If You Could Only Choose One: Love or Marriage?

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Marriage matters. But honestly? Not as much as love.
Marriage matters. But honestly? Not as much as love.

I’m pretty good at beating myself up.

If they awarded fighting championship belts for kicking one’s own ass, I’d be a top contender.

And I’m a bruised, bloodied mess after this past week—about 13 months after my marriage detonated.

Because I’ve been having inconvenient feelings about my ex-wife for the past week or so.

It’s because getting over anger is one of the things I’m best at.

It’s because she’s my son’s mother and seeing them together is like watching the sun set into the ocean, or watching a meteor shower from the top of a mountain. Seeing them together combines two of the most beautiful things I know of.

Mega-beauty. Beauty on steroids. And it affects me down deep where almost nothing can reach.

Removing from the conversation the special love a father has for his son which all parents and perhaps many non-parents understand, I can say with absolute certainty that I have never loved anything the way I loved his mother.

Not even my parents, who I adore. You’re sort of born into loving your parents, and if they love you back, you just always have that mutual love. The same is true in reverse of your own children, except you’d quite literally do anything for them.

But your spouse is a different animal entirely. You choose them. You love them the same as your parents and children, except there’s no genetics tying you to them.

The bond is something more powerful than genealogy. Supernatural, really.

The souls melt together in a spiritual cauldron.

I think that’s why you die a little when that bond is forcibly torn apart.

Marriage Matters

It does.

It matters.

I know there are a lot of people who don’t like it and have been destroyed by it and want no part of it.

Maybe I’ll never do it again. I don’t know.

There are a lot of people who believe monogamy is against our very nature as human beings.

I get it. I really do.

The anti-marriage crowd exists because almost everyone gets married, and statistically half crash and burn, and then a bunch of things suck afterward.

It cripples individuals across all four key areas of life: Mental, Physical, Emotional, Spiritual. Families break. Friends are lost. Homes are abandoned. The cost is high. Financially and within the fabric of our lives. On the inside.

People look at marriage and say: “It’s bullshit! It fails HALF the time, and a large percentage of married people are miserable!”

Hard to argue with them.

But marriage does make sense to me. It’s the optimum way to raise well-rounded human beings.

And I don’t think “marriage” is broken. I think people are broken. And I think, viewed through the right prism, the appropriate conclusion is that, yes, marriage sucks—but it doesn’t have to.

Here’s a five-point, scaled-down excerpt from something I wrote in August 2013 on the subject:

In Defense of Marriage

1. A life partner

I don’t really like being alone. I think most people feel that way. I think we inherently crave human connection. There are many ways to achieve it. Marriage is one of those ways. I know what you’re thinking Person Who Hates Marriage. I don’t want some ball and chain tying me down! My friends, my family and my dog keep me company! Yeah, I get it. But, guess what? Someday you’re going to be old. OLD. And I don’t want you dying alone at the local Bingo game reeking of Ben Gay while suffering from gout and fibromyalgia.

2. A sexual partner

Having sex is important. It’s good for you. It keeps you sane. And it chemically and spiritually enhances your relationship with your partner. Sure, you can have sex with a bunch of randoms, if that’s your thing. But if you do that too much, you’ll just end up with bastard children and gonorrhea. And then you’ll die alone. With herpes on your mouth. It’s better to do it with just one person. More boring? Probably. But that’s why you practice often. So you get really good at it. So good that all other people in the world could never do it as well as you guys can.

3. An emotional partner

Everyone has a different childhood experience. But for the most part, we’re raised by parents in some form or fashion. They are the people who love us, and teach us, and provide for us, and care for us, and fill a million different roles as we mature through our youth. And then one day, maybe when you least expect it, they’ll be gone. It’s a hard time. And having a strong, loving, emotional connection with someone—someone you can count on to carry you when you’re too weak to walk, to hold you when you need to cry, to sit patiently when you need to scream—is a valuable thing. We almost all leave the nest. And there is wisdom in building a new nest. Otherwise, you might just end up flying from one tree to the next, shitting on freshly washed cars and singing for a mate who never comes.

4. A spiritual partner

I understand not everyone makes faith or spirituality part of their lives. But I do aspire to Christian principles, which I’d break down into a super-basic philosophy: Love people. Give more than you take. Don’t be a dick. I’m almost decent at two out of three. No matter what faith or philosophy you practice, some days are harder than others. Life gets in the way. We question things. We have doubts. We search for meaning. Having someone around to help you walk your walk is a helpful life tool. More importantly, if there are children, having mom and dad on the same page really helps establish whatever foundation you want your kids to have.

