This morning, a friend was telling me about how she recognizes now that she had no idea who her husband actually was/is when they got married within two months of meeting each other.
[picture by Marion Fayolle]
For most of my life, I’ve thought that a healthy and solid marriage can only happen after a couple has lived together for a few years, and that that should only start after a couple has dated for at least a year. I’ve thought that a healthy lifetime commitment can mostly only happen after a couple knows each other on a realistic and informed level, after the new relationship buzz has worn off, and after they have successfully worked through some of the deep and difficult stuff that eventually comes up between any couple if they are together long enough.
In other words, I’ve felt that a wedding ceremony should be a reflection of the fact that two people are basically “as good as married” already. I’ve felt that a healthy commitment grows out of already existing intimacy and trust that has been built up over a number of years through shared adventures and good times, a deep mutual familiarity, and occasional periods of hard emotional work together.
In this view, being unsure of a lifetime commitment for a few years is a sign of mental health. I’ve seen couples where one or both of them were unsure and not fully committed for many years, but, as those years went on, they slowly settled in and transformed into what seems to me to be a deep and pretty unshakable lifetime commitment.
I imagine that everyone who says wedding vows sincerely intends to stay true to the intention to stay devoted and true “forever” and “until death”, no matter what. But, obviously, as they say their vows, people often have limited idea what shit will eventually come up between them and their partner, and how hard it will be to deal with it. So – as we all know – divorce happens a fair amount in the world that we live in. Divorce happens less often, however, when people don’t get married until they are already pretty sure that they will be able to stay married.
And so, in this way of looking at things, getting married right away is usually a dumb idea – it’s people acting based on crazy love chemicals and wild fantasies that reality will never measure up to, without really knowing who the other person is, or how it will actually be to be with them as time wears on. And that’s how most insta-marriages have seemed to me most of my life – love-drunk, needy, impulsive, and doomed for eventual failure when reality inevitably sets in.
But of course, at some point in a relationship, sooner or later, for the relationship to continue there comes a time for a person to simply pull the trigger, and to say, “This person is imperfect, I’m imperfect, and we have some incompatibilities. We’ve had some rough spots, and I know that we’re going to continue to have challenges together. There’s probably lots I don’t yet know about my partner, and lots I don’t yet know about the sides of myself that will come up while in relationship with them … but, hey, that’s all going to be true about anyone I am with. And I have a special and deep enough feeling about this person, I feel so much love and see so much good here, that I say now: I’m all in on this, and that this is where I plant my flag. I’m letting down my guard, and I am taking my weight off of my doubts, my resentments, and my fears and putting it onto love, generosity, and trust. I’m down for this ride, wherever it takes me, and I am committing to make this work however I’m able”.
Obviously, most people wait a while before saying that. But I’ve started to notice that sometimes when people say that to each other not that long after meeting each other, it creates a container for both to feel relatively safe and to go deeper more quickly. In other words, instead of waiting for intimacy and trust to generate a commitment, commitment sometimes creates intimacy and trust.
It is my understanding that many American married couples of earlier generations met in their early twenties, got hitched and had kids within a couple years, and then figured out what they were doing together from there. My parents got engaged within a couple months of meeting each other and married within nine months, and my sisters and I came along over the next few years, and this year they are celebrating fifty years together. And, when I was in India, some of the locals, some of them notably sharp and emotionally clear people, told me that they felt that their arranged marriage system was great; “Here’s your partner for life; now, get to know them, stay together, and work it out” – and so they did.
Of course, in both the American past and in India, staying together and working it out as best able, and to avoid getting stigmatized for divorcing when things got hard, was enforced by religious priests, by grandma’s nosy questions, and by friends potential nasty gossip. For better or for worse, those constraining factors that don’t much exist in the world that I live in.
And, both methodologies of course have sometimes lead to loveless, low-trust, low-intimacy marriages where the people felt trapped together, or, (in not-India) an eventual messy divorce.
But still: in those models, it seems to me, commitment created intimacy and trust more often than it did not. Lately, I’ve noticed that at least a few breakneck-speed marriages that I’ve watched friends go through years ago, and that I doubted would last long, are still going strong. Rich Litvin talks regularly in public about how his wonderful marriage of many years to Monique started out with a proposal two weeks after he met her.
And my friend told me about her marriage this morning – they’ve run up against problems that they couldn’t have even imagined would be there when they got married within two months of meeting each other, but, she felt, their commitment was a lot of what has carried them through. She said that they have been working things out, it’s been hard work, but she felt like they had gotten to a good place.
I’m curious people’s thoughts about this.
As for me – I can’t imagine at any point in my life proposing to someone within a couple months of meeting them, or even within a year. Again, the model of settling in slowly and deliberately, and working many things out before getting married, has been what I’ve believed my whole life.
But I’m also starting to see the wisdom of the acting faster model, too. Maybe that’s because I’m forty-six and want to have kids, and predict I may have to act relatively fast when the time is right to create a committed relationship in which that can happen. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been married, and I look back and see that there were times when I could have pulled the trigger and didn’t. Or maybe it’s just because I am noticing more that love is a mystery that it’s hard to make firm rules about.