For the eyes. For the heart. For the ears. For the feet. For the soul.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The history (and mystery) of marriage

It's no secret I have always been a skeptic of marriage. I never understood the heavy pressure put on by parents, media, society and friends to "tie the knot" so to speak. In an earlier post, I wrote about how the novel "Eat Pray Love" spoke to me, and solidified that I was not alone in my quest for finding my authentic self.

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the above mentioned, takes her readers on another heartfelt journey of marriage throughout modern history and culture, all the while speaking with candour on her own hopes, fears and experience of divorce, as well as marriage the second time around in her latest read "Committed."

I may have made peace with the concept of marriage much earlier, had this book been available years ago but fortunately for me, I found a man who changed my entire thought process himself.

Below are the excerpts I found interesting: (In no particular order at all)

* If you are a Hmong woman, then, you don't necessarily expect your husband to be your best friend, your most intimate confidant, your emotional advisor, your intellectual equal, your comfort in times of sorrow. Hmong women, instead, get a lot of that emotional nourishment and support from other women--from sisters, aunties, mothers, grandmothers.

* The problem, simply put, is that we cannot choose everything simultaneously. So we live in danger of becoming paralyzed by indecision, terrified that every choice might be the wrong choice. (I have a friend who second-guesses herself so compulsively that her husband jokes her autobiography will someday be titled I Should've Had the Scampi.)

* We become compulsive comparers--always measuring our lives against some other person's life, secretly wondering if we should have taken her path instead. (A therapist friend of mine defines this problem simply as "the condition by which all of my single patients secretly long to be married, and all of my married patients secretly long to be single.")

* We may even believe at times that we have found our other half, but it's more likely that all we've found is somebody else who is searching for his other half--somebody who is equally desperate to believe that he has found that completion in us.

* As the anthropologist and infatuation expert Dr. Helen Fisher has explained, infatuated lovers, just like any junkie, "will go to unhealthy, humiliating, and even physically dangerous lengths to procure their narcotic."

* Reality exits the stage the moment that infatuation enters, and we might soon find ourselves doing all sorts of crazy things that we would never have considered doing in a sane state.

* All I can say on this matter is that I once overheard Felipe telling a houseguest that he has always believe a woman's place is in the kitchen...sitting in a comfortable chair, with her feet up, drinking a glass of wine and watching her husband cook dinner.

* There is hardly a more gracious gift that we can offer somebody than to accept them fully, to love them almost despite themselves. To be fully seen by somebody, then, and to be loved anyhow--this is a human offering that can border on the miraculous.

* Here was just some of the elements missing in conversation with Keo and his family: irony, cynicism, sarcasm, and presumptuousness. I know five-year-olds in America who are cannier than this family. In fact, all five-year-olds I know in America are cannier than this family.

* Those years of my grandmother's life, just out of high school, have always fascinated me because her path was so different from everyone else's around her. She had experiences out there in the real world rather than settling right into the business of raising a family.

* The story of the wine-colored coat with the real fur collar has always made me cry. And if I were to tell you that this story has not shaped forever my feelings about marriage, or that it has not forged within me a small, quiet sorrow about what the matrimonial institution can take away from good women, I would be lying to you.

* "Grandma," I said, taking her arthritic hands in mine, "how could that have been the happiest time of your life?" "It was," she said. "I was happy because I had a family of my own. I had a husband. I had children." She was happy because she had a partner, and because they were building something together, and because she believed deeply in what they were building and because it amazed her to be included in such undertaking. She knew that she was indispensable to somebody else's life.

* What am I to conclude when my grandmother says that the happiest decision of her life was giving up everything for her husband and children but then says--in the very next breath--that she doesn't want me making the same choice? I'm not really sure how to reconcile this, except to believe that somehow both these statements are true and authentic, even as they seem to utterly contradict one another. When it comes to the subject of women and marriage, easy conclusions are difficult to come by, and enigmas litter the road in every direction.

