15 November 2010

On love and marriage

Eeeek, I think! What on earth are you writing about this for? Well, it seemed appropriate to at least write down my thoughts on the matter rather than let them linger as a half-formed haze.

So why now? Well, I recently had a birthday (just over a month ago) and one of the things I think about is what other people have done or achieved by the time they were my age. The sad truth is, a lot of people have achieved a lot and I've done pretty much nothing.

As well as that, an increasing number of friends I have known through the years have been getting married or engaged, and their relative age to me seems to be getting lower and lower. This is coupled with pressure from friends and some family members to get married. To the best of my knowledge no one in my family (in my generation or my parents' generation) who has been married had their first wedding as old as I am. Of course, there have been some second marriages where they were older than I, and some have never married.

I have often said in my defence, when challenged on the issue, that marriage isn't for everyone and that I just happen to be one of those people for whom it isn't meant to be. I would like to expand on that a bit, so it appears less glib than it currently does.

I will aim to gradually move on from the simplest reasons for me staying as I am to the more deeply thought through.

I disagree with the Jane Austen school of thought regarding marriage; although it would be wrong of me to dismiss it as antiquated, given that my own view is more in line with the apostle Paul. He said that it is good for a man to stay unmarried, as he was. There is good reason for this. Marriage, and relationships in general, take up a lot of time. Now I'm a working chap and after I've done my work, my commute and my home duties (e.g. cooking, cleaning, ironing, etc.) I maybe get 1-2 hours genuine free time per evening. To me, these are the most valuable hours of the day. To some people, giving this up isn't a problem. I, however, am a misanthrope and find dealing with other people stressful and tiring. This is why you will generally not find me in a bar of an evening. So to relinquish the only genuine rest time I have by spending it with another person or people would leave me entirely drained and hence I would be a very poor boyfriend/husband.

The next issue we come to is that of free will and sanity. Deciding to marry or to enter into any kind of relationship is not a matter that one person can choose alone; it has to be a mutual decision between two people of sound mind and judgement. Again, my misanthropy rears its ugly head again, as to embark upon such an endeavour inevitably means relying on someone else. If there is anything in this world that comes close to a cast iron guarantee, it is that relying on someone else will eventually lead to them letting you down.

In addition to this, though, I'd have to ask myself what sort of person would ever want to choose me? If I'm the best that they can do, then they must be pretty desperate. That is not to say such people don't exist; indeed, I have met a few. Whilst each had their own unusual idiosyncrasies, I could never escape the uneasy feeling that either their eyesight was failing, or else I ought to tread carefully for fear of falling on a loose marble or two that was rolling on the floor.

This brings me to my next point, that of love. In order to enter into a relationship, there must be love there already. While indeed it grows over time, I am personally opposed to the notion of going out with someone for whom I did not already have at least a strong affection. But love is more than that; it is wanting what is best for another person. It is a self-sacrificial giving to another, wanting to do the best for them.

This seems to be a concept that has bypassed our society for some time, and there is a very bad case of mistaken identity when love is used as a word to describe desire. In this context, it is a selfish thing, always seeking its own end (or end away) and is characterised by a Machiavellian mindset of manipulation, control and conquest.

This particular viewpoint of mine is diametrically opposed to the notion of ownership that has crept into our vocabulary. People ask, “Have you got a boy/girlfriend?” as if they are asking, “Have you got a blender?”

I remember a talk I went to at university given by Rabbi Lionel Blue, who was living in the same building as me at the time, on the language used in the Old Testament in relation to marriage, and how it evolved. Not having studied Hebrew myself (remind me to do it sometime!) I chose to trust what he has to say on the matter. In fact, to begin with, the term 'take a wife' was used in precisely the same manner as one might take a kitchen utensil, with no consideration given to the wishes of the wife. Going further, there was no indication that anything resembling a modern marriage ceremony took place. It was a case of a man staying with the first woman he had sex with. One can barely stand to think of the abuses that could quite possibly have occurred at this stage in the development of society.

The revolution came when a man, wanting to divorce his wife, had to give her a certificate of divorce. Now, while this is still horribly one-sided and misogynistic, it does, for the first time, allow the woman a higher status than a pot.

We still live in an unequal world. There are those who want men and women to have indistinguishable roles in society, and there are also more than enough machismo men around, intent on putting women down at every turn. However, the truth remains that we are biologically different, though neither one is superior to another. In my opinion, society should reflect this; by recognising and celebrating our differences. The feminist movement was necessary in correcting inequalities in society, but some elements of the movement, and even the term itself, takes things a little too far the other way. So I would consider myself an egalitarian.

