“It’s an interracial marriage. The odds are against them.”
And so on and so forth.
At a time when marriage seems to be less and less of a desirable option for younger people, what is it about marriage that simultaneously makes romantics and cynics of us all?
Thanks to decades of Disney, not to mention a steady stream of romantic comedies, our notion of marriage has been shaped by the pervasive fantasy that it is every woman’s life goal to get hitched, with her groom not just vowing to love and cherish his bride for the rest of his life, but to rescue her from spinsterhood and the judgment of society.
As Jill Filipovic writes inTeen Vogue, “The cartoonish idea that a wedding is the most important day of a woman’s life, and a crucial opportunity for a bride to embrace her greatest life’s ambition (special beautiful magical princess), persists to a stunning degree.”
So in the case of Meghan Markle, one could say—if one were to persist in this antiquated state of mind—the cable TV princess found her Prince Charming, a real royal to boot, who fell in love with her and married her against all odds, whisking her away from a future of kissing scenes in varying stages of undress with her co-stars.
And yet, as Markle has demonstrated, she is very much a modern woman, of independent mind and means, a feminist, and an activist.
Filipovic described her as “a woman who has thrived in her own career, entirely unrelated to British high society, and built a fabulous independent life for herself. She wasn’t hand-picked by the Queen, and she has also used her celebrity status to do some good, advocating for important humanitarian causes.”
For all her independent-mindedness, Meghan—and Prince Harry—are smart enough to understand that people have bought into the fantasy, and they gave the world a wedding fit for a Disney princess.
So why, after guzzling down the fantasy with gusto, are there now the voices of doom predicting the eventual collapse of the dream marriage?
Marriage, it often seems to me, is the triumph of hope over reality. Happiness in marriage is not a permanent state; in fact, it sometimes does not even exist, and in its place is the numb acceptance that “this”—the existential solitude, the absence of a real and lasting connection, the fundamental incompatibility that was once blithely ignored in the rush of emotion—is all there really is and ever will be to one’s marriage. And yet the two people in the marriage remain tied to each other not so much by familial obligations, but by an unspoken pact founded on the necessity of preserving the illusion of solidity in their union, because that ensures their place in society.
The modern philosopher behind The School of Life, Alain de Botton, says that one of the reasons we marry is “to make a nice feeling permanent. We imagine that marriage will help us to bottle the joy we felt when the thought of proposing first came to us: Perhaps we were in Venice, on the lagoon, in a motorboat, with the evening sun throwing glitter across the sea, chatting about aspects of our souls no one ever seemed to have grasped before, with the prospect of dinner in a risotto place a little later. We married to make such sensations permanent but failed to see that there was no solid connection between these feelings and the institution of marriage.”
He goes on to posit that, “Indeed, marriage tends decisively to move us onto another, very different and more administrative plane, which perhaps unfolds in a suburban house, with a long commute and maddening children who kill the passion from which they emerged. The only ingredient in common is the partner. And that might have been the wrong ingredient to bottle.”
Which is not to say that there are no successful or happy marriages, because there are. But such a marriage, or indeed such a relationship, does require work and a certain level of willingness on the part of both partners to be truly honest, open and vulnerable. “Being there” for each other is an oft-repeated pledge that can sometimes border on the trite and insincere, especially when tested, but when partners are truly there for each other—which includes being supportive and nurturing without being dismissive of the other’s emotional needs, and understanding the ways in which the other feels loved, adored, and safe—it can be a mind-blowingly beautiful thing that in turn helps to enforce the solidity of a marriage as something real, and not illusory.
It also seems that marriage, signaling as it does the transition from “I” to “we,” demands the shift from selfishness to selflessness, as the individual takes a back seat to the newly formed unit. But not at the risk of sacrificing one’s sense of self to the point of negating one’s own happiness for what might be considered the “greater good.” Ex. The preservation of the family or social status or financial assets, or, in some cases, something as seemingly mundane as a work visa or a residence permit. Because—and excuse the Deepakspeak—that in itself undermines the honesty and intimacy required to strengthen a relationship, creating a cocoon of numbness that in time becomes dangerously comfortable, insulating one, as it does, from asking the hard questions and accepting and acting on the accompanying answers.
In a New York Times review of Mark Lukach’s book My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward, a memoir of his wife’s descent into and recovery from mental illness, Meghan Daum wondered, “aren’t all life partners lifelong patients in a sense? The work of a long-term committed relationship is essentially the work of keeping someone alive in the ways necessary to ensure that you’re kept alive in return.”
If you’ve stopped breathing in your marriage, it’s time to get out. Unless your idea of happiness and fulfillment is being a cadaver in a dead relationship.
To Meghan and Harry, may the oxygen supply in your marriage always be plentiful and fresh.
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.