Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pilgrimage

My friend from school is getting married this weekend. After eight years with her boyfriend, they are tying the knot in a sweet little town called Dullstroom. It is wonderful and I am looking forward to the privilege of witnessing their vow to love one another for the rest of their lives. This event has, inevitably, set me to thinking about marriage again.

The journey


Getting married is a big step and a big deal in the cycle of life, especially at an age where your life is already well on track and your habits are really set. You choose now to share a life, a world, with another person, someone not of your blood, someone apart from yourself. I have great respect for people who decide to embark on the journey of marital pilgrimage. I call it a pilgrimage because that is what I believe it is. Dictionary.com defines a pilgrimage as “any long journey, esp. one undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose, as to pay homage”

As we all know, in the common western wedding ceremony, the parties vow to love one another for as long as they both shall live. In the over-dramatized and often unrealistic Hollywood movies, this vow often becomes a promise to love beyond the grave. Now I will not spend time on the merits of life (and love) after death, suffice to say that in real time, loving and being with another person for the duration of your natural life is daunting – at least for me.

Realistic Jade vs. The Anti-Marriage Fallacy

I once attended a wedding where my (gay) date enquired of me whether I find the whole thing exciting (that was before gays were allowed to get married in SA). My response was no. I found it frightening at that point, and 10 years later I still find it scary. The learned ones and people who’ve known me a long time will relate my trepidation to my parents’ failed marriage or a myriad of rejection and abandonment issues, and they would not be completely wrong.

What they are wrong about is that my past and my issues make me averse to marriage. Being scared of getting married is not rejecting the idea; it is a realistic and maybe a bit of a jaded viewpoint. I mean, with the high divorce rates and worse still, the incredible pain people inflict on one another when removing themselves from marriage, is it any wonder so many people prefer to stay unmarried? Co-habiting in harmony for years without the “chains” of marriage, or simply deciding to never marry have become less of an exception to the rule. Why co-habiting is different from marriage is often basically a legal and religious thing (as in “don’t live in sin”). Or when you’ve lived together for six months you are considered “married” and can take legal action should the relationship turn sour. Therefore, pretty similar to traditional concepts of marriage. But I will leave the distinctions to the clever people, and keep to what I wish to opine about today. And that is the marital relationship.


Marriage Lite: Low in carbs and Fat-free!

I believe that a healthy relationship contains two people of equal status: equal rights, equal inputs, equal respect, and equal love. Maybe I am being idealistic here, but humour me. I have seen too many divorcing couples tearing each other apart. These are the same people who, ten years earlier, vowed in front of God and witnesses to be together for better or worse. They didn’t think they would ever get to the point where the sight of the other would make them sick. Or that that person, who lovingly gazed into their eyes over the rings and the cake and the register, would stare daggers into their heart.

I believe that fairy tales and movies have enhanced the idea that love conquers all the moment the two finally get together and get married. I believe many people, especially young women, grow up dreaming of the wedding dress, the cake, the doves and the self-written vows. The romance, the dreamy scenery and the sunset farewell en route to the honeymoon... What comes after, is seldom considered, and in the prelude to the wedding the hectic preparations very seldom include an “after the wedding” part. Or if it does, it is often done because it is required by the church or the pastor, and not for the purpose of actually preparing people to face the realities after the honeymoon is over.

Marriage is a dangerous pilgrimage. It has unforeseen bumps and rough terrain; it has misleading tunnels and dark side roads. To stay on it till the end takes courage, conviction, dedication and faith. Faith in each other and faith in God (if you are a religious person) or Fate (if not). It is not the wedding dress, or the vows, or the cake or even the honeymoon that makes a successful marriage. These things just make a great wedding, a “Marriage Lite”. A real marriage requires so much more. There is no short cuts or ”lite” version – the real thing is a full-course, nutritious and fulfilling thing. It is healthily organic and devoid of the pesticides of laziness, quick-fix and window-dressing.



Work it, baby!

“Love is a verb” I have often heard. Yes, that is true – more so in marriage perhaps that in serving others. I also believe that love is a choice, not only a feeling. Because you have chosen to spend the rest of your natural life with another human being: one with faults and issues and fears and joys and laughter and tears. A human being that you have chosen to love because of all these things, and sometimes even despite them. In the pilgrimage of marriage, we pay homage to our insecurities, our past hurts and our future hopes. We pay homage to the person next to us, who will be the one person to know and love us in ways no-one else will; in ways that expose our vulnerabilities. For me, that is the true test of lasting love: that you can trust that other person with your complete, naked, vulnerable self – and know that they will choose to not use it against you.

If I can have that, I think I will be ready for the pilgrimage.

I would like to end with an excerpt from “Don’t break my heart” by Vaya Con Dios:

“The anger and the fury
And the fears living inside me
Should you love me
Would you love them just the same?”


I concur with that.

5 comments:

RandomSue said...

Tania - This is a very good post. I really enjoy your thought processes.

Tim and I have been married for 12 years and I assure you that we do not always "feel" the love. To me, love in any relationship means commtment to the relationship no matter how you feel at any given moment.

You talk about the damage and pain divorce causes the two parties involved. I admit that I don't know much about the birth rate in SA but a big motivator for me to work things out when I'm not enjoying my marriage is seeing the damage that was inflicted on my two sweet step-daughters as a result of their parent's divorce. I would not want to be responsible for causing such pain and conflict in my two children's lives.

I say all of this to say that you are very wise to be cautious about making such a committment.

you are so right when you say that we have to lean on our faith during those difficult times that will inevitably come in marriage

Eugene said...

Well I'm no expert when it comes to marriage or even when it comes to long term relationships but what you say makes total sense. I like the image of marriage as a pilgrimage, I never thought of it like that but it makes sense the way you describe it. I think you are on to a deep true thing here.

Tania said...

Thanks for the comments! And Sue, it is always nice to get feedback from someone with wisdom on the subject!

Hopper said...

I think that perhaps you were hitting around this idea of mine in some ways... but I'm not sure how many people agree...

Marriage is a social convention that we have invented for ourselves because at one time it served a purpose (apparently)...

In many place now the divorce rate is well over 50%... many people having two or three marriages... ergo... marriage is the leading cause of divorce...

If two people are committed to each other and have an emotional resonance (this may sound fatalistic) they will be together and not many things will be able to get in the way of that... "marriage" is only a formal contract between them, a contract which has little merit if they would be together anyways... if marriage serves a function (like making it easier to file taxes or to make it easier to register your children... sinister as that may sound) then why not get married... but don't do it because you believe that it forms a stronger bond... the bond should be there without marriage or marriage is doomed to fail...

I've heard it said that a wedding ring is no more than balance between fear and trust... a way that one person lays claim to another... as an antiquated idea this was exactly the function (or apparent function) I mentioned before... marriage was when a woman was given to a man and most often she had very little choice in the matter and it was a contract between two men... the husband wanted her to wear a ring so that other men would know that she was someone's possession... again... maybe I'm a cynic...

I've never been married and I'm not too sure that I want to be... I'm in a really lovely relationship but I don't believe that it would change anything to be married... my partner is herself not terribly interested in marriage for the reasons above (most of these opinions in fact come from her)... but perhaps some time if it makes sense to get things done... I guess it's just an opinion but the number of marriages I've seen crumple really doesn't add any credence to the convention...

Sorry if this isn't what you want to hear...

Thought provoking post...

JP

Tania said...

Thanks, Hopper! Always good to hear different opinions. And I agree that the bond should be there, regardless of whether the couple is married.

A Marriage certificate will not make two people closer or more committed. To each his/her own, I think - if you believe in marriage, get married. If you don't, then enjoy your relationship as it is. I think many people subconciously believe marriage will keep them together or ensure fidelity. I think that is not a good assumption - if the commitment and fidelity is not there from the start, a marriage license will not provide it magically.