WARNING: Prepare for some serious footnotes
I began writing this blog many moons ago. I have taken advice and gleaned insight through the opinions and circumstances of others. However, I am not targeting anyone or any particular relationship. This is a work of opinion and enquiry. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
TO ENTER INTO MATRIMONY
There are many reasons people get married and none of them, to my mind, have ever been good enough. Peer pressure is a powerful thing. If you are not married and others are, there is the implication that your partner doesn’t cherish you like theirs does them; the insinuation that if your partner loved you, they’d want to marry you. It starts to make people doubt their relationships; there’s suddenly contention where there was none before.
Marriage, or the prospect of marriage, looms over most relationships like the grim reaper, to be dealt with in one way shape or form, even if not to be undertaken. The enforced notion that, for a straight couple who have been together over a year, marriage is inevitable puts a dreadful strain on a relationship, even if both parties don’t want to marry one day, even if they do; but especially when one party does and the other does not. Suddenly there’s a subject that one party wants to discuss and the other to avoid; snide comments are bandied around; there are misunderstandings followed by disappointments followed by screaming rows. Anything small and square could represent a ring, even if it’s a box of panel pins in a paper bag. Any gift of an item of jewellery that isn’t an engagement ring is a cause of conflict. At this point in the relationship, the person less inclined to marry has probably never felt as disinclined in her or, more probably, his* life. In fact, the disinclined party has probably never wanted to be with the other person less. But here’s the rub: you see, the marriage card is down, on the table, staring at you. It’s saying things like: “You’ll have wasted x years of this person’s life if you don’t want to marry them,” it’s arguing that: “You’ve been in this relationship too long for it to be easy to walk away from; after all, it’s not that you don’t love this person and it would shut them up.” And most importantly, it’s battering you with that most powerful of all words: SHOULD…
THE SENSE OF DUTY
Because society dictates this turn of events, the expectation of a significant other is raised beyond anything that anyone can possibly live up to. And when the other person doesn’t match up, it is infuriating. They should want to spend every waking moment with you even if you’re doing something they’re not interested in; they should bring you presents for no reason; they should never look at any other person than you in a sexual way; they should tell you where they are every waking moment; they should be home at what you consider to be a decent time; they should allow you to read their personal mail messages; they should allow you into their heads so that you can see what they’re thinking and when asked: “What are you thinking?” they should be thinking about how amazing you are… In short, they should want to marry you. We’ve all either pulled the “should” card at some point in our lives or had it pulled on us and it has the ability to manipulate like nothing other than sex can.
This message of “should” appeals to the sense of guilt we all carry somewhere deep inside of us; the sensation of responsibility that keeps us in check. It allows us to fill our space in western culture and it harbours our most nonsensical neuroses. They say that even innocent prisoners feel a certain sense of relief at being sentenced – I like to think of this as the Should Factor. The Should Factor**in relationships suggests that we aren’t currently pulling our weight in the battle to integrate in the world and that not only is this a problem for us, but that it’s now affecting someone else.
A relationship can have the ability to enhance your life, but it should not be the thing on which you rest your entire happiness. And you most certainly cannot help the way you do or don’t feel about someone, especially when feelings change, as they inevitably do over time. So what happens when, for whatever reason, someone realises that they are no longer in love with their partner? Should the self same sense of duty apply? I really can’t understand why you would stay with someone you no longer love because they have been irresponsible enough to rest their sense of worth completely in your hands. And would you really want someone to stay with you out of a sense of duty? Surely this is the main cause of affairs and deceit, when in actual fact, there could be a v.dignified ending and both parties could move on rather than sit around feeling resentful that the other person didn’t feel how they promised they would. In fact, it would make more sense to not force people into the corner of making promises they just cannot keep in the first place.
Unfortunately for marrieds, the person who is no longer in love is caught in a bind – you see, back on the wedding day they made a promise to love and cherish the other until death do them part and not only promised them, but promised aaaaalllll the people who came to witness the homogenising of two beings into one married unit. It is never easy for anybody to walk away from someone with whom they’ve been intimate, but once married, you can’t just walk away. In fact, you’re entering into a whole new world of pain – you’ve signed a contract. There are the friends you had together for a start – who gets to keep who? There’s the partner’s family and the wave of disapproval that will rain down on you, despite the fact that you’re only crime is to not feel the way everybody expected you to. There’s the separating of things you own together and the loss of most of it out of sheer guilt. There’s a mortgage you have to plump up for as well as the rent for wherever you’re to stay while it’s all sorted out.