5. A parenting partner

Science supports the notion that having both a mother and father at home is a wonderful thing. Children are better off when they receive the daily benefits of both. And it’s invaluable for them to have their male and female role models show them what unconditional love in a family is supposed to look and feel like. Ever notice how kids who grow up with mothers or fathers who do something great, seem to make following in their footsteps look so easy? Happens in sports all the time. Great football player has kid that goes on to be a great football player. Successful attorney has kid that goes on to be a successful attorney. Famous politician has kid that goes on to succeed in politics. The list goes on and on. Genetics have a little to do with it. But mostly, it’s the example. The football player’s son knows nothing but how to succeed in athletics. The attorney’s daughter never dreams of doing anything but going to law school. The politician’s child never considers any career but public service. They have the blueprint. They follow it. Because they don’t know how to fail at those things. The same can be true of marriage. The same SHOULD be true of marriage.

Love Never Fails

But when the enchanting and delightful Jennie Saia (she’s married; calm down) asked me the following question in the comments of my last post, something inside me changed.

“If you had to get just one right – say the universe wouldn’t let you have two, no matter what – would you choose love or marriage?”

I’m not sure why it even took 10 seconds to decide. I guess I was just being careful.

You choose love every time.

Jennie’s question doesn’t alter any facts about my life. The truth is the truth.

I failed my wife. I was a subpar husband. And she eventually fell out of love with me and moved on.

I didn’t take it well. (You’re allowed to laugh at that.)

In the final analysis, I was bad at marriage. And I have the self-flagellation cuts and scars to prove it.

But I’ve never been bad at love. In fact, I’m kind of awesome at it.

If you’ll indulge me a Forrest Gump quote: I’m not a smart man. But I know what love is.

A simple question, really. But a profound one.

Love or marriage? If you had to choose.

If we’re ever going to heal. If we’re ever going to love or be loved again. Then we MUST (it’s a legit prerequisite to a functional life) forgive ourselves.

We must.

I’m not very good at it. So much of that hinges on failing my wife and son. Failing my friends and extended family. Failing myself.

I was a bad husband. And a bunch of people paid the price for that. Including my two favorites.

How do we forgive ourselves?

Maybe with some perspective. Maybe it starts right there.

Love or marriage? If you could only have one.

Love is patient.

Love is kind.

It keeps no record of wrongs.

Love always hopes.

Love never fails.

We shouldn’t forget it.

The marriage is gone. A memory. An old ring in my dresser drawer. An old photo album. An empty spot on the wall where a frame once hung.

But the love doesn’t have to be gone.

And we get to sleep at night because we love. We get to hold our heads up high because we love. We get to draw others to us because we love.

We get to forgive ourselves because we love.

And then, I think, we get to find out what we’re made of.

69 thoughts on “If You Could Only Choose One: Love or Marriage?”

  1. Maybe I’m shallow, however, #2 & #4 are both my favorite AND the most important to me.

    And I agree…love matters…and I would (and still do) always choose Love.

    Your blog is still my favorite that I stumbled across and chose to follow.

    1. I don’t think wanting the safety, consistency and chemistry of a sexual partner you love OR wanting a spiritual partner to help you and potential children walk the walk is anything near being shallow.

      Thank you so much for the smile and good feelings you provide by saying something like that.

      Your favorite. Goodness.

      I hope you’re having a great weekend. I really appreciate your time.

    1. Very kind of you to say. And I’m so glad.

      Thank you for making time to read it and say hi. I appreciate your time very much.

      Hope you’re having a great weekend. 🙂

  2. It’s well written Matt but I don’t buy it. It’s a completely false and flawed question. Like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg, which implies one did. There is no choice between love and marriage because there is no marriage without love. It may be battered, or may be betrayed (think Oscar Wilde), it may be compromised. But without love it’s an economic contract. Those don’t generally happen in the western world these days, even arranged marriages usually have some love, the arranging is prior.

    It also troubles me that you still write stuff like this:

    “I failed my wife. I was a subpar husband. And she eventually fell out of love with me and moved on.”

