Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Janus Face of Marriage

The other day I was in the smallest room in the house, awaiting developments, and the only thing in the room to read was my oldest daughter’s magazine: Jane. I don’t know exactly what sort of magazine Jane is supposed to be, but I gathered that it’s for women who are less slutty and career oriented than those that read Cosmo, but looser and more materialistic than those who read Redbook. I flipped around looking for something that might hold my interest. As I am not interested in “coordinating my summer look,” nor in “break-up etiquette,” I finally settled on “tips for your wedding.” I got married once — that’s something I can relate to.

Of course it was all froth. All about dresses, caterers, snazzy new drinks you could serve (as if the cocktail was not perfected with the Rye Highball). Nothing about what sort of service one might have (Novus Ordo, Tridentine, or Sarum Rule), information about N.F.P., nor even a ringing denunciation of pastel tuxedos.

All of this lather was interlarded with quips “from real brides.” One of these was almost shocking in its physiognomic truth:

“Keep the dress on as long as possible. When you take the dress off, the magic day is over.”


This statement sums up so much of what I hear about marriage today. The overwhelming sentiment of new wives seems to be that they “feel trapped.” I hear it from my friends, read it in women’s magazines (though not girl’s magazines like Jane), listen as it is discussed by so-called experts on T.V,. Men too, complain about the effects of this, saying that their wife “isn’t the girl I married,” “isn’t fun anymore,” and in general has a vague discontent that cannot be addressed nor got rid of.

And why shouldn’t this be the case? Marriage is the end of something now. It is the end of freedom, and sexual variety, and having your own way. Instead of gaining a companion, women feel as if they have forever compromised themselves, must ever afterwards take into consideration the opinions of another, until the end of their days have to fight to preserve their autonomy as persons lest they be sucked into the trap of becoming a “dependent woman.” And they chafe at this. They hold back at the consummation of this commitment, delaying children sometimes for years after marriage. Finances, the real power in a capitalist society (and we are a capitalist, not patriarchal society), are kept strictly separated. Modern women keep their own names, as if “Jones” or “Williams” were more special than “Johnson” or “Weinberger”. They dedicate themselves to their work, as if these pathetic jobs constituted a “career.” [For the record: I have a job, my wife has a job, Plácido Domingo has a career.] Except for the indulgence of allowing themselves to become fat, very few women seem to find any tangible benefit to actually being married. If they marry reliable consorts, they lament that he is “boring,” yet if the fellow is creative and fun-loving, then they complain that he won’t “settle down.” If he tries to be the head of household, then he is “domineering” and this breeds resentment, yet if he concedes this role to her, then he is unworthy of her respect.

Am I painting a familiar picture?

But in times past, marriage was the beginning of something. It was the beginning of life’s two great adventures: sexuality and family formation. It was most definitely the end of innocence and the coming into a woman’s estate. Life — with all of it’s burdens, joys, tribulations, suffering, and satisfactions replaced the sweet innocence of youth where the worst mistake one might make would be to wear the same dress to prom as your rival.

Virginity is made fun of now as being a naïve affectation, and yet it had its rewards. Never, would the virgin bride be able to compare her husband to another lover as our modern bride undoubtedly does. (Men are even worse about this, as they crave variety in a way that women don’t.) Sex isn’t anything new on most wedding nights now, in fact it is usually something quite old by then. And, when it isn’t any better after the wedding, there is bound to be a sentimental disappointment. Marriage demands that your spouse be everything to you, but how can that be when he is simply one among many?

Of course, in the traditional Christian understanding of marriage as a life-long commitment, monogamy was not a trap, but a system for keeping the couple together. No relationship nor person is perfect, and even the most compatible couples are bound to quarrel from time to time, but you can’t stay mad at the only person in the whole world who can give you sexual bliss. Pretty soon, you have to make up, the sexual urge forces you to reconcile, and reconcile with a passion. Once love and commitment are dissociated from sex, then sex cannot force the reconciliations that every relationship must need from time to time.

Fortunately, there are still some bright spots out there. My friend Moira will be getting married in August. She rejoices that her husband will never have another woman to compare her with, that she will be all and everything to him. She has waited chastely for a long time and says this chastity has made her realize just how much she loves her betrothed. When I read to her the comment about the magic being gone when a bride takes off the dress, she just laughed out loud and said: “When I take off my dress — that’s when the magic begins!”

1 comment:

sunnyday said...

Haha, nice way of putting it (Moira's comment) :-)

This is one of the consequences of years of putting up with the notion of the "dream wedding" -- propagated by those in the wedding business, among others. I worked for a bridal magazine for nearly a year. Wedding preparation can be a really stressful thing to get into, especially if one forgets the essential things, such as MARRIAGE preparation. Good thing there are the family life groups that are always there to take care of preparing engaged couples spiritually for their life together.