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Read Letter

Why Marriage?

Dear Jack, that’s actually a good question. Why marriage? It’s a question we tend not to bother asking. We all just assume marriage as a natural course of life. The truth though is that marriage is not for everybody, even if it seems like something humanity is besotted with.

 I once knew a young man who was where you are now. He too pondered the question, why marry? In his case he was from a broken home. And no, he didn’t see himself as victim. I just gave you that fact. But his self-conception… his idea of his life didn’t accommodate marriage. He saw himself as a very successful individual living on the pent floor of a high rise apartment building in the tony end of town. He had this dream as a teenager. It was a long apartment, possibly the entire floor, long and narrow. He saw himself simple, single and successful in a tastefully furnished apartment. Jeans, t-shirt, no shoes… The apartment is carpeted. Add to that the picture of him holding a glass of wine. In this vision he lived alone without a wife. He thought marriage was encumbering. And oh, he wanted a daughter. Just one child. He was convinced he would find a woman who didn’t want marriage too, and they’d share a child. His one child policy might have been because he was an only child. But he really wanted his freedom and independence. And he wanted success.
It’s nice to have a vision of success. So how do you see yourself as successful? For that young man it was living in that tasteful, modern apartment. Why did he not want to marry? That’s a difficult question to answer. Not sure he too can answer. It just wasn’t how he saw life, his life. Some of his friends imagined a house full of kids. Not him. He couldn’t handle that thought. That wasn’t how he saw himself. It’s possible it’s because he grew up alone. Possible. But humans are deeper than such simplistic deductions.
Anyway, two decades after that imagination of himself he realised his idea of marriage-less success wouldn’t have worked. He might have ended up scattering his seed all over town and having kids from multiple women. Someone pointed that out to him. It’s how he came to a realisation of that fact. And not a lot of the women he met in life would have been okay with the custodial arrangement he envisaged sans marriage. The idea he could end up fathering children all over was not how he saw himself. That wasn’t tidy for him. He’s a tidy kind of guy. Very controlled. Well, he did end up marrying a beautiful woman, someone who got him. She just fits him. The fact she was extremely beautiful fit his idea of himself. It just worked for him. His first marriage attempt didn’t work out. The woman was not right for him. She felt threatened by his success – he went on to become successful. The fact he became successful after envisaging success says a lot about vision and imaging.
You must have an image of what you want to become in your head, some sort of short video. May be only seven seconds long, but if you believe in that video you’ll become the man in that video. The human makeup thrives on imaging. When that guy dreamed of moving to a particularly expensive neighbourhood he would go to that neighbourhood and just drive around, absorbing it. Two years later he moved in. There’s power in vision.
Back to our thread. Why marriage? Why marriage indeed. There’s no answer to that question that can attend to the peculiar needs of everyone. A lot depends on individual background, exposure, self-concept, vision of success. The answer is easier from a religious perspective. If you’re a Christian there’s all that narrative about Adam and Eve in Genesis. But then Apostle Paul convolutes the general assumption on marriage by saying it’s not for everyone. He was a bachelor, couldn’t imagine himself married. Was too busy. Didn’t even have the emotional capacity. If you don’t have emotional capacity you’ll hardly succeed at marriage. Emotions are critical in marriage. Unless you want a “dry” marriage. Being able to pay attention to someone is critical if you want a successful marriage. Marriage involves tending to someone.
You’ll also hardly succeed in marriage being selfish. Marriage requires being considerate of the other person, putting his or her needs first. The more considerate you are the greater your chances of success. You’ll have to accept the fact marriage is a binary equation. You can’t be in marriage and be behaving as if you have no partner. In which case you’re married to yourself by yourself. What all these do is that they raise the question of patience, loving kindness and other virtues in marriage. You’ll hardly succeed at marriage being impatient. Unless your partner does a lot of absorption. Marriage also entails maturity. You must have capacity for forbearance. That takes maturity.
But I think one of the reasons why marriage has proved enduring is that it answers the loneliness question. It’s a credible answer to it. By loneliness I’m talking about that indefinable sense of aloneness on the inside that makes you almost miserable and feel you need someone. The need for proprietary affection is one of the strengths of marriage. You want someone who’s yours and who’s devoted entirely to you. Call it ownership. Women feel this sense of aloneness and so do men. Men feel lonely. You can have all the achievements in the world and still feel lonely, in need of a partner. Achievements don’t substitute wife.
Of course there’s societal pressure too. Some societies pressurise marriage. Africa is such a society. It doesn’t mean you can’t be a maverick on the issue but you have to pay a price for that privilege in certain societies. Our African cultural conditioning is also one of the reasons we view marriage as important. We’re mostly conditioned to want marriage. It’s traditional. The western world has come up with a marriage-less proposition called cohabitation. Though one must then ask what the difference is save the legal obligation. And the law has been amended to confer the rights of marriage on cohabitation. So it’s marriage by another name, sort of. One thing that scares many people about marriage is that need for commitment. Some people want to function as free agents. But free agency has its own challenges.
But if a marriage works out and there are kids old age becomes more palatable – if indeed a family was built. Some people don’t want to die alone. Marriage provides SOME answer to that issue. Though invariably one partner is left behind; unless the two die together. I’m just saying it’s up to you. If you’re the marrying type and you don’t marry you’ll have that sense of aloneness. If you’re not the marrying type one would assume you won’t have that sense of aloneness. If you do you’re probably the marrying type.
Though we must also wonder if you’re wondering about the need for marriage because you’ve not had a good mating opportunity. For a long time George Clooney foreswore marriage, and then he met that lovely lady, Amal and everything changed, suddenly! If you had fancied yourself George’s soul mate on bachelorhood you’ll have been left hanging. You’ll probably be apoplectic. How could he?! It’s betrayal. Who knows, maybe if you meet an Amal your views on marriage will change. There’s an Amal for every George Clooney. I’m just saying do what works best for you. You don’t have the privilege of interviewing Apostle Paul the bachelor. He thought marriage was a distraction. Note however that there are very few like him. Even in our modern world. He didn’t have a live-in lover for example. And he wasn’t into “friends with benefits.” He was a bachelor in the pure sense.
One thing you have to note though is that you can’t want to eat your cake and have it at the same time. That’s a really complicated idea in practical terms. But don’t box yourself into a corner. If having taken a stance against marriage in the public space you suddenly realise you want marriage go ahead and marry. Clooney after all didn’t care what others thought when he turned his back on bachelorhood. He just knew he had to have that wonderful woman.
If you marry however, make sure it’s to who will make you happy, someone who’ll give you joy, and peace. And to someone who’s your friend. Or why go into marriage wilfully to subscribe to terror?
Your mentor, LA
© Leke Alder |
If you don't have emotional capacity, you'll hardly succeed at marriage. Marriage involves tending to someone. Click To Tweet
Tags : Marriage, before marriage, why should i marry, must i marry?

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