    No. Never. She failed you. She failed your son and she failed herself if she was as nice before as you say. Because when someone isn’t a great husband what do you do? You talk to them. You work at it. You get counselling. And if you really need to for your sanity then maybe you leave. But you never cheat. That’s the one thing that is never justifiable. Well, that at violence. Actually they’re both violence, one is physical and one is emotional. And we would never say you failed her if she hit you. Would we?

    I have known situations of domestic violence (not mine!) and since no one is perfect, the hitter can usually say “but she…” And sometimes those things are trivial and stupid like “I was so angry because she didn’t have dinner on the table” but usually there’s something behind it that’s bigger like he feels disempowered because she wants autonomy, he doesn’t feel valued when she isn’t making him the centre of her world. But it doesn’t make hitting her ok in any way. It doesn’t mean she failed him because he felt disempowered and lashed out.

    As for the chicken and the egg- yes, love is the most important bond people can have. But marriage is the safe space for love. Can you really have love, long term love without the safety of marriage? And here I include common law marriage. I don’t know that you can. I think you can have infatuation any old time. But not love, not that kind of love you’re talking about.

    I choose married love as my goal and my ideal. Always have, even as a teenager. The concepts can’t be chosen between like that. Only facilely.

    To that end, like King Julien “I say the egg, because eggs are breakfast foods”. It’s about as sensible as that.

    1. Maybe I’m not understanding Jennie the way she intended.

      But I took the question as a cue to cut myself a little more slack.

      Sure, I didn’t get the marriage part right. But I did get the love part right.

      And now, more than a year later, isn’t that a premise on which some healing can begin? For people who blame themselves for failed marriages?

      I say yes.

      You’re awesome for always defending me, but it’s important that we clear up the “cheating” thing.

      I’ve never used the word “cheat” or “infidelity.”

      I don’t like talking about it or thinking about it, because it makes my skin crawl. And I don’t like defending the thing that made me the most miserable I’ve ever been.

      But facts are important.

      Our marriage evaporated.

      We slept apart for a year and a half.

      She eventually moved out. I found out she was with another guy at his house a week or so later.

      You’re free to label that how you see fit.

      But it doesn’t quite pass my personal sniff test for “cheating” or “infidelity.”

      But that said? I don’t really give a shit if it happened three months before she left or three months after. The timeline never mattered.

      My marriage broke. Hurt bad. Found out about another thing. Hurt worse.

      The details couldn’t matter less to how I felt about it.

      It was brutal.

      1. I admire you for taking so much on yourself Matt but there’s no way that guy wasn’t lined up well longer than a week. And there’s not a coincidence you slept apart that long without meeting halfway. Call it whatever label, she still failed you. You were the one who was still there. She could have tried.

        I’m like that nosy grandmother who worries you don’t have enough to eat on long journeys and packs enough sandwiches for an army. You can call it whatever, but it still doesn’t smell like you failed her. Really.

    2. Your comment disturbs me a little. It seems that you are equating the level of accountability that Matt is taking with the mentality of a victim of domestic violence.

      And I would bet five (hypothetical) dollars that you haven’t been in a shitty marriage.

      1. You’d be wrong. But even a shitty marriage isn’t necessary the fault of both parties. Sometimes it is, but running off with someone else is pretty good evidence it isn’t one of those.

        Just my view, but cheating is more like domestic violence than you might think.

        1. Okay well I owe you five hypothetical dollars.
          But I still disagree with what you are saying. Both parties in a failed marriage (unless it’s an abusive one) have some level of fault even when one of them cheats. It takes two people to make a marriage succeed & both people contribute when it doesn’t.

          1. I disagree because I think cheating is abuse, and a lot of therapists dealing with betrayed partners agree. I’m not suggesting Matt is in this category at all but many have PTSD symptoms just like physically abused spouses. So no, the betrayed party is never to blame for an affair. Just like the domestic violence victim is never to blame for being hit. No matter their human faults.

    3. @Nephila’s “I choose married love as my goal and my ideal. Always have, even as a teenager. The concepts can’t be chosen between like that. Only facilely. ..”>>

