They had a chance encounter on 5th Avenue in New York City.
The boy and the girl in the movie I was watching.
They were two old friends who crushed on one another growing up together in Texas. He was an aspiring novelist attending the University of Texas. She was going to Yale, after abandoning her childhood dreams of being a creative artist.
They reconnected over dinner and drinks, catching up from the years apart.
He was a dreamer. And his hope and optimism was contagious and inspiring. His belief in her and encouragement to chase her dreams moved her. It made her feel good. She was in love.
In a later scene, we see the young woman having dinner with her mother, where she reveals her plans to leave Yale, return to Texas to attend the University of Texas, and marry this boy from back home.
Her mother was mildly amused, but mostly incredulous and discouraging.
“Keep seeing him if you have to. Live with him. I don’t care, but don’t marry him,” the mother said. “I understand what you see in him. I get it. I do. He’s the opposite of your father. He’s a romantic. But he’s also very fragile. I saw that when his father died.”
She paused for a moment, accepting her daughter’s angry glare.
“Don’t do this. You’ll regret it and you’ll only hurt him in the end. What you love about him now, you’ll hate about him in a few years. You may not realize it but you and I are a lot more alike than you think.”
“You’re wrong,” the daughter said. “You and I are nothing alike.”
“Really? Just wait,” the mother said. “We all eventually turn into our mothers.”
Why Do We Marry?
The first time, I mean.
Is it because we love someone so much that we can’t stand the idea of living without them?
Is it because we love how they make us feel? Or how we feel being seen together?
Is it because we love what they do for us? What they provide?
Is it because we want to have children, and we identify who we think will make the best mother or father to our future kids?
Here’s what I feel sure about: Pretty much NO ONE gets married, spends a lot on the wedding, pools their financial resources and material possessions, and has children together with the intent or expectation that it’s going to end in horrible pain, and potentially cost a lot of money, and in the BEST of cases, costs half of your children’s lives, and in the WORST, costs much more time than that OR involves unsupported parenting to children whose other parent is almost never around.
The most generous divorce stats say that marriages end about 40 percent of the time, but I still like to say marriages fail “half the time,” because it feels truer and because I don’t think marriages are successful simply because two miserable people who hate or cheat on one another haven’t technically divorced.
Therapist Lesli Doares said it best during my first interview with her on her podcast radio show, discussing HuffPost content. I’m paraphrasing, but she said something like: “They have a section for Weddings and a section for Divorce, but there isn’t any information about actual marriage.”
Even the most beautiful, inspiring and successful marriages feature two people who will be sure to tell you how hard it is: “It wasn’t always easy! We didn’t always like each other, but we always loved each other!”
WHY DO WE MARRY?
We mostly suck at it. It’s mostly hard. So, why?
What other Important Life Thing do we collectively fail at more than marriage?
Another Tragic Ending
More time passes for the young couple in the movie I’m watching.
After a few years together, the lustful, feel-good stuff had disappeared, and her husband hadn’t written the next Great American Novel and she started to lose faith in him. She started pushing him to go back to school to study something more financially sustainable.
After growing up in a wealthy family and unquestioned financial security, she was dissatisfied with the couple’s humble apartment. She wanted more. And she was afraid she’d never have it if she stayed married.
Her: “You have to realize this isn’t working. We’re not right for each other. I wish we were, but we’re just not.”
Him: “What do you mean, we’re not right for each other? We’re perfect for each other.”
Her: “No. We’re not. We would be if we didn’t live in the real world. I need a life that is more structured and I need a future that is more structured. I want to be the person that you want me to be but I just can’t.”
Him: “But you are. You are. Just stop.”
Her: “I really wanted to be this person that you thought I was. I really did, but I’m just not that person. I just don’t have your kind of faith in things. I’m cynical. I’m pragmatic. I’m a realist.”
Him: “No, you’re just afraid. We’ve been through this so many times.”
Her: “No, I’m not scared. I’m unhappy. I’m just really, really unhappy.”
Later, she meets a guy in one of her grad school classes and develops a close enough relationship with him to ask him to drive her to an abortion clinic where she terminated an early pregnancy she hadn’t yet told her husband about.
We see the crying, confused, scared young woman, wet from the rain, clinging to this other guy while sitting inside his parked car outside of the clinic.
And then through the windshield, we see the husband, headlights shining on him, standing in the rain, taking in the moment, and his wife sees him, and cries even more.
End of scene.
End of marriage.
The Paradox: Because We’re Human
Some people believe the easy answer is to simply not get married and discourage others from doing so. Great. Have fun with that.
I admit to being as cynical about marriage as I’ve ever been, but I still believe the world needs marriage.
