The decision to get married—I would venture to say that it’s the most important decision of our lives.
And though we might say it’s reversible, its consequences may not be.
Maybe I’m being dramatic. Or am I?
Marriage is the default position of our culture. It’s what little girls are conditioned to want—through TV dramas and comedies, Disney movies, cartoons, commercials, and the like.
Marriage is security. Marriage means having a fundamental question of life handled. Or does it? About half of the time, the answer is no. (And in the other half of cases, it’s still questionable.)
I believe most of us get married as much out of fear as from a place of love:
Fear of growing old alone.
Fear of not having someone to go through an otherwise lonely life with.
Fear of not having someone we can depend on for help when we inevitably will need it.
Fear of dying alone.
These are all legitimate fears. Essentially, they are real.
My major qualm is the notion that marriage somehow solves these existential dilemmas. Not necessarily. If you’re looking for ultimate security and stability from these incredibly inconvenient unknowns, there is no guarantee that marriage will be your salvation.
And besides—you’re choosing out of fear.
I believe that instead of marriage as the default, being free should be the default:
Free to choose.
Free to love.
Free to live.
In whatever way that means to you!
We are so conditioned, however, that we don’t even know what or who is doing the choosing.
How do we know something is our desire? How do we know that we’re coming from a place of love and not fear? How do we know if we’re living and choosing based on a fantasy or reality?
Just like some argue there should be a waiting period for guns, maybe we should have a waiting period for marriage—and not just an engagement. I’m mostly joking, but not really. At the very least, you should have to see a therapist and make sure that you’re both in it for the right reasons (i.e., love and not fear).
But it’s so hard! It’s hard to see ourselves—our motivations—clearly!
A good first step is to just consider the possibility that you don’t really know your driving forces. That perhaps, just perhaps, what you think is driving your decisions is not totally and truly the case.
None of us want to be fooled. None of us want to admit that we’re not in charge of ourselves.
We believe we know what we want. How do we know? Because we feel it.
But feelings are tricky.
Again, how do we know if something is coming from someplace real or if it has been implanted within us, perhaps before we even got on the scene?
Heidegger (who has been pretty much taken off the shelves in most academic institutions for his relationship to Nazism but nonetheless had some good ideas), called this notion “being thrown.” We weren’t just born into a tabula rasa, a blank slate situation. We were born into a whole culture of doctrines, dogmas, expectations, values, morals, and the like. We were thrown into this world. And we drank and grew up from its bosom.
So none of us are really the sole generators of our desires. I argue that the vast majority of us can’t separate what we really want from what we were trained to want.
Now, I’m not saying that marriage is a bad thing. I am saying we shouldn’t sleepwalk into marriage. We should choose it—if we do—after much deliberation and consideration. And contemplation.
Otherwise, we risk waking up one day—literally and figuratively—in a life that doesn’t feel like our own.
How did I get here? It’s a question that many people wake up and ask themselves a few years into their marriages. We wake up into a life that we didn’t really choose. Rather, it was chosen for us: I’m X years old, we think. I guess it’s time to get married. Everyone around me is getting married. I guess it’s time for me to settle down, too.
We have to be vigilant and only act from a space that is of our own choosing.
Anything that’s common wisdom is suspect—because the problem with common wisdom is that what’s good for some people is not necessarily good for everyone.
Everyone has their own unique timeline. Not just to everything a season, but to everyone, too.
Life is a mystery. And that makes it unsettling.
One of the ways we seek to reduce this unsettledness is to make decisions that bring stability to our lives.
Can you start to see, however, how this desire to reduce the anxiety which confronts us—the unknown—is really running the whole show? And therein lies the problem: choosing the possibility of safety out of fear. It definitely assuages the fear; well, at least for a while. But ultimately we can’t run from our fears, particularly our fear of nonbeing.
Any major life decision that we choose from fear will eventually fall apart.
The marriage may remain intact, legally, but that doesn’t mean there’s any life in it.
If you want to get married, get married!
But I challenge each and every one of us to do some real soul-searching first. Don’t make this decision while asleep.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
~ Dylan Thomas
Bonus: The One Buddhist Red Flag to Look out For.
Author: Alex Obed
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
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