At this point, it seems right to return to an issue raised earlier: free will. I cannot force anyone to marry me, or even force them down the first step down that road. But more that, is the fact that even putting forward the proposition is a form of imposition. i.e. If I suggest something to someone that they had not previously thought of, then I am influencing their thoughts by forcing them to at least contemplate the idea. Now, in some cases this can be very good, particularly when it regards someone's well-being.

But who am I to claim that forming any kind of relationship with me would be beneficial to the other party? If you really love someone, you want what is the best for them. I know that I am not the best for anyone, so the most loving thing I can do is let someone go. I think is reflected in my choice of romantic films. For the most part, I can't stand them and would far prefer a horror, fantasy or tragic melodrama. However, there are a few romantic films that I love. They are Casablanca, Once, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Truly, Madly Deeply. With the exception of Eternal Sunshine, they involve one of the protagonists ultimately having to give up the one they love, wishing the best possible future for them, in spite of whatever consequences they face themselves.

The final point I want to make is about the nature of long term. If you've followed me so far (which would rare) and agreed with me (even rarer) then you may be thinking, “Well, if you're not going to marry, that's fine enough, but why not have some fun and least date?” Now it is often said that men are scared of commitment. The only kind of committal I'm scared of is the One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest variety. In fact, I tend to scare women about the issue of commitment, by being rather forthright. I see no point in dating if you cannot foresee the possibility of marriage at the end of it. It's not a purposeless exercise. So for me to even ask someone out is, in my mind, only to be undertaken if you have the aim of marrying them. That is not something to be done lightly or done under any kind of whim, as marriage is a serious matter. On that basis, I have never actually asked anyone out. Any relationships I have had (and let's be honest, more people have set foot on the moon than have had to endure going out with me!) have always come about from the natural evolution of an existing friendship, even if one or two them have been slightly accelerated on the part of one or other of the participants. This reluctance has to led to the frustration of one or two I've known who have waited for me to ask them. And they kept waiting and waiting and waiting before eventually getting bored and heading off with someone else. What amuses me is when I get told this by her slightly tipsy chief bridesmaid at her wedding reception several years later.

This then leads to a secondary quandary. What sort of friendship must you have in order for it to develop further? Given what I said in the preceding paragraph, it wouldn't be right to embark upon a relationship with a total stranger. So I don't do any form of 'blind dates.' But at the other end of the spectrum, I wouldn't want to go out with my best friend. No matter what your intentions at the start of a relationship, you have to consider the possibility of breakdown. I've seen it happen dozens of times in close friends and I've done it myself. If you go out with a really close friend and it doesn't work out, more often than not, that friendship is ruined as well as the relationship. And the repercussions afterwards are long and deep. That is one particular situation I would be more than happy to avoid forever.

So, you see, there's a very small window of opportunity whereby you can minimise embarrassment and heartbreak. There's also the small matter, and this is particular to christians, of regarding women as sisters. Now I'm the sort of person who does think of the other young women in the church as additional sisters. And for.....erm....obvious reasons, you don't date your sister! So then, what can I say in conclusion?

While there may have been periods in the past when relationship and marriage may have been something I desired, the only reason I ever did so was for selfish reasons. For that, I should not be allowed to have either of those things. I can be content as I am and with what I have.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this, particularly your level-headedness and matter-of-fact-ness about how one might go about choosing a mate. Before I decided to go out with my now husband, I wrote a list of pros and cons which included potentially losing the friendship, hurting him, being hurt etc. I was also trying to know whether or not we would be suited as marriage partners. But we needed the 'courtship' to help us make that decision.

    I like the fact that you highlight the necessity of being there for someone else and investing in the relationship. I really like the fact that you identify that being married is about self-sacrificial love; too many people just side-step this. (I remember asking myself - would I want to be married to him if he had a
    stroke and I had to be his carer? The answer was yes: but I reeeeeeally hoped it wouldn't happen. As it turned out, it was I who became disabled, and he has had to take care of me.) But I think the decision to commit to self-sacrificially loving someone is easier when you're crazy about someone! Chemistry and emotions do have their place!

    I like a lot of what you say, and the fact that your approach is governed by biblical principles rather than Hollywood schmulz. But I also feel an uneasiness with some of what you say - that as a misanthrope/introvert who is short of time that that means that someone would have to be 'desperate' in order to be in a relationship with you? That doesn't ring true for me. Call me a diehard romantic if you will, but I would happily entertain the possibility that there may be a similarly introverted, intelligent, thought-through type with whom you could go shopping on a Saturday, hating the world together. And she would be a lucky girl.
    :-)

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