Last night, I got to thinking about the origins of marriage. They used to be predominately more like business transactions, what with the parents of the bride being given some form of payment in return for their daughter. The girls were married off at young ages to ensure that their husbands were the first to lay with them. No self-respecting man would want sullied goods, and the family of the girl wouldn’t want to risk dishonor. I came to the conclusion that whoever came up with the idea of legally binding unions was either a genius with real foresight or else a real ass who had little hope of convincing a good woman to stay with him til death did they part. I say we go find that guy and shoot him. He’s long since dead and buried, you say? Then let’s dig him up and break his legs. Or tibias. Whatever. You get the drift.
Somewhere along the way, marriages were entered into by two people who actually wanted to be married to one another. What a wonderful concept.
When I was young and growing up in the South, it seemed like girls were expected to be married at a young age. Yes, the threat of spinsterhood is universal, but in the South, marriage was a bit like 4-H or animal husbandry; with the young being raised in the ways of tending crops and caring for undomesticated animals. As soon as some young woman could bake a pan of cornbread, and was tall enough to hang washing on the line, she was of suitable age to be married. I’m being serious. If a girl of 16 wanted to marry Bubba, the most resistance she was met with was, “Well, you’d better let me be the one to talk to Daddy first. He needs some time and a few Budweisers before he’s gonna warm up to this idea.” The cold Bud sitting beside his hot cornbread, and a night to sleep on the idea, would be usually be enough to do the trick. If a girl were younger than 16 and wanting permission to marry, it would be granted after rationalizing ‘That’ll teach her to think she’s all growed up!’ and ‘She’d better not come crawling back home when it doesn’t work out.’ Still being serious.
It’s a mixed bag. Some of those early marriages fizzled out before the slice of frozen wedding cake could be retrieved from the freezer for the first anniversary. (Really, people? Year old frost-bitten cake as a form of celebration? Pass.) Some of those marriages drag themselves the entire way to an uncertain destination. And still some of those marriages go strong until the very end. I doubt I would’ve won many shopping sprees to the Piggly Wiggly (grocery chain in the South only) for having placed accurate bets on any of the early marriages that my friends and acquaintances entered into.
About a year ago, my husband commented that he didn’t think humans were meant to be monogamous, but that we tend to be so because of our consciences. I had that twinge of ‘Oh my gosh, what is he trying to tell me?’ but he assured me that it wasn’t guilt or selflessness that made him stay. He just loves me. He tells me that I am not like other women because I don’t care much about my hair (not true, I’ve just given up), or jewelry, and couldn’t care less about current fashions. In my head I heard him saying, ‘Your hair is a mess, a necklace once in a while wouldn’t kill you, and your momma taught you to dress funny.’ He says he loves me because I’m the smartest woman he knows. Honestly? He should get out more.
It isn’t that I don’t believe marriage can’t be permanent or happy. I do, but I also gave a lot of thought to that comment. Not that the idea hadn’t occurred to me before, it’s just that I hadn’t heard anything of the sort before from the man who professes to love me like no one else (that is entirely true), and often speaks of our future in the Golden Years. It wasn’t the first time I’d thought of us living separate lives. He makes me crazy. I make him crazy. You do the math. So, if we aren’t innately meant to be monogamous, yet we live in a society that all but demands it (the children will be illegitimate and you will not be granted hospital visiting privileges without it), what are we supposed to do when our feet start edging toward the door and our eye is furtively snatching glances at the horizon? There isn’t anyone else for whom I would ditch my current life, or even risk it for that matter, but that’s only because I have a sneaking suspicion that John Cleese wouldn’t be terribly thrilled to find me in his bed. There are those times, though, when I could benefit from a Time Out or a ‘break’ a la Rachel Green (not Ross Geller’s idea of ‘We were on a break!’). It can’t actually be considered selfish if I took the kids along with me, can it? What if he took the kids with him, back to his hometown where his single, high school sweetheart still resides? Alas, it seems that, whichever way you look at it, someone is going to get their feelings hurt. Hurt feelings breed resentment. Resentment breeds divisiveness. Divisiveness leads to divorce. There’s a sense of ‘can’t win for trying’ here.
Which is more reliable – binding marriage or mutual agreement? Someone recently mentioned to me that relationships between couples are made stronger when there is an element of insecurity. The woman maintains an attractive appearance and a strong sense of independence, and her man will think twice about taking for granted that she’ll be tending to their shared lives when he comes home from work. The man is gainfully employed and treats their children like they are the center of his universe, and his woman’s maternal instincts will see this protective behavior as something she would never risk losing. If a husband or a wife could walk out the door at any given moment, with little explanation other than the relationship has run its course, how would that element of uncertainty affect the way they treat one another on a day to day basis? Would they be forever locked into an ongoing state of courtship, or could they find a rhythm and comfortable routine that satisfied both of their needs?
I suppose the answer is that every couple is different. What works for the Joneses will not work for the Smiths. You weren’t thinking I was about to spill some hard and fast rules or truths, were you? I’m merely thinking out loud. And keeping one eye on the horizon.
"A thousand empty days.
A thousand empty nights have been so cold.
I have sacrificed my integrity.
And as it all falls down in front of me,
throughout the years these truths I tried to hide.
But at least I tried.
Our love is a gilded cage." ~From the song 'Love Is' by De:laQ