      I couldn’t agree more..And as I read Matt’s piece I was forming these same thoughts in my head..Good thing I read comments(well when time permits..) before I respond..Been reading Matt for a bit now; but I don’t always respond..I’ve been married, happily..And I’ve divorced a person I was IN love with(and from reading Matt’s writes; so has he) I’ve come to the conclusion; that marriage takes 2..When it comes to divorce; BOTH parties have failed the marriage. (with the exception of domestic abuse) Cheating is , usually, a symptom of an issue in the marriage. I say , usually, because sometimes folks go into a marriage knowing they aren’t ready to commit to one person. Many marriages survive an incident of cheating..Ask any couple that has been married for over 30 years; and most of them will honestly admit it. My parents have been married and in love for 52 years; and I’ve never asked them about the topic of cheating.(even though I divorced over 1 incident of cheating) True love survives all. Years later after divorce; my exhusband is one of my best & respected friends. I forgave him; but only post-divorce. After soul-searching & years of co-raising children(who btw have benefited greatly because their divorced parents get along so well); the constant is love. But add to that I also had to forgive myself for not hanging in the marriage. (he wanted to do marriage counseling; & I “felt” I didn’t need it since I wasn’t the offender..) We forgive. We mature. We learn ..We move forward..

      Having said ALL of that..I can’t choose love or marriage. I choose married love. (after being in love & married; nothing else will suffice) Enough so that I’m trying with every celll in my body to live a celibate lifestyle until I marry again..For the first time ever! Tough with a capital T. lol..Great piece Matt that made me reflect on alot..Be blessed & encouraged.

      1. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all if the wisdom you’ve shared here.

        And more reminders that there is hope for long-term love and functionality even post-divorce when forgiveness and our children are the focus.

        I hope I have a story like that some day.

        Thank you so much.

        1. You WILL have a story like that & also already have a strong testimony..Of love..There is no doubt in my mind you were in love; and are (from the sound of it..) not over being in love with your ex-wife..It takes time ..And let no one, even yourself, convince you that there is a certain time frame to be over it…It took me a long time to get over mine. Or rather through it. (likewise with him) But when the anger fades and you forgive both yourself(don’t be so hard on yourself; for its a human reflex to be angry when betrayed by a loved spouse..) you’ll be fine. In the meantime? Those lovely thoughts you have when you watch your child & ex together; will be thoughts you have more often..You will just be glad to have crossed paths & to have created a wonderful child. One more thing I’ll say from my one experience..Usually unions formed quickly behind another union breaking(or the cause of one breaking) don’t last. Not that I found great pleasure that things didn’t work out for my ex husband(honestly I was sad for him..) ; but things built on a shaky or funky foundation usually don’t last. The UP side? You’ve still got a chance to be a united parenting front for your child; and will civility. Trust me, it makes a major difference. Because children learn from their parents what a sound relationship IS.

          You’re open, you’re honest, and you’re perfectly capable of being in a love relationship. I won’t be surprised one day to read you’re marriage minded again also. I learn just as much from reading your thoughts; so keep writing it out..Virtual high 5^

  3. I wondered if my reference to the Ballad of Reading Gaol was too obscure.

    “Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
    By each let this be heard,
    Some do it with a bitter look,
    Some with a flattering word,
    The coward does it with a kiss,
    The brave man with a sword!
    Some kill their love when they are young,
    And some when they are old;
    Some strangle with the hands of Lust,
    Some with the hands of Gold:
    The kindest use a knife, because
    The dead so soon grow cold.
    Some love too little, some too long,
    Some sell, and others buy;
    Some do the deed with many tears,
    And some without a sigh:
    For each man kills the thing he loves,
    Yet each man does not die.”

    But on another note- I don’t know how many millions of blogs you read amongst your writing but if you would like to read one about arguments, or what is love, or what is happiness, I’d appreciate your opinion. Those are fairly recent topics I’ve been struggling with and mostly it’s women who read me so maybe I need to flat out ask some sensible men to? (Sorry that you need to request, it’s a recent thing).

  4. Love, every time. And I think it’s so goddamn important that you touched on self-love and forgiveness. Without it, being bad at romantic love is perhaps a given.

    1. In the end, I want people fretting about marriage to feel empowered. Just get the love part right.

      At least then, we can walk tall.

      Really appreciate you making time. Thank you.

      Hope you’re having an excellent weekend. Please have a great day.

  5. Yesterday I started boxing up memories. This means preserving them, but putting them away so they didn’t hurt my heart anymore when I stumbled across them. I have seventeen years of these memories, they twine through multiple homes, various milestones, holidays on different continents and of course the lives of my children. It is difficult to box memories pretending they did happen.

    It is difficult to forgive yourself, your failures sit with you whispering don’t they.

    Like you I choose love. Always.

    1. 🙁 yeah. Not a fun task.

      Last November, I pulled out the Christmas decorations. Many of those have personal stories attached to them. It was a hard thing. And decorating was a tricky job because of it.

