Throughout our engagement Justin and I have encountered a lot of opinions about the institution of marriage. Beyond the many congratulations and excited praise, hover a surprising number of admonitions that we just can’t seem to shake. “Why would anyone get married?” “Are you ready to give her half?” “Is it too late to talk you out of it?” Judgements and bile stem from the bubble of our happiness and we have found ourselves opening e-mails to off color comments, subject to blows at work, and taken aback by disdain from family members. Even a prospective stationer asked if he could talk us out of our nuptials before he provided a quote for our invitations. I knew that weddings would always be a subject of derision, but marriage? Marriage?
Why you will marry the wrong person
I didn’t think that getting engaged would pit us against every backwoods clod who has ever had a marital opinion, but as we’re already here, a scant seventy days from tying the knot ourselves, I feel I should at least try to defend it.
Marriage, all the naysayers agree, just doesn’t work. It’s a naive, expensive, antiquated institution that should be as hard to get into as it is to get out of. Marriage is unnatural, they say, infidelity to be expected, ex-husbands and wives will ruin you in all possible ways.
We were even sent an article published in the New York Times entitled Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person, and as Justin and I read its overly specific complaints about wedlock we had to make a decision. Sure some marriages fail, we decided, but ours wouldn’t. These cautionary tales just didn’t apply to us. How could anyone on the cusp of a lifetime together believe for a second that this isn’t as good as it gets? That this won’t get exponentially better? That this isn’t the person they’re meant to be with for the rest of their god given days?
The Fallacy of Marriage
There is something, perhaps, viciously naive about marriage, something that we as a society flagrantly ignore at the outset of wedlock. Young adults, nay, children, fall into three year relationships, and without even knowing themselves decide to make a lifetime commitment to another human being.
The victims of matrimony, the divorcees, the headstrong need to warn the credulous of the drudgery of marriage! They must write articles upending the institution, dissuade the youth via e-mail, they must banter with unsuspecting fiancés on sales calls. And I don’t blame them! They’ve been burned by the whole concept of marriage, they’re offended by its very existence. But what would cautionary tales have done to prevent their own unwitting mistakes? The newly engaged are doe-eyed and hopeful, naive and bull headed, and why not? It’s wonderful. They’re in love. They know their partner inside and out, and they won’t make the same dumb mistakes as everyone else.
Perhaps, what all those veterans want to impart is the incredible fallacy of marriage. That we could ever know a person completely, that we could know how their themness will hold up to the millions of possibilities in life. The more grievous fallacy is that we could ever really know ourselves, that we can predict our own actions across the multitude of future experience, from gut exploding joy to the soul wringing catacombs of grief and every nuanced vacillation in between. How could we know beyond a figment of a doubt that we’ll survive every behemoth that crosses our paths? The truth is, we don’t.
The Biggest Bet
The way I see it, though, none of that really matters. The romance in marriage is not in the idea that true love lasts a lifetime (though I hope that it does), it’s not even in the promise of love. It’s in the biggest bet you’ll ever make.
Marriage is saying I see the odds, I know this is a long shot, and I know we’ll be disasters if this fails, but I will still risk everything for a chance at eternal friendship with you.
It is still the ultimate romantic gesture, the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate partnership and the ultimate risk. To be entwined emotionally, financially, physically, and familially is euphoria if it works, but devastating if it doesn’t. There are no contingencies in marriage. Get it right, this thing you’ve never done before and know nothing about, or literally lose everything.
So you bet on your partner, for better or for worse. You try to get it right, and sometimes you don’t.
But it's the gamble that's important. You trust your gut, you imagine the jackpot, the lifetime of possibilities, of adventure, of friendship, and when it all feels right, when your gut tells you to dive in, you do. And what’s the harm in that, anyways? What’s life if you never take those odds? What’s the game if you never decide to play?
One Giant Leap Into the Unknown
So I leave you with this, haters of marriage, the burned, the skeptical, the cynics of the world (but mostly our immediate lives). Maybe marriage is a long shot. Maybe it’s unpredictable on its best days, chaotic on its worst. But maybe if you can keep around that feeling that you two can outsmart this thing, that you were born better than the rest, and you’ll work harder than all of them, then maybe marriage won’t be the death of you.
Once all the paperwork’s signed, you still won’t know where you’ll be in ten, twenty, fifty years — cold bones, maybe, miserable with ten kids, caring for an invalid child or parent or pet. But you have to bet that even through all of the mystery and tragedy and joy of life, that your marriage will endure, and that your partner will make you strong enough to conquer anything. It’s an impossible bet to make, a completely outside shot, a finger’s crossed leap into the abyss.
But that’s the really beautiful thing about marriage, that you’ve found someone you want to risk it all for, and, against all odds, they decide they want to bet on you too.
So rings on, sweaty palms entwined, you leap. You defend marriage because all you can do is believe in it. You give it your best shot and you hope against hope that your partner’s going to give it their best shot too.