“to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.”
So it looks like one of my friends and his wife are going to get a divorce, which is always sad. He said something the other day that made me stop and think. His wife was in an accident a few years ago and hurt her back. She’s not really disabled but it has kept her from doing a lot of things. She finally got surgery and is due to start physical therapy which should bring her back to normal. The problem is, she’s kind of lost the will to do, well, anything. She doesn’t really want to do anything other than sleep all day and watch TV all night. Anyway, the other day, my friend and I are talking about the situation and he says “you know, I just didn’t get married to be a baby sitter”. My first thought was: well, who did. But it made me think about our attitudes towards marriage and love in general in these the aughts.
How many of us when we got married actually listened to our vows, thought about them seriously, and made a thoughtful, conscious decision keep them. Now I would say that most people still go into marriage with a sober disposition and best intentions. But how many of us really think about the vows that we make during the ceremony. Probably not many. I myself am married and am completely committed to my wife and kids, but I didn’t spend any time pondering the vows that I made on my wedding day before the actual event. It seems like the vows have become really just part of the rote process of the ceremony. The church official or judge asks you to repeat a series of words and you do so because its required. But I don’t think many of us really stop and think what we’re saying.
Really, when it comes down to it, to keep the vows like the ones at the top of this post you have to have something that is really difficult to have: unconditional love. That term is used often when speaking of marraige but its really difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Think about it, unconditional love means loving someone without condition, no matter what. Its a selfless love that refuses to take oneself into consideration. Its a love that remains regardless of the situation or circumstance. Its definitely the ideal but is rarely achieved in reality. Probably the closest thing that we experience to unconditional love is the love for our children.
But if unconditional love is out our reach (maybe), how do we expect to remain in a marriage for life? And what’s different now then back in the day when divorce wasn’t the norm?
I think the answer lies in the way we look at love itself. When I was in high school my pastor told me something that I have found to be absolutely true. Love is not a feeling. It is a choice. It is choosing every day to keep the commitment you have made to that other person regardless of how you feel, regardless of their behavior and regardless of the conditions you find yourselves in. That’s it. This definition of love doesn’t play well with the crowd of course because it doesn’t really sound all that romantic and doesn’t fit the scenarios we’ve grown up seeing in books and movies and in our heads. We’ve conditioned ourselves to think of love as a continuous passionate embrace. But the problem with love as a feeling is that feelings come and go. The feelings you get when you’re first dating someone, when you first hold hands, when you first kiss all go away or change because they’re just feelings. I lived in Pittsburgh, PA for a year and a half and a guy I knew had a friend who lived in a strict Hasidic community in a suburb up there. They still did the arranged marriage thing, which seems to us like a crazy throw back to the middle ages. But their divorce rate was non existent, something like one half percent. The guy said the secret to their success was this: from childhood they were taught that they were always, in every situation, to put their spouse before themselves. That’s beautiful. That’s real love.
I didn’t write this post to dog or judge my friend. None of us are even close to perfect. His situation merely made me stop and think. I have two daughters. When I look at the world today and our attitudes towards love, marriage and commitment it makes me worry about what it will be like for them when they’re old enough to start looking for someone to share their life with.