      1. Choosing love, Matt. I think when you decide this it gets easier. For me it is easier. I can’t erase 17 years. I can’t pretend he wasn’t at the birth of my first grandson, or the weddings of my children. I can’t pretend the first 13 years weren’t filled with lots of really good things. So I am choosing to keep lots of those pictures and memories right were they are, in photo albums that we often look at.

  6. Matt you don’t cut your self enough slack. You have taken the failure in your marriage as solely your doing. You do need to forgive yourself. You also need to take your ex wife down from the pedestal where you have placed her. Sorry for being so blunt, and I realize you continue to sort things out, but I can’t believe she is the perfect woman you continue to write about. Sure, maybe she is a good mother. It is touching to see her with your son being that great mother. But she failed you in your marriage. The hard truth is also that sometimes people change and they just can’t get back to that place where a marriage started, the reasons they were together in the first place. It is devastating for the person who still wants in, but it is so unhealthy to continue on with the might have beens, what I did wrong, how did this happen.
    Choose love, choose to love yourself more, so that you can move on to share love with someone who wants to share that love back. You deserve it. You are worth it.

  7. I’ll only make one last point and of course it’s only my opinion, but if these things are in dichotomy (ie if it’s not chicken and egg) then isn’t “choose love” just a *lovely* excuse to cheat? Oh I’ve been married 10 years and I’m ground down by the compromise and the kids and never having time to connect so I met someone and…I choose love. It sounds great right? Damn the marriage, choose love. In my view that’s a warped approach and it misses not only the point that they need each other (love and marriage that is) but it also mistakes infatuation for love. Like I said you can have infatuation any day. JMO

    1. I’d say that anyone who thinks I would advocate or defend infidelity doesn’t know me very well, and had grossly perverted the message. Anyone who would think that has no idea what it takes to CHOOSE LOVE in a marriage–even when it’s hard. Even when it hurts.

      If you’re married, BE MARRIED. Love AND get all the little intricacies of marriage right, too. It’s better for everyone that way.

      This post was supposed to serve one purpose only.

      If you’re someone like me. And your marriage ended. And you’re healing or trying to. And you’re having trouble because you have a hard time with the whole forgiveness thing.


      This question is important. Love or marriage?

      Because one is clearly more important than the other. And realizing you didn’t fail at the love part provides perspective that could help someone like me get past some of the other shortcomings.

      In no way, do I think it’s reasonable to be in a relationship, go off with someone else, and justify it in the name of “love.”

      I, perhaps wrongly, assume everyone knows what I mean.

      What love really is.

      It’s NOT infatuation. It’s not “feelings.”

      Love is something well-beyond the things we see happening in romantic comedies.

      It serves. Forgives. Is unselfish. Is kind.

      And it can be given to anyone, all the time. Not just people we’re attracted to and want to have sex with.

      But with neighbors and coworkers and people on the street and retail store employees and city workers and the people we will meet tomorrow.

      Love is bigger than the people we want to mate with.

      And that’s the kind I talk about. The real kind.

      1. Just quickly, I NEVER meant to suggest you intended it to sound like that Matt, absolutely not. I just read it with certain people in mind and I see how they could take that from it, it just adds to my suspicion of the statement.

        1. No. You’re right. You are. Just the thought of someone using it to justify cheating because they thought they “loved” the new person made me squirm.

          You’ve read plenty of my blah-blahing to know where I’m coming from. (Which I really appreciate, by the way.) But I’d be sad if others thought I meant something else. And I appreciate that you care about that same thing. I appreciate it a lot.

          1. I think we do both care about the same thing. And you’re a bit of a hero of mine if only because you do still love her. I think we all hope to have love like that that survives everything.

          2. 🙂

            It’s not where I want to be. It’s not healthy, and I know it.

            I try to never think about the the ugly past. Filter the bad. Focus on the good.

            But I think that’s probably a really bad idea in this instance.

            And maybe I’ll go read some old stuff to sort of shock myself back to the real world. I just never really want to do that to myself. *shrug*

  8. Maybe loving love more than marriage can let you give yourself a gift, one long overdue and well-deserved. Maybe you can love yourself enough to forgive yourself. Maybe you can love your ex-wife enough to let her go and let her be the one thing she seems to want to be well, be your son’s mother. I was at a funeral yesterday and they read that Love Is from I Corinthians. It had been read at their wedding thirty-some years before. We all don’t get their kind of love, or at least all the time, although it’s an amazing thing to aspire to. We can all love ourselves fairly though and love those around us however they allow, as friends, or family, or the mother of our children. Rather than regret what’s not I wish for you the chance to love and accept whatever is.
    Beautiful words in defense of marriage and a reminder to cherish whatever we do have, Matt. Thank you.