* When I posed the question again, another single friend replied, "Wanting to get married, for me, is all about a desire to feel chosen."

* My friend is a person of great heart. Her enormous capacity for love has all too often been left unmatched and unreturned by the world. As such, she struggles with some very serious unfulfilled emotional yearnings and questions about her own value.

* She had finally married her own life, and not a moment too soon.

* Unlike so many of my friends from broken homes, I never had to meet my father's icky new girlfriend; Christmases were always in the same place; a sense of constancy in the household allowed me to focus on the homework rather than on my family's heartache...and therefore I prospered.

* I had honestly neglected to notice that you could opt out of the baby carriage business and nobody--not in our country anyhow--would arrest you for it.

* The poet Jack Gilbert (no relation, sadly for me) wrote that marriage is what happens "between the memorable." He said that we often look back on our marriages years later, perhaps after one spouse has died, and all we can recall are "the vacations, and emergencies"--the high points and low points.

* Why can't we have a friend of the opposite sex--or of the same sex, for that matter--even if we are married? The answer, as Dr. Glass explained, is that nothing is wrong with a married person launching a friendship outside of matrimony--so long as the "walls and windows" of the relationship remain in the correct places. It was Glass's theory that every healthy marriage is composed of walls and windows. The windows are the aspects of your relationship that are open to the world--that is, the necessary gaps through which you interact with family and friends; the walls are the barriers of trust behind which you guard the most intimate secrets of your marriage. What often happens, though, during so-called harmless friendship, is that you begin sharing intimacies with your new friend that belong hidden within your marriage. You reveal secrets about yourself--your deepest yearnings and frustrations--and it feels good to be so exposed. You throw open a window where there really ought to be a solid, weight-bearing wall, and soon you find yourself spilling your secret heart with this new person. Not wanting your spouse to feel jealous, you keep the details of your new friendship hidden. In so doing you have now created a problem: You have just built a wall between you and your spouse where there really ought to be a free circulation of air and light. You have just established the perfect blueprint for infidelity without even noticing.

* My father once joked--not really joking--that my mother manages about 95 percent of his life. The wonder of it, he mused, is that she's much more upset about the 5 percent of his life that he won't relinquish than he is about the 95 percent that she utterly dominates.

* While he expresses zero tolerance toward idiots and incompetents, I think that behind every incompetent idiot there lies a really sweet person having a bad day.

* As an old friend of mine once told me, you can measure the happiness of a marriage by the number of scars that each partner carries on their tongues, earned from years of biting back angry words.

* A surefire indication that flooding is imminent is when you start using the words "always" and "never" in your argument, as in: "You always let me down like this!" or "I can never count on you!" Such language absolutely murders any chance of fair or intelligent discourse.

* Schopenhauer believed that humans, in their love relationships, were like porcupines out on a cold winter night. In order to keep from freezing, the animals huddle close together. But as soon as they are near enough to provide critical warmth, they get poked by each other's quills.


* I always remember a story my friends Julie and Dennis told me about a horrible fight they'd had on a trip to Africa together, early in their marriage. Whatever the original dispute may have been, they can't even remember to this day, but here's how it ended up: One afternoon in Nairobi, the two of them became so enraged at each other that they had to walk on opposite sides of the street toward their mutual destination because they could no longer physically tolerate each other's proximity. After a long while of this ridiculous parallel marching along, with four defensive lanes of Nairobian traffic between them, Dennis finally stopped. He opened his arms and motioned for Julie to cross the street and join him. It seemed to be a gesture of conciliation, so she conceded. She walked over to her husband, softening along the way, fully expecting to receive something like an apology. Instead, once she got within speaking distance, Dennis leaned forward and gently said, "Hey Jules? Go fuck yourself." In response, she stomped off to the airport and immediately tried to sell her husband's plane ticket back home to a perfect stranger.

Have a wonderful weekend and thank you so much for your positive feedback on my blog.


No comments: