Thoughts on intimacy from one who appreciates it a great deal.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Marriage at the Speed of LOVE

"Whose Desire Turns", mixed media by Tim Holmes
On this Valentine's Day I found myself thinking about relationships, which makes me think of good jokes and here's a great one:  A couple of strangers, a man and woman, are assigned to births in a single sleeping compartment. They talk for a few minutes but are both tired so they turn in, she on the top bunk and he on the bottom. A few minutes later she says "I hate to trouble you but I'm a bit chilly, could you please reach me an extra blanket? "Oh I have a better idea", he says. "Why don't we just pretend we're married?" "Oh that sounds interesting", she says, "just what do you have in mind?" He replies, "I'll tell you what: get your own damn blanket!"
I come from a long line of married couples. As far back as records go, there are no divorces until I come along and ruined the whole picture! Not because I didn't dedicate myself to it; I thought my marriage would last forever, but I was only together with my wife for 20 years. What happened that I destroyed the family record?

Well, three things. First– as my Ex will freely attest– I'm an idiot. But what about my sister and cousins who also got divorced? Are we all so inept? Well, another reason may be that ours is the first generation for whom marriage is not primarily an economic partnership. It is a grand luxury to be able to choose to marry as a matter of preference rather than survival. You would think that this change would produce some attitude of curiosity about the structure of one of the most central of our institutions carried forward from pre-history, but save for a few adjustments of vows– like when Christianity was invented– marriage itself has seen little re-evaluation. I suggest now's the time and that is because of the third reason: the increasing pace of change.

A 50-year marriage for the next generation will be very different from that of my grandparents. My grandad grew up without electricity on a Pennsylvania farm that in fact was not much different than any farm of, say, 100 or even 1000 years earlier! When he went off to college he was introduced to three new experiences: he drove a car, used a telephone and– get this– heard live music for the first time! His lifetime encompassed a lot of world changes, but nothing like the pace of changes my niece will experience. Tara was born into a house without cell phones, but now– 9 years later– everyone in her family has one and wouldn't give them up. The speed of change has and will continue to increase exponentially. Will marriage adjust?

I suggest marriage is something like a wild animal– we want to live with it because of its mystery and power, but like a wild animal it is dynamic and unpredictable. The old marriage model is something like keeping a tiger by surrounding it by the iron bars of solid vows to keep it safely enclosed. Unfortunately the measure of success becomes whether or not the tiger ever got away, not whether it is actually still alive in there! For times of rapid change it appears we need a new model for marriage. 

I suggest one based on a different metaphor; that of a falconer. This is a person who also keeps a wild animal. Perhaps to the horror of the tiger trainer, however, every day the falconer lets her beast go free! But her wild critter keeps coming back home. This is because what the falconer is focused on: anticipating and satisfying any need that arises for her charge. I intend to point out this crucial difference to Tara when she grows up and thinks about marriage (if my generation hasn't totally ruined the idea for her). You can't say “Get your own damn blanket!” to a falcon because it may never return. The falconer focuses not on keeping the animal at all costs, but on cultivating and facilitating healthy growth, in whatever direction that leads. Every day the wild falcon returns by choice precisely because it knows that whatever excitement it encounters, there is no place in the wide world that it will be better loved and cared for than right here, at home!

1 comment:

  1. thank you, tim. wonderful reflection on how the institution of marriage fails us as we are encouraged to grow or to live as if already dead.... unless that is we have been wise to marry the one who grows with us... in this case, the institution is not the want and, thus, no matter.