    1. Always so measured and thoughtful, Jen.

      I bet you’re a spectacular parent.

      Yes. Accept what is. Love anyway.

      That’s supposed to be the takeaway. Now, for the execution…

      I very much appreciate your time and thoughtful commentary. Hope you and your family are having a nice weekend. 🙂

  9. This is such a beautiful post.

    What I got from it was that you weren’t necessarily choosing love over marriage, in the context of romance. But that you were choosing self-love. Over everything, including mourning your old marriage, wanting it back, or blaming yourself for its demise.

    And while I don’t want to you take all the blame for your marriage not working, I’m more aligned with “keep the focus on yourself.” Only because our own behavior is the only thing we can control in this world. The other party may have contributed, but dwelling on that aspect leads to zero growth as a human.

    Coming from the “marriage sucks” camp, I have to admit that science supports pair bonding. For all of the reasons you list. I wrote a guest post for someone and did research; I don’t just have this info at my fingertips! (nerd alert). Where we get into trouble is sexual monogamy. It suppresses a lot of biological urges. It takes work.

    Thank you for mentioning me in this post. I’m happy that Jennie provided the inspiration for this. She’s like that.

    1. She is like that. You are too! Just in a more Bukowski-ish sort of way. 😉

      And yes. I don’t really want to take all the blame either. But self-reflection is more productive than finger pointing. I don’t think I’d want to read too many posts encouraging me to blame others for my problems.

      So, I don’t want to write things like that.

      Thank you for reading and commenting thoughtfully. You get me. And I appreciate that very much.

  10. Reblogged this on Berna's Vibe~The Way I See IT and commented:
    >>I always love the honesty of thoughts when I read Matt’s thoughts..This piece as many of his; made me reflect on my own love life. As well as my outlook on love relationships..I can’t make a choice between love & marriage. I waiting on married love one more time..Can you choose? Enjoy the read..>>Re-blogged by Berna from the Must Be This Tall To Ride blog

  11. Love is a beautiful thing. It’s hard when you love someone but they won’t or can’t return that love but it’s still a beautiful thing even in that situation I think. I’d go as far as to say love is the most beautiful thing no matter what.

    Perhaps in time, in regards to loving your ex, you learn to manage that love by allowing yourself forgiveness.

    1. I think maybe if we stay focused on the unselfish version of loving others, we can live well no matter what they choose.

      It’s all the selfish stuff that breaks me.

      Hope the weekend is treating you well, Vince.

  12. Wow, these were the very words I needed to read today. I’ve had one of those amazing moments of coinciding thoughts. You’ve put these issues– issues we (I) really don’t care to think about or discuss but sometimes (sooner or later) have to– into such thought-provoking prose. Interestingly, the comments and discussions have added a great deal to the topic, unlike the argumentative tangents that sometimes occur when you hit a nerve with people.
    Thank you.

    1. I’m very blessed to have brilliant, thoughtful, kind people participating in these conversations. The comments often include ideas and perspectives I hadn’t necessarily considered.

      Other people’s experiences are incredibly valuable learning opportunities. Which is why reading is so important and I’m trying to do a lot more of it.

      Thank you for being part of it. I’m so grateful you feel like you actually benefit from reading any of this. I really appreciate you making time to read and comment.

  13. Great post and really cool commentary.

    The initial question asked is an easy one to answer. I would choose love. Which is better, a loveless marriage, or being in love and not married. The latter sounds better (duh, right?).

    The deeper question here is really about the nature of love and marriage, how the two wrestle each other. Poets, scholars, and regular dudes from Ohio have been trying to figure this out for centuries.

    How much love is needed to make a marriage work? Pre-arranged marriages have never had anything to do with love. But, my grandparents had only knew each other for 3 weeks before getting married, and they stayed happily married for over 50 years.How much “in love” could they have been in when married? I dated my wife for 5 years before getting married. We were deeply in love prior to being married, but when we married, our relationship changed. For the better in our case, but we both worked at it.

