As I’ve mentioned before, I like to read the Vows section of the Sunday New York Times.
Today I read an article about a recently married couple who met while they were married to other people. They fell in love while still married and managed to separate from their respective spouses before making the relationship physical.
“Sucks to be the respective spouses,” I thought, “but what else could this couple do?”
I encourage all of you to read the short article before continuing.
When reading the comments I was struck by how scathing the majority of the comments were! The most common word used to describe the featured couple was “selfish,” and many of the readers lamented their poor children who would grow up in broken homes. These readers assumed a few things:
- The children would be traumatized and irrevocably damaged
- The newly married couple was chasing a fleeting, hot passion
- Marriage should be valued in and of itself
I was caught off guard by the comments and realized that I didn’t agree with any of those assumptions. Maybe so many people reacted this voraciously to the article because it threatened their own marriages. The story is, after all, the realization of one of the worst fears we have.
I discussed the article in depth with friends and coworkers. For people who are very statistically similar to me, I had no idea that we could have such different ideas about marriage.
One of my coworkers, whose religiosity affects her views on this issue, believes that marriage should based on logic. He can provide for my family, he’d be a good father, he is laid-back while I am uptight, etc, etc. The following comment by username “Edwards” pretty much sums up my coworker’s opinion: I hope that my legacy to my son will be that I was a man of honor and decency. I have no doubt that there are better fits for my wife than me. I also have no doubt that there are better fits for me than my wife. But I can live with that. Life is not perfect. We rejoice in the good things we do have, deal with the shortcomings we must endure, and seek to leave a good name to our son. My son needs to see faithfulness modeled. In good times and bad times. In sweet times, in sour times. What sort of message would I send to my son if I would so deeply hurt his mother (or she me) just so I could have selfish desires that may fade with time? No, I’ll keep on loving my wife, even if the “right one” moves in next door. There’s more at stake in this world than my own Hollywood ending…
You see through this comment that the marriage itself–the covenant between husband and wife–is more sacred than the individual. It is ‘honorable’ to stay true to that commitment come rain or shine and ‘selfish’ to sacrifice that commitment for the ‘right one.’
I don’t think this perspective is wrong; it just isn’t my own. This perspective is more practical. Marriages aren’t entered with the intention of being abandoned, and this way, they aren’t.
But I have to ask what value marriage has if it leaves its subscribers emotionally/spiritually wanting. Why do we value this institution in and of itself regardless of the happiness it brings? Why is selfishness all that bad?
“LA” from Minnesota wrote: Actually, in the absence of domestic abuse, kids don’t care all that much whether their parents are happy or not. They want an intact family most of all. And they deserve one.
Leaving aside the fact that LA’s comment may not actually be true, while we hold children so precious in our society, can’t they suck it up and deal? Life isn’t easy, it isn’t fair, and I don’t believe that a person should sacrifice his/her own happiness in order to give his/her children the illusion of an intact family. Think about day after day after day of knowing that you aren’t happy. Why aren’t we asking the children to make a sacrifice for the parents?
I’m not married and I don’t have children. Clearly it is impossible for me to fully understand. But my friends with divorced parents seem to be ok. In the case of Carol Anne and John in the article, they taught their children that they value being happy but that that doesn’t justify infidelity.
You can’t always promise to love someone forever, but they did stay physically faithful. I don’t think that should be overlooked. The whole thing was probably the most difficult thing they’ve ever done in their lives–but they chose happiness, they chose honesty, and they chose love. Doesn’t our society value those just as much as marriage?
Here is what reader “Dick Mulliken” wrote: I know some couples who have wonderful companionate marriages without the lightning. I know others who muddle through more or less successfully in spite of serious compatibility problems. And certainly that first electric moment of having found a soul mate is far from the best predictor of happiness. But 25 years ago my wife to be and I (both involved with others at the time) “looked across the crowded room” and KNEW. We have had 25 years of bliss and even ecstasy together. I still catch my breath when she walks in the room.
Is this too much to ask for? I want what Dick Mulliken has. And if I expend all my energy on trying to make it work, if I go to therapy, if I take up a hobby and I still can’t get it, I’m not settling.