And even if you disagree, I hope I can appeal to your inner-pragmatist, because regardless of how good of an idea you consider it to be, 95 percent of adults are either married, formerly married, or plan on marrying in the future. The simple math is that almost everyone gets married anyway.
Everyone will have their own individual reasons for doing so, but I think the simplest explanation is that everyone thinks they’re supposed to.
I think the majority of people in the world do almost everything they do because that’s what they believe they’re supposed to be doing.
From our earliest memories, we saw married people, families, or young people dating and exploring the possibility of marriage. We see those same stories play out in novels, on TV, and in music.
And marriage crosses religious and cultural boundaries, so we see it everywhere. All over the world, you’ll find countless examples of two people who felt attraction for one another (or part of an arranged marriage) and now live in a committed partnership that both people expect will last the rest of their lives.
People get married because, for them, getting married is a personal goal.
People get married because they want to have a family and believe that’s best accomplished with marriage as a foundation.
People get married because they feel social pressure to do so.
People get married because they’re afraid of being alone.
People get married because they believe sex outside of marriage is a sin and they REALLY want to have sex and not feel shitty about it.
People get married because they want a financial partner.
People get married because they want to be with someone who makes them feel safe, or special, or a bunch of other good things.
And, of course, people get married because they love someone more than they love themselves and crave the opportunity to love that person every day for the rest of their lives.
Why do people get divorced?
Because their expectations weren’t met.
Someone broke a promise, or someone FELT like a promise was broken.
Two people failed to communicate in ways the other person could understand well enough to adjust whatever behaviors or mindsets needed changed in order to save it.
Because their feelings changed. About their spouse, or maybe about someone else they should have never gotten so close to, or maybe just about themselves.
People get divorced because they were dishonest with themselves before and during marriage.
People get divorced because human emotion is very powerful, and we pursue what feels good and avoid what feels bad, which means our marriages are screwed once bad feelings seep in.
People get divorced because of hedonic adaptation. That’s the psychological phenomenon we experience when awesome things stop feeling awesome once we get used to them. Hedonic adaptation is why we get sick of eating the same foods even if they’re delicious, or hearing the same songs even if they’re amazing, or why we feel dissatisfied with our homes, cars, clothes, paychecks, and everything else as we get used to them.
The people who made us feel the best we’ve ever felt stop making us feel that way. Because they change AND we change.
The people who made our bodies tense, our hearts race, our privates scream to touch theirs… they become the people that bore us sexually.
Maybe because of emotional reactions to their behaviors. Or maybe just because we’ve known them long enough. You know the phrase: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”? I’m pretty sure that was coined by someone who never got tired of having sex with the same person because of how rarely he or she got to see them.
People get bored and angry and disappointed and resentful and ashamed and feel shitty. About their partners. But maybe mostly about themselves.
It’s so hard when you realize you’re not the person you wanted to be and your life hasn’t turned out the way you’d expected.
It’s so hard when you wake up in a shit-festival of a marriage, and your life doesn’t feel like your own, and Jack and Nora are sharing their amazing-looking photos from another fucking vacation where everything about the photos represent everything your life is not.
It’s so hard when you see people in love on TV, while your spouse ignores you but lights up for other people. It’s so hard when you hear about good things happening in your friends’ marriage when your spouse is ignoring you sexually in favor of late-night internet porn or romance novels and detachable showerheads.
It’s so hard being an adult.
Because you thought you’d wake up one day and FEEL like how you imagined all the adults to feel when we were kids. When we’d finally have our hormones under control, and mature into the kind of person who always did the right thing and made a lot of money and could buy and do anything we wanted.
It’s so hard being an adult because it’s so damn disappointing when you realize you made all that shit up in your little-kid head and none of the adults actually knew what they were doing either. They just faked it the best they could for our sake just like we’re doing now for our kids.
We tried the best we could to be who we thought we were supposed to be.
So we got married. Because that’s what we’re supposed to do.
But there was so much we didn’t know.
Like how this thing that was supposed to make us feel good could make us feel so bad.
We didn’t know what we wanted back then isn’t what we’d want later. We didn’t know people would start acting differently. We didn’t know the holidays wouldn’t feel like they did when we were kids. We didn’t know how to imagine life without the people who die, or move away, or just stop calling.
We didn’t know so much would change.
We didn’t know so much could change.
People don’t know what to expect.
We say “I do” with the best of intentions only to realize everything we signed up for is some bullshit we don’t actually recognize. Because our partners have let us down. Or because WE let us down.
People don’t know HOW to be married when they decide to get married.
But maybe we can change that.
With so much at stake, I think we have to try.