    Tough questions. I think this speaks directly to the book you are writing. Getting marriage right is tough, especially for guys. Love is a part of the equation, but love changes, evolves, grows, shrinks, disappears, reappears, hurts, and heals. Guys need some direction with this.

    Being in love and married works, but it is not a spectator sport. And love is not enough. But required.

    Thanks for the great post and great, honest writing. You are my blogging idol.

    1. You’re too kind. Seriously.

      What a nice story about your grandparents. And your own marriage. Love is a choice.

      “Love is not enough. But required.”


      I spent years thinking love was all you needed. Lennon was NOT talking about marriage.

      Thank you so much for sharing more of your story with us. I can’t thank you enough for your thoughtful contributions, wisdom and encouragement.

  14. Perfect timing for this. I realized this morning the lesson for me is LOVE…and here you asking.
    I chose love.

  15. Love wins, every time! Love also stinks, some of the time. Thank you, J. Geils Band…

    Question back to Matt: Do you think you are really bad at “marriage” or just that both you and your wife weren’t the ideal marriage partners?

    I’d bet on the latter, rather than former.

    If I had a choice to marry a guy with no marriage experience vs. one who had, I’d probably choose the more experienced guy. However, the guy couldn’t be cynical and jaded toward marriage. He would have to be accepting that his first relationship wasn’t the right relationship, not meant for life partnering. He’d have to be open to give himself and learn from his past mistakes. Sounds like a lot, but it’s what first marriage partners do…they trust, leap with their eyes closed, right?

    Anyway, just my current thoughts as I sip my green tea and watch a sappy movie on a Sunday afternoon.

    Cheers — love reading your posts!

  16. Well if I had to choose, I would go with love as well. That being said I also chose to be married. So to be good at both I have to work really, really hard at it. Marriage and love is constant work, 24/7 kind of work. It’s easy to kind of forget about the little things and details. But it’s our job (both partners) to remind each other about the work we both have to put into it for the marriage to work. It’s very easy to blame the other, when in fact it takes 2 to tango.
    So now forgive yourself! You’ve learned a lot. Life is too short to keep thinking about all the wrong we’ve done. Remember all the good, learn from your mistakes and be happy again. We all deserve a second chance, but we don’t get that second chance from others until we give it to ourselves. ?

  17. Dear Matt, you are beating yourself up from what ever hard week you had. I choose love and I chose marriage. It’s been a long journey and sometimes the falling in love seems like yesterday.
    This I know for sure, marriage takes work and it takes the efforts of both people. The ones who stood in front of friends and family. The ones who made promises to each other for better or worse. It’s not just you that failed; she failed too.
    Sometimes we all get caught up in the “romance” part, sometimes we begin to take things for granted and sometimes we aren’t being as observant. A partnership is when you can think something and the other can complete your thought or you can feel that something is not quite right. It takes bravery and courage even with loved ones to ask some digging questions even though it’s going to hurt, hurt badly before you get to the point of no return.
    I feel for you. This hurt of yours is going to take time. There aren’t what ifs, those are gone. There are what can you do with what you’ve learned. You know I’m not a writer, does this make sense?
    Take the time to heal. Give yourself a hug. There are lots of tomorrows with endless possibilities.
    Remember you’re still a really good guy, with a big heart.
    You have lots of goodness to share. You’re older and becoming wiser.
    This is only a road bump.

    ps. We’ve had lots of bumps too, and we’re still together, still loving and struggling after 39 yrs.

  18. You’ve reinforced my theory that my marriage is a soul-snuffing train wreck. Much to ponder here. Thank you.

      1. Ha, it was a well written article; although the defense of marriage part may be construed as an indictment depending on one’s perspective. Regardless, it’s about the kids health, happiness and well being and you hit upon those points succinctly.

  19. This is something I struggle with coming from a different scenario. I have never been married and I jump back and forth so much about my feelings towards marriage. Many of my friends are now getting engaged/married and that scares me. My dad is remarried now.. which also scares me. The idea of finding someone to be with for the rest of my life is so exhilarating and beautiful I want to cry. Especially looking at the 5 facets that you listed.. but the risk that you have to take in order for that to happen is one of the scariest things in the world.

    Don’t get me wrong.. the risk is WHY it is so beautiful and what makes it worth it. Love is a GIFT and I think it means so much because you can lose it. Unfortunately, I’m somewhat tainted already and I’m working on that… on being open to the idea that maybe.. just maybe.. if I let myself, I can love someone the way that you talk about your son’s mother.

