Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Marriage Industrial Complex: Toward a New Paradigm

As a single 39-year-old woman living in New York City, at times I have had to deal with the societal stigma of remaining “Unmarried.” I feel that I handle it well in that I have learned to accept that being single is not a curse. I enjoy much more freedom than most of my friends who are married. I have had the time to become truly self-actualized. I know who I am and am clear about what I require as an individual to be happy and to remain sane. I did not know many of these things when I was 29 or 30. I did not know many of the things that I now know about myself a year ago.

This process of unfolding and of self- discovery could not have taken place; in my opinion in the realm of matrimony, as it currently exists. For me, marriage has in the past and for the most part continues to be a union based on ownership and the death of the individual, in favor of a collective identity, which is based upon an image or archetype that does not represent the truth of who the individuals happen to be or who the individual wishes to become. In marriage, the man for example, often becomes a symbol of strength and the dutiful provider. The woman is more often than not, is reduced to the role of mother and caretaker and both somehow not only lose the sacred spark that once flowed between them, but many of their personal dreams and aspirations go unsupported.

Now of course all marriages are not like this and all of us know at least one couple ,who for us represents the perfect union of “selves.” They are the couple that seems to be able to remain true to themselves and their relationship. They both have fulfilling careers and manage the arduous task of raising children seemingly effortlessly. They travel the world together, she sings he plays piano and there is not a hint that one is sacrificing their personal happiness or identity for the sake of the other. All is not perfect their world, of course, but they make it work beautifully like a well-performed duet with each one singing their part in perfect harmony. But this is not the case for most people I know.

For many, marriage has been a wake-up call and a struggle. I have witnessed people that I know, become less of who they were once married. Once vibrant and outgoing, they now are a mere shadow of thier former selves. I have also witnessed friends and family members endure physical, emotional and psychological abuse for the sake of the “union.” I have witnessed people stay in bad marriages because they were worried about what “others” would think if they divorced. Much fanfare, energy and money went into producing a fantastic wedding. Less went into the maintenance and support of the marriage. In my opinion this does not have to be.

For me, the reason why so many marriages end in divorce and end up destroying people’s lives (Many friends have proclaimed to me: “If I knew what marriage was really like, I would have never gotten married,”Or once divorced, say that they will never marry again: “It’s just not worth the trouble or the heartache.”) has to do with the unrealistic and archaic expectations that are placed upon people who get married. The current paradigm that exists simply does not match the reality and demands of modern day living. As a society we need re-examine and overhaul the current system and create a new paradigm that reflects the reality of who people are today. Women are feircely self suffcient and independent and no longer need to get married so that they can be protected under the law, and men no longer need to marry and have a house full of children so that can have help working the land. Those were some of the practical reasons that people got married centuries ago.

For me, modern times require that marriage exist as a sacrament between two individuals who agree to support each other in becoming better people. In that instance, people have to know a bit about themselves and what they really want. People have to ask each other questions to make sure that they are on the same page emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. More often than not, this is not the case. Comedian Chris Rock put it rather crudely: “If you are a Born Again Christian and your husband is a crack head, it ain’t gonna work.” The deeper message is if the essence of who you are is diametrically opposed to that of your partner it cannot work, but couples who barely have a clue about who they are and want they want rush to the alter everyday and sign up to participate in what has become an industrial complex, a business that is feuled by issuing tickets to enter instant "Holy Matrimony".

I say let’s create something that will help marriages serve individuals and families better than they are currently serving us. It benefits society when there are healthy and happy marriages. It creates strong families and stronger foundations and allows individuals to prosper. In support of this, why not offer free premarital classes where successful couples volunteer to share the secrets of their marriage's success? Also, make it mandatory that folks get at least 6 months of pre-marital counseling before they are eligible to apply for a marriage license. Provide a required reading list. One book that I happen to own is called 500 Hundred Questions You Should Ask Before You Get Married. It seems absurd but there are many things people neglect to ask each other like “Do you believe in Abortion” or “What role will religion play in the lives of our children.” These are all important questions that people need to ask each other. Ensure that couples take a financial management course. I have seen more marriages go down the drain because one person had a spending addiction or a gambling addiction that the partner was unaware existed.

I have a friend who is a Sexologist. He created a basic questionnaire called a "Joining Questionaire" that he would give to couples and ask them to complete. Most could not. They knew that if they asked themselves the hard questions now that they might not make it to the alter.

One thing I know is this: If I ever find someone who I would consider spending my life with I would require that we spend some serious time doing “The Work” and asking ourselves the hard questions upfront. I have watched too many of my friends experience a great deal of heartache and pain because their good intentions toward one another and their deep love for each other simply was not enough!

A good marriage is much more than chance or a twist of fate. Like most things in life, a successful marriage requires learned skills that require hard work and both an individual and collective comittment to growth and evolution.