IF YOU ARE A FAOII AND MY LINK SENT YOU HERE, I’M SO SORRY. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO SEND YOU HERE. Go there instead. (You can read this one if you want, but it’s political and has NOTHING to do with my writing). SORRY, FAOII.
Author’s Note: If you haven’t read my previous post, On Marriage: Gay and Otherwise, you may want to head there before reading further.
Pretend you have a vacuum (hopefully, that’s not too difficult to imagine). Alright, is your vacuum in mind? Good. Now, pretend that vacuum breaks. What do you do? Do you try to fix it or do you throw it away and get a new one? What if it’s not technically broken, but it doesn’t work as well as it used to? Do you keep it? Try to fix it? Replace it?
Now, pretend you have a microwave (again, this might be a pretty easy thing to imagine). What if your microwave breaks? Do you fix it or replace it? What about a television set? A lamp? Your most comfortable pair of jeans?
What about your relationships?
If you live in America, there’s a pretty big chance that you said “replace” with most of the things in the above list—and (statistically speaking) there’s even a pretty big chance you said “replace” to that last one too. There’s something odd with our culture, where most people are willing to throw things away instead of trying to fix them—even immaterial things like friendships or love. Between living in a “me” society and having such easy access to the internet (where cheap microwaves and “people who understand” abound) it’s often easier, quicker, and sometimes cheaper to just start fresh. And we’ve built a society that feeds those short-term needs. I’ve heard more struggling couples discuss their concerns about who gets what after a divorce than worry about what’s causing the divorce in the first place. Even those that try to fix their struggling relationships are more likely to get caught up in the self-centered thought process of our culture (“that counselor didn’t have any idea what she was talking about,” “It’s not my fault! He/she is to blame”) that it only makes fixing the problem that much harder. It might seem like a rather obvious thing, but if we find that we’re constantly defending ourselves against a spouse and councilor, then there is a slight possibility that we might be the one at fault. But we don’t look at things like that. Our capacity for empathy has diminished over time, and it’s happened so gradually that most of us don’t even think that we’ve been affected.
That’s another strange thing about the human condition: Claiming fault, accepting guilt, or seeing things from any view except our own is not something we’re really taught how to do, and it’s rarely someone’s first response in any given situation, no matter how necessary or obvious the idea might be. It’s hard for any of us to admit that we had a part in letting things spiral out of control, so we tend to blame everyone and everything that isn’t us.
Now, it’s not my place to say who you marry, who you fall in love with, or who you fall out of love with. It’s your life. Live it how you want to. Just leave room to understand that if you’re divorced (once, twice, ten times—it doesn’t matter) then that’s a pretty amazing freedom you have right there. You have a power in your relationships that hasn’t been available to a large portion of the world for a large portion of history. Even if you’re not divorced, just knowing that you have the option to change your life so significantly is kind of amazing. Look how far we’ve come from arranged marriages and Henry VIII-style beheadings. Our empathy might have diminished over time, but our control on our lives has increased exponentially.
So revel in it if you want to, but don’t freak out when other people want a similar freedom. After looking at our divorce statistics, you’d think more people would be okay with letting those little old ladies that used to live in the apartment above mine marry after they’ve been together for 65 years. Statistically speaking, it doesn’t look like the “sanctity of marriage” can be tarnished too much further and (judging by the same-sex couples that I personally know) there’s a chance that the legalization of gay marriage will actually improve our statistics on lasting relationships. And yet so many of us fight against it while screaming about how their love is wrong. (Again, see my previous post here.)
Let me tell you a completely different story. When I was a freshman in college I had a terrible time paying for school. I really, really struggled. As you probably know, I’m not the only person who has monetary concerns during college. In fact, it wasn’t difficult to find a lot of guys about my age with the exact same issue. I remember one in particular—we sat in a coffee shop for two hours one day trying to decide if we should get married just for the tax benefits. I don’t even remember his name now, but we seriously considered going to the courthouse one day after class and then divorcing after graduation. I don’t even think we were planning on living together—but I did jokingly tell him that I’d wave to him between classes.
Looking back, I’m now glad that we didn’t go through with it. If we had, I might never have married my wonderful, real-life husband, and I’m not sure I would have ever been able to look at those little old ladies in the eyes again. To this day I’m still not sure how I could have been allowed to marry someone I didn’t even know when they were still waiting for that chance after 65 years of faithfulness.
What I’m saying is… maybe the system is broken. Not necessarily the marriage system, but the human system. Maybe we’re focusing so much on labeling relationships and finding out what we can get out of them that we’re forgetting to treat the people that are in them like people rather than business partners or obligations or blasphemers. We’ve even gone so far as to not only shrug it off if our relationships last for a shorter period than our cars, but we’re actively trying to keep other people’s relationships from succeeding. I cannot imagine any obstruction of love that is anything but selfish, and love isn’t supposed to be about selfishness.
Maybe if we go back to a system of less waste and more effort… we’ll remember what love is and not just bury that idea under labels and dollar signs. Maybe we can somehow get back to fixing things rather than just throwing them away. Maybe.