And then there’s the “wronged” partner in question. Let’s say you’ve done it – you’ve got past the screaming and shouting, past the sobbing and begging, past the leg-clinging and the hysteria. You’ve packed a few things, you’ve found somewhere to stay and you think you’re on the home run. You’re not. You see, you are bought and paid for and your partner (who you’d like to now consider your ex) has the certificate to prove it and you’re playing silly buggers. The problem is that there is no shop to take you back to so that you can be mended because you prepped and sold yourself, so the indignation is aimed straight at you. How dare you malfunction in this manner! This person now believes that they own you. They own the right to your body and mind. And you should love them because that’s what it said on your tin several moons ago.
It’s an absurd belief that anyone can force another to love them through sheer pressure. It’s a little bit like attempting to “cure” homosexuality***, wouldn’t you say? You will love me… You will love the opposite sex… You should love either men or women… Not really something you can help or dictate, is it? Painful to accept that you are no longer loved by one that you love, undoubtedly; but out of anyone’s control.
There is this idea that love is defined by the actions of a person, not their thoughts and feelings. A woman whose husband left her for another woman once said to me, not knowing me incredibly well: “It’d have been better if he’d died, because then at least it wouldn’t mean he didn’t love me.” I nearly bit my tongue clean through.
The sense of possession, brought about by sheer indignation, can v.quickly turn into obsession when not satiated. And there is no untreated psychological disorder more frightening than limerence (think of Glen Close in Fatal Attraction) , which in itself is driven by the notion that love and marriage is deemed to be a human right.
Has your partner recently left you? Are you finding it hard to believe that they can just walk away from a love as true as the two of you seemed to share? The sad fact is that this person has left you and therefore clearly doesn’t reciprocate your feelings. And they have no responsibility to look after your wellbeing – they are not your parent. The thing to do (the only thing to do) is to wait for the pieces of your life to mend themselves. Suffering from a broken heart is like suffering from a hangover: you have to ride the waves until the pain passes. And it will… as long as you don’t fight it. Limerence can have the unfortunate effect of allowing you to forget your dignity: you cling to legs, you get on your hands and knees and beg, you slash clothes, you smash glasses, you break bones, you attempt to kill yourself, you scream and shout, you rant and rail, you sob until you can’t breathe, you appeal to your ex partner’s family, you win over their friends. The thing is, if this person would ever have considered coming back to you at some point when they first left, they sure as hell wouldn’t now!
And what if they did? How would you ever be able to maintain a relationship knowing that the reason the other person is with you is because you begged them to be, and not because they decided they’d made a mistake and come back to you?
* At the risk of banging on in my usual feminist fash’, I am genuinely as outraged that it’s women who are more brainwashed into believing in this marriage malarkey as I am about marriage itself. Whilst boys are messing around with their numerous mates up trees, little girls play with dolls. Little girls play house and create monogamous bonds with other little girls… until another best friend comes along. Little girls like fairy princesses and fairytale-wedding happy endings and dream of one day being that princess with the big poufy dress at her own fairytale-wedding. Little girls grow up into little women who watch the sort of patronising films that do a proper rage on me like “What Women Want.” The difference between little girls and little boys is nowhere near as vast as we make it. A child’s core personality is established early on in life and we push boys and girls into their separate pigeonholes before they have a chance to form their own opinion of how they should be. This early indoctrination shows itself later, when little girls are grown, in the lack of ambition in the majority of women to become politicians. Boys run the world with all its guns and girls play house and type things for the boys.
Little girls are promised from a v.early age that when they grow up, they will meet someone of the opposite sex and get married. They are rarely told that they may meet someone of the same sex. They are seldom told that some people never marry and that if they don’t that doesn’t make them half a person. Unlike Father Christmas and other fantasy tales, the marriage myth is everywhere as girls are growing up too, so they still believe it when they are at an eligible age. It is the cause of much frustration to straight women that men don’t generally have the same approach to relationships or have the same emotions as them or aren’t aware of the “etiquette” of holding a relationship together. And it is the cause of much bewilderment to straight men when their other half flies off the handle because they were unable to guess what said other half was thinking or wanting. We create this divide when we teach children that they are either boy or girl and that boys and girls act in certain, v.different ways.
** The problem I have, personally, with the Should Factor, is that I know of its existence, but I am unable to fend it off completely: I am not emotionally mature enough to be in an open relationship. It would hurt me too greatly and would, no doubt, be the cause of many arguments. I’m under no illusions about this – I realise that I feel as I do because I have been indoctrinated into thinking of a romantic relationship within certain boundaries, rather than as a thing that is changeable with different partners and with shifting emotions. Even non-romantic relationships have their rules. I do, however, believe that if we can stop enforcing the Should Factor so vehemently (and I mean in all walks of life), that the urge to shake off the ball and chain and run would be lessened, and the ego would emerge less bruised from constant indignation – our jealousy and resentment is self-inflicted.
*** Or attempting to deny bisexuality because you’ve never even considered the fact that you could be that way inclined yourself. Both gay and straight people are guilty of this! Stop trying to mould people – it’s not denial, it’s a way of life and it is not a choice!