Twenty years ago this week, two fools said "I do," having little or no idea what would go into the doing. It didn't last, of course, and instead of celebrating our anniversary this weekend, we're hundreds of miles apart complaining about the weather in our chilly Midwestern outposts.

The word "marriage" makes such a conventional noise to the contemporary ear that many people choose simply to tune it out. Whether this is a Good Thing or not is hard to quantify. Judging by the divorce rate, far too many people are getting married anyway. On the other hand, the one appealing aspect of marriage — a contract between two people who promise to stick it out through thick and thin and all the other variations on the theme — is downplayed, lest fear of commitment rear its ugly head.

In my particular age group, the divorced, demographics to the contrary, seem to outnumber the married. I'm not entirely sure why this should be so — are divorcés drawn to one another by commonality of experience? — but it seems that everyone has a horror story to tell about an ex who [fill in list of real and/or imagined crimes] right up until the breaking point. Well, everyone except me, but that's another story.

With all these frightful tales of woe being circulated, it's a wonder to me that so many try a second, even a third, time. (After three, you start to look for pathological motivations.) The reasons, I imagine, are twofold: there are certain legal advantages to getting married — though not available to all couples wanting them, owing to fervid opposition by the terminally dim — and our culture continues to represent marriage as the ultimate expression of love, wishful thinking at its finest.

Still, when you get right down to it, there are worse ways to lead your life. And while a combined existence can drive you up the wall screaming, loneliness can leave you huddled in the corner shivering, which is not an improvement. The trick is to find some sort of definition that both partners can accept for themselves. The "family-values" crowd — you know them, I know them — insist that they own some sort of copyright on the concept of marriage. As usual, they are wrong, but the egregiousness of their wrongness should not be a factor in deciding whether to get married or not. Perhaps the one question to ask oneself is "Do I really want this person by my side until the day I die?" Answer that one, and everything else should fall into place.

The Vent

#84
9 January 1998

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