On Friday, Ireland voted to allow same-sex marriage. 62 percent in favor, with over 60 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. That’s huge, especially when you consider Ireland’s reputation for religious observance. (Maybe that’s what tipped the scales? Worth thinking about, America. As one woman said, “We’re pro-family, so of course we voted in favor of same-sex marriage.”) I shed a few tears of joy, despite my own attitude toward marriage.
I’m sometimes called a cynic. I prefer the term romantic. (Romantics whose hearts get broken are often mistaken for cynics.) My daughter is used to me saying things like, “There’s no such thing as soul mates.” She thinks I’m insulting her mother, but I want Sarah to be aware that real life is not anything like a Disney fairy tale. There are industries devoted to fake romance, to the idea of “the one.”
The other night, I asked Susan “Do you expect we’ll stay married once Sarah goes to college?” This didn’t shock Susan. Marriage confers legal status on a couple, which is convenient in all kinds of ways that have nothing to do with feelings. But for two people to say “I choose you above all others until death do us part” is ridiculous. It needs to be a daily choice, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t want to be with anyone who doesn’t actively want to be with me; just because we made the choice almost 20 years ago doesn’t mean we’re still feeling it.
I see very few marriages I’d like to emulate, which is why I sometimes wonder that same-sex couples aspire to it. Of the marriages I admire, more than half are same-sex couples. Those who object like to cite children – certainly that was a popular ploy in Ireland. “Children deserve a mother and a father.” They cite verses from Christian scripture that suggest the sanctity of male/female union. Bullshit. Divorce has been legal in Ireland since 1996, and there has been tepid enthusiasm for making it illegal in the U.S. Of course! (Divorce lawyers are more sacred than marriage covenants in America.) The sanctity of marriage has been trampled by all participants since time immemorial.
In selling “happily ever after,” our society has done a tremendous disservice to the sanctity of marriage, and to the potential happiness of couples going back hundreds of years. People who marry several times are derided for “not learning their lesson;” at the same time, we are inundated with images that suggest true happiness lies with another person, in a family setting. Poor Elizabeth Taylor kept trying to achieve that ideal, and probably thought the failing was hers. Certainly she was mocked for not “learning her lesson,” but I think she was just guilty of listening to the crowd. She was trying to do the right thing.
I tried to do the right thing. I was seduced as a young man and determined to make it right by marrying the woman. When that didn’t work, I felt dutifully guilty and vowed to make it right the next time. I obeyed the rules, stayed out of bed, even lived with Susan’s parents for two months after we purchased a house and before we were married. All because the church and society insisted on the sanctity of marriage and played the “happily ever after hymn” ad nauseam until we bought it. It didn’t make anything better; it didn’t guarantee our relationship. It made things immeasurably harder, which is what I want Sarah to understand.
David Letterman retired last week. Media pundits recounted highlights of Dave’s career, which included his sex/blackmail scandal. In a perfect world, sex and blackmail wouldn’t ever be paired together. But the amazing thing about society is that everyone seems to insist on “happily ever after” even when they know it doesn’t exist. People have affairs, which are their own business. There are always reasons, but the focus is on “breaking his/her vows.” Ha ha! we exclaim. Another couple has failed, just like we have or might want to, except nobody has found out about us yet.
Relationships, marriages, partnerships, require consenting people who constantly choose to be together. I’m still married because I want to be, and it has nothing to do with how God created me or Hallmark’s blessing or Disney’s expectations. I’m happy for the people of Ireland, who can now be married because they want to be. There’s nothing sacred about marriage except what we bring into it, by choice, every day.
When Susan asked me if I expected we’d still be married in three years, I said “I hope so.” Here’s to hope, for everyone.