Monday, November 7, 2011

“The world has grown suspicious of anything that looks like a happily married life.” ~Oscar Wilde

In the past several weeks, I have learned more than enough stories about trouble and deception in marriages among couples I know. Some of these marriages are only a few years old; others, decades. And as I hear stories of infidelity, betrayals, cruelty, accusations, and even crimes committed by one of the spouses, I am left with a feeling that I can't quite put my finger on. What makes it worse is all of the couples appeared to be in very happy, very solid relationships. If they were rocky, or relationships where they simply seemed to be tolerating one another, it would be different, and not nearly as shocking. But these are couples who, whether after years or decades, (superficially) stand for "happily ever after."

I am not so illogical as to swing wildly in either direction on the ideas of love and marriage. I do not think my own very new relationship is somehow impervious to such damage, that the two of us are such morally lofty people that we might never hurt each other. Nor do I believe that we are guaranteed to somehow destroy our relationship and each other. In fact, I don't think about this particular topic in terms of my own relationship's future at all. Because I don't have a crystal ball. Today, we're good. Tomorrow, we'll likely be good, too. Beyond that, it's a crapshoot. And that's reality. I won't doom us (in either direction) via speculation and internalization of other people's actions.

This issue provokes more of a bigger-picture, society-as-a-whole question: Are we somehow unrealistic in what we present as happy marriage? Do people do this stuff to each other more often than we think, and because it's so "wrong," we react with lynch-mob mentality, because it's too uncomfortable to face the truth? Perhaps this is a psychological question rather than a moral one. We know what's morally right and wrong. But we do these things anyway. We're driven by emotion. Psychologically, we want what we want, and we hope the moral center of the brain will kick in and make us see the light, but sometimes want kicks right's ass, and someone winds up in bed with someone else, or accuses his/her spouse of the same. Or any variety of crimes against matrimony.

I wonder if we are really unrealistic about what marriage really is. Or, at the very least, that there's a dark side to things, too. And maybe technology and our sudden and very recent desire to take our lives so public is just shedding light on the dark corners. I find it absolutely impossible to believe that infidelity (in its various forms) has become exponentially more common; maybe it's just become easier.

Assuming this is true leads me to another question: Why are we pretending? Why do we pretend that marriage can be this flawless thing? We are comfortable acknowledging some of the flaws in marriages: husbands expecting their wives' servitude; wives frustrating husbands because they shop too much. But these are benign in the grand scheme of what really is apparently going on. If we are more realistic about human nature, about the darkness inside us, will this change the way we view marriage? Will it improve it? Or will it destroy it altogether?

I attended a wedding this weekend, and I won't lie: Part of it gave me anxiety. Here's this young couple, she's all beautiful and they're all hopeful that they are going to have this happily ever after future. My aunt and I were saying we "just hope they stay married." But is that an unrealistic expectation? I couldn't hold my own marriage together. We made all the same promises. I was all sparkly and beautiful and hopeful on my wedding day. We were married 13 months. And we do this, over and over, because the afore-mentioned people, the beacons of happiness, make us believe that it can happen for us.

And then we find out the dark, ugly truth. We find out that people lead double lives, that one spouse has absolutely no idea that the other is carrying on a full-blown relationship with another person; we hear about people who betray their spouses in other ways, by making false accusations, by indulging in other proclivities, by putting everything on the line by committing a crime... After literally decades of marriage.

It boggles my mind. And it makes me wonder if we aren't doing all the new, young couples a complete disservice by not being realistic with them. Or maybe we hope they will be the ones to change thousands of years of behavior. That's a tall order.


  1. Once I got a better view of what being married is really like (by being married), I got really annoyed that the common portrayals of marriage are nothing like the reality and that few people I know have the balls to be honest about what marriage is like, how hard it is, how much it can suck sometimes. They only seem to want to show the rosy side, when in reality it's that good part that keeps you through the rest. I think people are being done a HUGE disservice by how dishonest modern portrayals of marriage are.

    I think, too, that what marriage is, is always shifting and that we don't have a handle on what it is currently - particularly in relation to women's roles. And I do think cheating has gotten so much easier, which has made it more frequent an occurence.

    I have one couple as friends who truly seem to have the most perfect marriage I could ever imagine existing, so when she says something about stuff being hard or marriage being difficult, I'm dying to scream, "What? What is so hard???" because I want to know because the rest of the time I'm beating myself up for not having her marriage. When someone like that admits marriage is hard, I feel cheated because I can't understand what she means.

    This got long. I'll shut up now. lol

  2. No, I absolutely agree with you... I think, considering the depth of this topic, you were rather concise. LOL.

    The rote "marriage has it's ups and downs" isn't good enough anymore. Maybe it NEVER was. Because no one tells you that the "downs" can be finding out your spouse is cheating, or that your spouse, who promised to honor and respect you can say horrid things and accuse you of things you never dreamed, or finding out after being together for 40 years that your spouse had a secret life.

    The toast at the wedding included a joke. The MOH asked the groom to put his hand on top of the bride's. She then said "This is the last time you'll have the upper hand in this marriage." And everyone laughed, but that mindset is REAL. That's why married guys complain about how they "aren't allowed" to do anything without permission. That seems so toxic to me. Recipe for disaster...

    I dunno. But I appreciate your take, especially as someone who is admitting how difficult it can be, but totally committed to sticking it out.

  3. This is a great post, Nikki. I have (obviously) never been married, but all that I hear about marriage is how much work it takes and I think that must be true (I mean, relationships by themselves require so much care, devotion, water and sunlight). It's disheartening though to think that we can't ever get it together and that all relationships (conversely, marriages) are doomed to fail. I want to remain optimistic when I go to weddings that this couple will weather the storm. But one just never knows. What happens behind closed doors. The indiscretions. The lies. The plates crashing. And I'm painting an obviously ugly picture. Not all marriages are this way. It just seems that I hear a lot more of the bad lately than the good.

    So who knows anymore.