Saturday, October 3, 2009

Marriage, Timing, and a Dose of Reality

While I'm on the subject of marriage, can I rant about my other pet peeve that pertains to it? Oh, yeah, this is my own blog and I can write what I want, no matter how unpopular it may make me. I don't do this to get fans but to air out my brain, which is why I try to stay anonymous here.

Okay, to the topic at hand now:

My state, New Jersey, has a 3-day waiting period for a marriage license. Wisconsin has the longest in the country at 6 days. Nevada famously has none.

Waiting periods seem to frustrate people who wish to elope immediately, as hilariously portrayed in How I Met Your Mother a few seasons ago (the "Atlantic City" episode, to be specific). I have actually heard that complaint in real life, too.

So, here's my question for the world, why elope? I understand wanting to go do it alone if you have loved ones who might cause trouble if you announced your marriage, but I don't understand the immediacy unless one of you is about to deploy and is worried about survivor benefits (I still think that can easily be a mistake but at least there's practical logic behind it). Come to think of it, if your family or friends could ruin your decision to wed what chance does your marriage have?

Marriage is the second biggest decision you can make (after the choice to have children or not). Even with the option of divorce a marriage will affect the rest of your life. Shouldn't a whole lot of time be dedicated to considering such a leap?

People are amazingly good at hiding their true selves for about one to two years. Those under 30 are especially capable of this as they probably don't know themselves all that well yet (there are likely exceptions but I know that was true of all of the people I've ever come in contact with). According to the CDC, the chance of a marriage surviving goes up dramatically if the woman is over 25 (the highest age group they accounted for was 25 and up and they only surveyed women). I find that incredibly unsurprising despite the fact that I have been with my partner since I was 20. Then again, if we'd married back then we would almost certainly have divorced, there was plenty of turmoil and times where we thought it was over in the early years. Instead, we're a happy couple who are more bonded than I ever dreamed I could be with anyone and I give a lot of credit to the fact that we had the freedom to easily split up. We didn't even live together until just before our 10th anniversary.

An old acquaintance once told me that the main benefit to marriage was that it creates an extra hurdle to leaving each other, which makes trying to work things out more appealing. I disagree. To me, that extra hurdle can leave you feeling trapped and we all know how a wild animal reacts to being cornered. It's not pretty and rational thought is long gone at that point.

To those who say love isn't a rational thing and marriage should be all about love, well, you're right but any time you sign ANY legally-binding document there should be plenty of non-emotional thought put into it. Marriage is, first and foremost, a legal mechanism. Can you be 100% sure of the decision to marry? Of course not, but you can hedge your bets by taking the time to get as objective as possible about your prospects.

Love does NOT conquer all, either. Nor is it something that can happen at first sight, as one of my favorite people used to say, "It's really lust at first sight. Love takes a long time to develop, until then it's all about hormones and brain chemistry and those factors fade." Real love needs to be tested thoroughly as well. I have been through a lot of traumatic experiences and found that they can wreck a relationship or strengthen it. The latter is the kind of relationship that can last, as there is no avoiding a certain amount of catastrophes in life.

If you haven't spent a minimum of two years with someone, how can you have shared the experiences that give clues to how your partner reacts to stressful situations? If you haven't seen those reactions how can you even guess that you have the capability to survive real life together?

If anything, the waiting periods for marriage licenses should be lengthened and maybe we should even take a hint from the Catholics and their pre-cana requirements. I rarely agree with the Catholic Church on anything but my parents were pre-cana volunteers and many of my views were shaped by listening to their sessions with young couples. Quite a few had no idea what they were getting into before pre-cana and taking the time to talk about the reality of marriage not only taught them about what could be expected but they clearly learned a lot more about each other by participating in the process. If pre-marital counseling of any kind makes one or both partners uncomfortable how can you possibly expect to be able to work together effectively once legally bound?

Marriage is the beginning of a journey rather than a goal. You should prepare for the trip just as you would prepare for a long-term safari in a dangerous region without a guide or any other grand adventure.

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