Paul Markevicius connects the reasons men don’t write about marriage to the lack of agency they often feel once wed.
Why don’t men write about marriage?
My instinctive response is that marriage is a contract men attach themselves to but don’t necessarily feel they own. They have not bothered to read the small print. Typically, marriage is something that happens to them not because of them. Men thus feel unqualified to write about marriage; perhaps they also feel themselves frauds. A college friend said that I would not be someone who actively pursued marriage. It would just arrive somehow and be there when I woke up. And then I would naturally discover a stable relationship that would find its own level of comfort.
Where do people get these ideas?
Over the years I have asked many men to reveal what triggered their decision to marry. Some have said: “I just knew as soon as I met her. She was the one.” Great. Lucky bastards. Like just knowing you wanted to be a surgeon since the age of five. Knowing what you want doesn’t explain why you want it. Countless men have said “It’s just something I felt like I had to do, not exactly sure why….I just did it (for her).” Why would any man volunteer to write admissions of distinctly underwhelming passion? Far better to keep up the pretence that it was for romantic reasons, right?
Serial grooms should know better. In every sense. More realistic expectations of a married partner, and knowledge that it is better than being alone (a big subject in itself). But are they just feeding a love addiction? Isn’t love the one inconsistent constant that propels us headlong to marriage? Having had two or more tries at marriage, their accounts may not necessarily be cynical, but neither are they gushing chronicles. More an internalized idea that marriage makes life more pleasant. Because they clearly still believe in it. Others might say they are feckless and self-indulgent, using marriage as a training ground to learn about relationships. If we are all love junkies, is marriage simply the fuel for this unquestioned addiction?
But what of the newly married men? What of the truly-madly-deeply-in-love-marrieds? Not jaded by past relationships, shouldn’t they contribute positively to the subject? What heartfelt, meaningful prose can one extract from them? Maybe writing about marriage just isn’t a bloke thing to do? Better to remain stoic and free from committing thoughts and feelings to paper.
There is in fact no shortage of written expression on love and marriage from men. For inspiration on the subject, peruse the romantics (not the romance novellas—all authored for women): Shelley, Wordsworth, Byron and Keats. Maybe we just need to know where to look. I can’t, however, avoid thinking of Ted Hughes’ Lovesong as an acerbic reminder of partnerships that had started in bliss and ended in hell. The fact that I and my ex both arrived randomly at this particular poem in two different books (at the exact same time!),was writing on the wall for me.
Here’s what I think is true for most of us blokes. Including those who might not know it yet.
Marriage is illusory. A label for long-term commitment to a so-called significant other and the social systems that persuade us into it. We are fed and suckered into this from childhood, and it never gets challenged. It cannot magically weld something together that should not have been put together. Or provide a salve for the realisation that the coupling was destined for failure. Nor should it. Marriage is a construct, not helping the relationship problems which exist with or without it.
Through my own eyes-wide-opened experience I have come to regard marriage as nothing more than a stigmatised legitimisation of an unnecessary bonded adult agreement. Its preordained place in our psyche is almost mapped out before we are born. We inherit this legitimiser of adulthood, the place we should naturally aspire to, from an overwhelming historical legacy that beguiles and bamboozles us. It arrives somehow as one of the most compelling acts of our being – a life-achievement and status marker punctuating our three score and ten. But it’s still illusory. We just choose not to challenge all the things it relieves us of worrying about. These things have to do with love, respect, togetherness, faithfulness, honour, obeying? Any sober view shows that these things are attainable under all sorts of circumstances, yet we somehow believe marriage is their singular trying ground.
By just going along with the construct (because not to is simply too troublesome), men bury a lot of these assumptions from the start. It’s more than their perceived future happiness is worth. But it’s also a helluva lot of assumptions about what each person expects out of marriage and its legendary phobic commitment associations, all interred way before the get go. When and how do you play catch up on the redundancies built into this unexamined set of assumptions? Ones that arrive gift-wrapped, rose-tinted and imbued with unimagined positivism as part of the marriage lottery? The same ones that are rationalized later as catastrophically unrealistic, or lost to denial.
What of the rationale when it can be found, or found wanting, for marrying?
Men (and women) get married to ‘declare their love‘…’in order to have children’…’to provide a secure environment for their offspring‘…and to ‘show a commitment.’ Marriage for most people legitimises family. But does it?
People get divorced, single parents bring up kids, visiting rights are allowed or disallowed—often the case for divorced men with little or no recourse via a toothless legal system (no bleeding sanctity in marriage there, dudes). And an alarmingly high suicide rate amongst divorced men tells its own story. The family unit is easily fractured, whether inside or outside the “protective” institution of marriage. Marriage can’t contradict the statistics – disillusionment and unfaithfulness continue to banjax the ‘until death’ real deal. Holding onto the belief that it can creates all manner of dysfunctional, painful experiences.
The older generation will say that it’s far too easy to get divorced. Being married means commitment, means working at the relationship. Of course it does. But all relationships require some level of commitment, some level of work. Maybe the problem is that it’s far too easy to get married.Where’s the exam to demonstrate marriage competence and suitability? Or for that matter, child-rearing? Maybe the real issue is the social construct placing the couple in a house-shaped lacuna in the fabric of society, tailor-made for them. Mortgage-backed surprises a lifestyle bonus. In this pre-scripted scenario, it becomes difficult to fault the couple. Given all the mythological baggage they inherit, it’s no wonder couples have trouble trying to function within this mind-numbingly inadequate construct. All wonderfully satirised in The Truman Show, where ironically the joke is still on us long after the movie ends.
Love may be fantastic, but it is transitory, and life is all about change. The fact is, long term, many relationships, and therefore many marriages,can’t and don’t survive change. Crudely put, marriage doesn’t stand much of a chance.
Are we simply naïve, opportunist chancers, rolling the dice, hoping always to get sixes? Belief in marriage somehow removes the ability to come to terms with the statistical likelihood of its demise. Who wants to make those kind of pessimistic predictions on themselves? It’s too self-defeating. Writing about marriage frailties is sure to invite problems and bad karma. Denial means psychological scars may be acquired trying to extricate oneself from a marriage, with more guilt and hang-ups than might have been necessary. A lack of understanding of ‘the implicit agenda’ of marriage and our innate tendency to accept it unquestioningly, strips us of the very language within which to communicate, understand and explore its raison d’etre.
We are blessed by the beauty of sharing and intimacy within relationships in or outside marriage. They come without guarantees and we should try our hardest to make them work with an open heart and mind. And most of all, be sure to enjoy every last drop of its life-affirming magic for as long as you, your partner and God allows. And be prepared to let go. If you love someone, set them free. That means yourselves, too.
Photo by LaertesCTB