In Defense of Marriage
October 30, 2008
Three years and one day ago, I got married. And then shortly after that, I wrote a post about getting married, which has become one of the most popular things I've ever written. If I have to be known for something, I'll definitely take that as a good representation of my work.
But one of the ideas that I didn't talk about back then was what a terrible reputation marriage has. Having had most of my impressions of marriage and weddings informed by popular culture and the examples of society around me growing up, I got a rather skewed vision of what married life is like. This is especially true because my marriage started in a way that was necessarily very different from that of my parents. (Theirs was, by western standards, an "arranged" marriage, though I wouldn't describe the situation quite so glibly.)
At any rate, here's what nobody ever told me about being married and having a wife and maintaining a marriage, based on (an admittedly rather limited, compared to long successful marriages) a great three years.
- It's fun! You've got somebody you like who goes with you wherever you go, and it's someone who knows your sense of humor and what kind of food you like and what makes you laugh. BFF!
- It doesn't have to be full of bullshit and drama like your single life. None of that "I don't know if this is what I really want." or "It's not you, it's me." idiocy. You're in there, you're up for the task, and things can just work smoothly every day if you let them. Awesome.
- It reduces your sense of obligation. You get an instant get-out-of-jail-free card for any event or external commitment that you don't want to go to, whether for legitimate reasons or not. You can just talk about how an obligation to your spouse and family takes precedence over whatever else is going on, and any reasonable person has to concede that your absence is justified.
- It's so much less work to go out. Like a lot of guys I know, I was always working when I was single. You have to be "on" all the time, obeying that compulsive curiosity of whether that latest person who walked into the room was The One. If you're like me, there was a lot of subconscious effort going into the work of always talking to the prettiest girl in the room. Now I still do it, I just bring her with me.
- The Ball and Chain is for Losers. I can't emphasize this enough. Adult men I knew growing up, or stereotypical sitcom dads on TV, were always talking about how "the old lady won't let me" just go and do whatever fun thing they wanted to do. News flash: If that's your life, it's both of your faults for being lame, uncommunicative, lazy bastards. Don't settle for misery. If my wife or I want to go do something, we just let the other know, and if the other person's not up for it, no problem. If they wanna tag along, even better.
- Married people are hot and getting hotter. I had never really done well, anything athletic before I got married. I'm hardly Michael Phelps now, but I am in the best shape of my life, and weigh a few pounds less than I did the day I got married. My wife is in terrific shape (if you're in or near NYC, go watch the Marathon this weekend and cheer her and her 30,000 closest friends on!) and I think we're both dressing better than we ever have. Even though I'm still very self conscious about the idea of exercising at all, I do it because it's fun and makes me feel good, not because anyone's nagging at me to get off the couch. Amazing what positive motivation can do.
- You can just say "screw everybody else" sometimes. Just like you don't have to feel compelled to socialize all the time, being married means you don't have to justify your weird political beliefs or obscure hobbies or bizarre musical tastes to anybody. You've got one person who's got your back (or puts up with your eccentricities) and if some other random stranger doesn't like it, who cares?
- You can have sex whenever you want. Perhaps the most pernicious and horrible thing people continually say about married life is that you either don't have a sex life or that it gets boring. Tip: If the sex sucks, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG.
- You become less of an asshole. All the petty insecurities of the pre-adult years of your life, all the grievances you faced when your only family members you dealt with were those you were born with — those things start to fade away in a happily married life. If, as is the case for me, both partners genuinely love each other's family, you get a really great set of bonus relatives. In cases when people aren't that lucky, you at least get another sympathetic pair of ears to listen to your complaining about how crazy your family is.
The thing is, I'm not saying being married is easy, or that it's 100% fun. But it mostly is! I feel like I got hoodwinked as a single guy because I heard marriage described so often as some cross between a prison, being grounded as a misbehaving teen, and being castrated. I don't doubt that lots of people make mistakes in who they marry, and I am not trying to be a pollyanna about the very real fact that a successful marriage takes a lot of dedicated effort, or that some people just can't make it work even with their best efforts. But most marriages work, even if the people who don't get it quite right end up being a lot louder about it. And even then usually take another run at it, or a couple of runs at it, until they get it right.
That brings me to my last point. I believe in this institution, and I do believe it makes society better, if only for the simple reason that it tends to make guys like me act much less like assholes than we're inclined to be when we're single.
But just forty one years ago, my marriage may well have been illegal. As a proud and unrepentant lifelong advocate and practitioner of miscegenation, my lifestyle would have been outlawed in many states, and not recognized as legitimate even in some territories where it wasn't explicitly legal.
It is now a historical inevitability that our country will legalize marriage for all couples. Though the fight is particularly polarized right now, and we will naturally face serious setbacks on the way to civil rights for all, I believe the time is close. As we saw in the fight against interracial marriages, the forces against progress are most extreme and invested right when they realize that history is against them. Naturally, my wife and I have donated to support No on Prop 8 in California.
But my motivation isn't political in this, it's simple and personal and based on my experience as someone who is, and has been, truly in love. In the months before my wife and I got engaged, we got to see a couple who we admire and respect whisk their way up to New Paltz, to get married on the only day that they'd be able to do so. These friends of ours have a simple love that is obviously apparent to anyone who's ever met them. That they had to have such a sense of urgency, such an awareness of fleeting opportunity, around an event as momentous as their wedding day, is a blemish on the concept of marriage itself.
Fortunately, we got to take away a much better message. My wife and I saw that people we care about can get married on their own terms, that it doesn't have to be the scary, joyless institution that it's so often portrayed as. Instead, we saw a couple of our friends who have an obvious and abiding sense of humor, who helped us redefine the concept of marriage in our minds so that it could be something fun and stress-free and fulfilling. And it made us comfortable enough with the idea that we knew we were ready to get married ourselves.
It's easy to say "oh, he wants to score political points by saying a gay marriage inspired him to propose to his wife". While that description is accurate, it's not the emotional truth of what happened. What happened was that seeing a real, honest, unconventional-but-honest marriage inspired my wife and I to commit to one another, which has brought me the greatest and most lasting joy of my life. It is something I'm generally private about, a quiet victory for my own sense of justice.
But there was just a brief window in which our friends' relationship could enjoy the dignity of a simple wedding. There are those determined to shut that window again, though the effort will be futile in the long run. So I'd be remiss if I didn't take the time to point out that denying the right of marriage to any of us attacks and disrespects the institution of marriage for all of us. As it turns out, marriage is worth defending, no matter what you might see on TV.
And to my wife, happy anniversary. I like you!