    As for beating yourself up… we’re humans.. we are our biggest critique and it is very easy for us to look at ourselves and find absolutely no good. Forgiving ourselves IS probably the hardest thing to do.. ever. Our negative thoughts can eat us alive if we let it… but nobody really wins that happens. By NOT forgiving yourself, you’re letting your past win. Don’t let the choices that you’ve made yesterday dictate your tomorrow. I know.. I know…. that was extremely ciche..

    Anyways.. fantastic post. I’m always moved by the rawness of your posts.

    1. There are no easy answers. One risks a lot when they marry. That is A LOT of trust to put in another human being who you don’t have as much history with as all of the other super-close people in your life.

      We get comfortable. We get in a routine. We trust.

      And then, sometimes… *BOOM*

      What happens next is the real-life grit I want to explore, and varies from person to person.

      There is another half, though. They get it right. They love. They serve. They give more than they take every day, forever.

      Then they have kids. And those kids see how it’s supposed to work. And then they go repeat their parents’ beautiful example.

      And then good spreads.

      Because you just changed the world.

      Be brave, miss. I’m a little hurt and jaded because I made mistakes.

      But you haven’t. You can get it right every day, forever.

      Thank you for your kind note.

      1. Thank you so much for the response. I think the issue is that we have no idea what ‘getting it right’ looks like. I mean I have this idea of the ‘right’ relationship, but how do you know when you find that person? Is it really this magical movie-scene that just works out?

        You tell me to be brave.. and I’ll do my best… but I want you to be brave, too. You might be hurt and jaded, but those mistakes have shaped you into who you are today… and though, I don’t know you… you seem like a pretty wonderful person. We all fall and make mistakes, but we must stand back up and keep moving forward. Without those mistakes, we wouldn’t learn how to get it right every day, forever..

        Keep standing back up and know that beautiful future full of love is in store for you if you let it be.

        1. The biggest mistake of my youth was believing it would just “happen.”

          Love and marriage don’t just happen.

          You make them happen. By choosing them. You actively create this thing that lasts forever.

          You don’t get to control the other person. You only get to choose love. And if you made a wise choice and that person cares about making wise choices, he will choose to love you back forever too.

          You work every day to try to outgive one another. Trying to out-unselfish one another.

          THAT marriage will make it. I know it. But you only get to do your half.

          And the fear and unknown lies in the leap of faith it takes to say “I do” and put all that vulnerability in the hands of another.

          I promise to try to be brave, too.

          Thank you so much for all the nice things you said. I really appreciate it. It means a lot to me that you think me a decent human being. I try hard to be that.

  20. First off: You have the most amazing commentors here. Good calls to good,right?

    Second thing: You understood the question exactly as I meant it. It wasn’t supposed to pit the two things against each other. It was just a way of asking, at the core of yourself, what do you value above all else? And if you actually achieved that thing, isn’t there a measure of peace in that?

    I’m with you. I will always choose love. For example, I know unrequited love can still change a person’s life, because loving deeply gives them a reason to become better – even if they never gain their beloved’s affections. Love isn’t easy, and it isn’t simple, but it is the thing that moves mountains.

    Now marriage… I’m in one, and I’d fight like hell for it. I’d lay myself down for it. But the reason I’d do anything to keep this marriage alive and thriving is because I love this man so much. I’m not fighting for the right to say I did all I could to keep my wedding vows intact. I’m fighting because my soul couldn’t bear letting something this precious crumble away. And that’s why it’s really about love, to me, in the end. And knowing what that feels like – how much another person can make you feel, and how far you’d go for them.. to me, that’s the biggest thing you can ever learn. If we ever did divorce, I’d still hold onto the memory of all the loving we gave each other, and I wouldn’t think they were wasted years.

    I’m rambling. I think you said it all so much better in your post. I’m extremely glad you wrote it.

    1. I’m so glad you saw the post. Thank you for inspiring it.

      I’m really glad I interpreted the spirit of your question correctly. Because it really did make me feel better once the obviousness of the answer struck me.

      And while selfishly, I’m so happy to be feeling better, the real value is for all of the other people out there who can relate to my situation and can possibly benefit from keeping their frame of mind in the right place.

      Really appreciate your time, Jennie. Thank you for being a part of the conversation.

    1. Thank you, Lara. I want to be.

      Nice to see you. Really appreciate you peeking in.

      To another great weekend… cheers.

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