A (slightly) younger friend of mine asked my opinion about marriage.
I'm posting his quesiton here with my response below.
If you have a moment, I wanted to pick your brain on marriage—how important has it been in your life/business/success?
Sometimes I wonder if I’m cut out for it, yet there is a part of me that desires it. Appreciate any thoughts you can give!
Thanks for your note.
I didn't get married until I was 39, and my wife 37. There isn’t any rush. An advantage of taking your time is that you may be a bit more mature, and makes marriage easier. That isn't universally true but it was for me.
What you want from marriage and how well it actually works is really a question of approach.
Many people approach marriage (and relationship in general) like a TV show — they expect it to be easy, and they expect to be entertained. Their is this general idea that we should fall in love, get together, and that should make our life better and that’s that, and if that’s not true then there’s something wrong with the relationship. The problem with this approach is that when things don’t work out, there’s a tendency to just change the channel.
If we decide to climb a mountain in the Alps, or learn to play the violin, or really excel at our career, we expect that we will have to work at it. It won’t always be easy, but it will be rewarding along the way and we’ll grow for it.
Marriage is like that. We know will be challenging, but that leads us to places we couldn’t get to any other way. When we go through life only asking ourselves what we can get from things in the way of pleasure or entertainment, we never really get to grow. A good relationship is as much about sacrifice as it is what you get from it (having children doubly so).
If you decide you want a conscious marriage, and one that will last and not fall apart over time, or a marriage that is only held together only by you and your partner's neurosis, you have to ask yourself if you are willing to approach it from this perspective.
It helps if your partner has the same attitude.
From what I have seen, the very best person to partner with is simply a person you like spending time with. Many of us fall in love, but love and friendship aren’t always the same thing, and when love goes we’re left with the fundamental question of whether this is someone who I can work with — if the marriage is fundamentally workable. One of the best ways to measure that is just to ask yourself if your partner is someone who you just like spending time with, and vice versa. Lust and love will come and go. But if you enjoy each other's company, it will carry you through when it's tough and when those things are nowhere to be found.
It’s also true that even love has to be renewed through conscious effort. People fall in love, and they think love should continue to come to them for free, without effort, but it isn't like that (unless you are very lucky). Love has to be made every day, in my marriage I make it every single day, it’s a conscious thing, like brushing my teeth and remembering to get some exercise, even on day when I really don’t feel like it.
I’m sorry if this doesn’t sound very romantic, but the good thing about this is it’s something we can actually choose to do. Making love is something we have control over! It’s a choice we get to make, and that’s one of the great things about love. It’s ours to have or lose depending on how much effort we decide to put in.
Sometimes marriage is amazing, and sometimes I want to kill my wife (and she wants to kill me), and quite often it’s both things at the same time. Knowing that that’s OK and natural is very important, too. Many of us don’t have good models for marriage, our parents either hated each other but stuck together, or didn’t stay together at all. What we’re left with is the nonsense we see in the media.
There are some people who prefer not to be in relationship at all, or prefer not to marry. There’s certainly a life path that looks like that, but it hasn’t been mine so I know less about it.
One thing I can say is that the lifetime commitment really puts your back up against the wall, which puts pressure on you to work things out when things get really tough — and they always do. Commitment forces you to solve problems from within the relationship rather than looking outside (to other lovers or other forms of entertainment) when things get really hard.
Image by Lee Friedlander, Untitled Hotel Room, 1973.