Till death do us part
Of all the astonishing news that broke this last week, one story stands out above the rest.
It was so monumental it needed only one headline, while the lesser stories gobbled up several to try to prove their worth. It was so very significant it needed only the briefest of blips on a website to to enter our collective consciousness, while other stories dangled around for days trying to get attention.
The story I’m talking about, of course, involves the news that marriage has been saved.
Now, I must confess that I was unaware it needed saving. But, it does, according to some experts, and the very best way to do it is to try to kill it first.
It’s all rather like the Salem Witch Trials, I suppose. Except instead of tossing witches into rivers to see if they drown, thus proving their innocence, we are throwing marriages into break-ups once a decade, to see if they sink or swim.
The idea, it seems, is that life-long marriage is like magic – elusive, mysterious and a little bit dangerous.
To prevent ourselves from harm, therefore, we should do away with the idea, and focus instead on short-term, temporary marriages designed – by contract – to end well once they have passed their used-by date.
It is perhaps the first time in human history that we have planned the end of our relationships before formally starting them.
And it’s a win-win according to the experts. We get all the benefits of a life-long commitment without actually having to commit.
But as far as I can see that has about the same amount of logic as saying you can have the benefits of running every day without ever having to run.
It’s a nice thought, but it’s also a lie.
After all, life-long commitment is the heart of marriage. Cut it out and the institution is little more than a corpse. You can put make up on it, you can pin its mouth into a smile, you can take it to a party with you, but it will still be dead.
That is because anything less than life-long commitment is not actually commitment. It is simply selfishness masquerading as commitment. It is narcissism acting as if it were generous. It is individualism pretending it fits the clothing of community. It simply doesn’t work, because in the end selfishness, narcissism and individuality only leave you with yourself.
But give marriage its heart back, and you breath life back into all its benefits. You get security because you have commitment. You get stable homes in which to raise children, because you have commitment. You get to plan for your future, because you have commitment. You get an ever-deepening, maturing love because you have commitment. When all is said and done, you get yourself and you get someone else. All going biologically well, you might even get a little family too.
“Till death do us part” is not just a dour and outdated sentence clinging desperately to an otherwise happy institution. It is the foundation of the institution, it is the cornerstone of the tradition. It is what keeps a marriage alive, and the moment we stop saying it in our vows is the moment we start planning our divorce.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think marriage needs saving. I think we do.
This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz