I can't even tell you how excited I am to share today's What Marriage Means to Me post! I don't know how I originally stumbled across The Duchy of Burgundy Carrots, but I've been a reader for quite a while and only recently found out that Karen (aka "the Queen of Carrots") reads FPL. She tackles the question I've been wrestling with since I started this series: If I can understand other people's reasons for not getting married, or for getting divorced, why do I still believe marriage is so important?
~~~I live at the intersection of two different worlds. One is my family and the friends I grew up among. In that world, I'm a daughter and a wife and a homeschooling mom. Here, marriage is accepted without question. It's permanent. It's necessary. It generates children, preferably a lot of them. And usually, it's happy.
My grandparents have been devoted to each other for sixty years. My parents were married for thirty-five years, and then after my mother's death my father married a widow who had cared for her severely injured husband for years. These are people who mean it when they say, "'till death do us part."
In the other world, I'm a lawyer, married to a lawyer, socializing with other lawyers. Lawyers aren't cynical by coincidence. No happy endings walk into a lawyer's office. In a courtroom, the divorce rate is 100%.
I've read enough files to know that there are often very good reasons for those divorces. But surely not for all. Not enough to explain why weddings have become nothing more than a really expensive party thrown at the midway point in a relationship. If everybody is really as selfish and irresponsible as their exes claim, the modern world wouldn't be able to function.
One evening an older attorney rhetorically questioned: Why even have marriage as a permanent institution at all? We don't have to sign a lease on office space forever. Why not just make it, legally, a temporary arrangement, with an option to renew?
I've thought a lot about that question since. I know why I, personally, want to stay married, but why does marriage matter as an institution? Does it matter? I also know that I no longer believe everything about the way I was brought up to view marriage and family life and the "roles" of men and women. But what do I still believe in enough tell my children about it?
I still believe marriage matters, to those outside it as well as within it. Marriage matters because people create and interact differently in a stable place than in a precarious place. Leased office spaces are all drearily alike; homes long in the same family are all unique (some gloriously so, some hideously so). A world of temporary housing is a duller world, and a world of temporary romance is a duller world.
Grownups as well as children need people they know they can trust. Relationships they know they can count on. It frees the mind and energy to know who you're going home with tonight, and next year, and next decade.
Monogamy is a powerful force for social growth, because it frees up most of adult life for things besides hunting for a mate. And at the same time, it's a crazy, dangerous, wild adventure, because people change. It's something you promise once, and something you have to choose all over again every day.
For me, marriage has meant getting to be with my best friend forever, the one whose opinion I always want to hear, the one who always makes me laugh and think and gives me the courage to be myself. It also means living with and helping someone who struggles to breathe and walk every day, on top of the work of a house and four children. It's really good and it's really hard.
And through the difficulty, the outside, the institution, shelters the inside, the relationship. Marriage is about us, but it's not just about us. It's about our parents and our children and our neighbors and our friends. If we crack, the brokenness spreads to them. If we stand together, we strengthen them. And they strengthen us.
Sometimes, of course, none of it is enough. Marriage is an ideal and an institution. It's not something we always live up to or succeed at. But it's worth trying for. It's even worth failing at.
That's something I still believe in enough to tell my children. Marriage matters, and waiting for marriage matters, because there is something irreplaceable about having someone that you genuinely trust with your whole life. You can't really trust someone with your whole body until you can trust them with your whole life. And if you do trust and love someone like that, then you won't be afraid to say so right out in front of God and everybody. The expensive party doesn't matter, the fancy flowers don't matter. But the promise does matter. And so does keeping it.
~~~Karen lives in the Northwest with her husband, Ron. They're better known as the Queen of Carrots and the Duke of Burgundy over at The Duchy of Burgundy Carrots. They have been married for eight years, four kids, seven moves, four career changes, and a partridge in a pear tree. (OK, scratch the pear tree, although we do have some raspberry bushes.) She has an unnatural fear of street grates, and she loves getting lost in the woods. She homeschools her kids, tries to practice law, and wishes she were writing.