the sake of this conversation, let’s discuss the two as if they’re not joined at the hip, starting with love and then assessing whether or not it’s earned its stronghold on the institution of marriage. 

Love, the feeling of being swept off of ones’ feet. The euphoric experience of floating without leaving the ground. The short-lived adrenaline rush we feel every time we meet “the one.” And for some of us, there have been plenty of those. Not much can be said about love other than it’s a crazy thing. Unpredictable, uncontrollable, unreasonable, love is many things. One thing we know for sure is that love is fleeting. Maybe not the lifelong attachments that love can create but the feeling itself is temporary at best. Scientists have yet to agree on whether there are 3 stages of love, 5, or 11, but one thing they have agreed upon is that the initial falling feeling, also known as limerence, is linked to extreme physical and neurological responses and poor decision making. That’s right, listening to our hearts is typically what lands us in the most trouble.

But Disney movies don’t prepare you for the crash that follows the beautiful fall, and how could they prepare us for the fallout of such a new and unproven concept? Sure, love is as old as any other human concept we’ve studied. We’ve seen love chronicled from ancient civilization to ancient civilization, from continent to continent. But what we haven’t seen until recently is marriage being the response to love. In fact history has demonstrated quite the opposite. Historically, marriage has been utilized for the building and transference of wealth, land and property. A merging of pasts, presents and futures, if you will. Marriage in ancient times was viewed as a sacred covenant between two entities. Sure, love was always a desirable outcome but compromise and collaboration were far more valuable. Love was seen as a common response to human interaction, mortal, and unreliable. Nothing more, and certainly nothing to build a marriage around. Modern society has swapped these concepts, making love the sacred covenant and marriage the mortal response. The intended permanent has become the response to the inevitably temporary. And how has that played out for us? 

Well, that answer depends on your view of marriage. From a fairly universal perspective, marriage is simply a social contract between two (sometimes more) consenting adults that identifies the participants as legal partners. These social contracts identify obligations and rights, spelling out the terms of this public commitment. And as with any other mutually beneficial partnership, parties are expected to both gain from the contract and sacrifice for the sake of the contract. Now throughout history we’ve seen a variety of courting traditions, rules and regulations, ceremonial specifications, etc. but the primary focus was always to strengthen and further familial lineages. It’s not until the French and American Revolutions that we see love being introduced as the foremost requirement for marriage. Up until that point, marriage was always viewed as too serious a matter to base on something as malleable as emotion. But as the enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries began to promote the idea that pursuing happiness above all else was the most fulfilling path, we began to see a shift in how society handled marriage. The 19th century brought with it the Industrial Revolution and a youth that were much more willing to defy the wishes of their families. This brought about a rise in couples marrying without family input, as well as an increase in divorce. Divorce rates rose from a mere 7% in 1900 to 43% by 1945. As we watched governments snatch up land and resources from citizens, we saw marriage shift its focus almost fully from building and partnership to love and companionship. Some say for the better while others point to rising divorce rates and falling marriage rates as proof of the contrary. 

But it’s not in every category of marriage that we see these statistics, and yes, love-based marriages are just one kind of union. I’m not talking about polygamy or anything like that, I’m talking about arranged married. Now before you queue the horror film music take a minute to hear me out. Not to be confused with forced marriage, arranged marriages constitute 53% of marriages around the globe. While the concept is somewhat foreign to the west, the rest of the world is no stranger. Even in making the distinction between forced and arranged marriage, some may question the necessity. And being that the mention of arranged marriage gives most of us the thought of being dragged to the altar under duress, I’d argue it’s a necessary distinction to make. Contrary to widespread belief, spouses in arranged marriages have the right to refuse any proposal and are not banned from filing for divorce. Furthermore, it’s standard for spouses to not only be familiar with their intended, but to have longstanding relationships prior to the marriage. These relationships are rarely romantic in nature, but we’re not dealing with “Married At First Sight” either. And while some things are still a mystery when it comes to arranged marriages, it’s no secret that they last longer on average and boast a staggeringly low divorce rate, right around 6%. What studies show is that arranged marriages peak around the 7-10 year mark while love-based marriages enter at their peak and begin to wane. While there’s validity to the idea that this could be the result of uncharted emotional territory for arranged couples, it’s also been attributed to love-based couples entering into unions with unrealistic expectations. The most prominent of these being the expectation that romantic, passionate feelings will remain static throughout the course of the marriage. But there are no guarantees with love, not even in marriage. 

This isn’t to say that marriages should be loveless, of course not, but they certainly shouldn’t be love based. Love is one of the strongest emotions known to man, strong enough to overpower even the most common sensical individual’s common sense. Now at some point we have to ask ourselves if love isn’t enough to sustain our every day relationships, how could love ever be enough to sustain our marriages? I love my fiancé, but that’s not the reason I agreed to marry him. Truth be told, I’ve loved other men before him, none of whom did I have any business marrying. Basing a relationship on love doesn’t make the relationship easier, in fact it makes it harder. Emotions are hard to regulate and when the passionate phase of love fades, there goes the foundation of the relationship. Does that make arranged marriage the solution and love-based marriage the problem? I wouldn’t go that far. Maybe the solution is somewhere in the middle.  Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to take dad’s dating advice into consideration or go out with that guy mom swears is perfect for you. Maybe some of us are too obsessed with the fairy tale ending to accept that we’ve been coveting the unattainable. If you find yourself struggling with the idea that happy marriages exist outside of the passionate, romantic depictions we’ve come to love and hate, don’t fret. This can take some time to digest and even more time to apply. In the meantime, remember that marriage, for those of us who aspire to such, is a decision that requires a lot of foresight, a lot of discernment, and a lot of logic. And love and logic rarely show up at the same place at the same time.

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