Most of the Western world seems to have had a good laugh this week at an unidentified Arab ambassador to Dubai.
This gentleman rushed to annul his marriage contract and cancel his wedding after he finally got a look at his bride-to-be’s face and realized she was cross-eyed and had a beard. She’d worn a niqab, a heavy veil, during their courtship, so he’d never actually laid eyes on her until moments before they tied the knot.
It’s a great story, and it does seem pretty silly to marry a woman when you haven’t even seen her face.
But before we laugh too hard at another culture’s ridiculous, sentimental notions, maybe we should take a look at some of our own.
The People’s Therapist is well aware that he sounds like a grinch when he writes about this subject, but here goes.
Marriage makes no sense. It is a lot of sentimental clap-trap.
And I’m sorry, gay folks, but you’re out of your minds if you think this tired old convention is going to make you any happier than it’s made the heteros.
A couple is happy because it’s happy. Getting married, if it has any effect at all, usually only helps to break you up.
Before you start drafting that angry comment, consider the reality of a wedding. You stand with your partner, your best friend, someone with whom you share a very personal, private relationship – in front of a roomful of family, friends and near-strangers. What do you do in front of all those people? Promise you will stay together forever.
No one can promise that.
A relationship takes place in the moment. You probably have a shared dream – someplace you want to go together, and that’s great. But no one knows if that dream will last, or if you’ll get there. That’s why it’s a dream.
Relationships are like movie film – lots of tiny boxes with a little piece of shared experience captured in each one. When you take all those little moments of shared experience and line them up, it tells a story that seems inevitable. But it never was inevitable, and there’s no way to know what’s coming next.
The worst part is that couples often become hyper-focused on the wedding itself. These affairs can be enormous undertakings nowadays, which grow into monsters that gobble your life. The wedding -essentially a big party for your relatives – can become the shared dream.
That means, when the wedding’s over…there’s nothing left to chase. Some couples find themselves staring at one another, blinking in the sunlight, wondering what to do next. And that thing to do next might not be something they want to do together.
Maybe the ultimate reason I’m so down on marriage is that I’m a therapist, and I’ve seen divorce, up close and personal. And yes – gay divorce, too.
I don’t know if it’s the rotten state of divorce laws – they date back to the Victorian era, when a woman was essentially a piece of property – or just the broken dream itself, but people can lose their minds during divorces. I’ve seen couples sue one another until they’re both bankrupt, and then keep suing. The lawyers are happy to take their money until there’s none left, at which point they walk away and leave the unhappy partners to battle it out on their own.
But most marriages end that way. In divorce. In the US, 50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce.
I’m sorry. I might be the Grinch. But I didn’t invent that reality. It just is.
Instead of bemoaning the death of family – or whatever you want to call it – how about we face the fact that you can’t judge the quality of a relationship based upon its longevity. You might spend a marvelous three years with someone and decide that it’s time to move on. Or you might stay together for sixty years and be totally miserable.
It’s not about staying together with the same person forever. It’s about finding something that works in the moment – the here and now – and enjoying it. Wake up each and every day as though it were the first day all over again, and decide then and there if it’s where you still want to be. If it is – great. It is isn’t – also great.
Why does that seem so awful?
Because there’s a child inside you who longs for stability. All children crave stability – it’s what they thrive upon. And marriage regresses us into that child.
An adult doesn’t need a relationship or a ceremony to provide him stability. He carries it within himself. He can leave one relationship, be by himself, or enter another relationship. It doesn’t matter that much. He’ll do just fine.
An adult doesn’t need a parent – he contains his own parent. His partner can be his friend, his ally, his playmate, his companion – his equal.
An adult is a whole person, not a half person. And if the other whole person leaves to try something different, he remains a whole person.
I suspect there ought to be some sort of legal protection for couples who have children. Perhaps civil union is the answer for those legal issues.
But traditional marriage is a silly, out-dated custom.
When you pull up the veil, and see what’s really there, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise.