MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE

You’re probably going to hate this one.

The institution of marriage has truly declined in the last few decades, but not in the conventional way so popularized by contemporary moralists. I’m talking about the growing disregard for magic.

We’ve reduced the objective of marriage from that of a semi-mystical union of two souls to a ritualized dance of political forces standing in perpetual opposition. We teach courses in how to negotiate within a marriage, how to balance each others' wants and obligations, how to behave in a multitude of situations to ensure that the spouses achieve parity of standing within the contract.

This state of affairs is disastrous beyond calculation.

When monogamy becomes akin to working in a mine, when desire is legislated according to the rules of double-entry bookkeeping, when fidelity is treated as payment for services rendered and the whole enterprise is run not according to the dictates of Eros but the regulations of OSHA and the NLRB, we become wage slaves, not lovers. Shareholders rather than partners.

Well, screw that. Have we gone completely nuts? Have we as a society reduced our expectations to such a low level that we transform connubial bliss into a corporate merger?

I think that a partner in a marriage should strive relentlessly to completely derail any notion of parity. You should be sneaky, conniving and underhanded in your quest to go out of your way as often as possible to ensure your wife’s happiness. Unbidden, you should make sure that by the time you go to bed at night, you’ve done more for your husband than he’s done for you, in as many small and large ways as possible. That you did more to give her a good day than she could hope to have done for you. His smile should break your heart. Her small surprise at a trifling kindness should make you glow. It should kill you to be away from her for even one night, and if he wants to buy a new set of golf clubs, you should insist he get the best on the market, regardless of the cost, and then shoo him off to the course to try them out, even if it’s your anniversary. Especially if it’s your anniversary. And if she’s been mooning over that ridiculously expensive set of earrings at Tiffany’s, just go and buy them, even if it means giving up that new set of clubs. If he lashes out at you occasionally, your first reaction shouldn’t be to hit back, but to think long and hard about what you might have done to provoke the outburst.

Your only motivation should be a love so deep you’d rather spend a month in jail than see her shed a single tear.

I mean it. All of it.

Now, if you feel that you’re being taken advantage of, that your sloppily excessive acts of selfless love are unappreciated — basically, if you feel that you don’t feel like doing any of these things — then get the hell out. If you’re spending a lot of time learning how to "work at" your marriage, having hundreds of meaningful little discussions about how you’re feeling, scheduling quality time, apportioning the workload according to written schedules, keeping separate bank accounts and having clinical discussions about who likes what in bed…get the hell out. You’re wasting both your lives and not doing each other any favors.

It’s become traditional to bemoan the rate of divorce in the US, which is the highest in the world. But I think that the high rate is a healthy sign, and should be greeted positively. It means that people no longer feel compelled to rot their lives away in unhappy unions, for what could be more miserable than to live day-to-day with someone you don’t love? It means a reduction in the volume of guilt because divorcees don’t need to feel dirty and heartless when they take up with other people, the way they would feel (or should feel) if they cheated on their spouses.

Divorce is a good thing. It’s a way out, and a faster one than doing the whole "let’s work at this marriage" thing only to realize that working at a marriage is like trying to will your blood pressure down: it’s a denial of the true state of things and, ultimately, it only makes things worse.

That doesn’t mean you don’t need to pay attention. It doesn’t mean you can get away with complacency and lack of consideration. You can’t, and you shouldn’t be the brunt of it either.

But if you find yourself in a constant state of resentfulness, if you discover that you’re spending too much time plotting major revenges for trivial slights, if you realize that you often lie in wait for just the right opportunity to slam your purported loved one with zingers so perfect that no response is possible…get the hell out.

What about staying together for the kids? Good idea. They’re really going to appreciate growing up in a home filled with bitterness and resentment. They’re going to have a great model for how to run their own marriages and might even get a kick out of being used as a political football as each parent tries to curry special favor just to piss the other one off.

Does that mean you should split the first time you have an argument? Does it mean that you both won’t lose your tempers once in a while, or lash out in anger occasionally?

Of course not. No need to be precipitous. Use your head.

Just don't let your heart fool it.

 


from: A Practical Guide for Everyday Living, by Lee Gruenfeld
* Copyright 1996, 1997 by Steeplechase Run, Inc. - All Rights Reserved

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