Why do we get married? Why do we date? According to evolutionary theory dating and courting is simply a way to try to find a mate for sex so that we can advance the species. And from what some of my single female friends have told me, that does seems to be the driving focus of many of the guys they meet (just without the whole “advancement of the species” side of it). Lots of “hi, I’m Bob, and I brought you a flower. Soooooo… sex now?” type experiences.
I would like to think that guys aren’t all like that though. I mean, yeah, I’m not going to deny we think about sex (frequently perhaps). But hopefully there’s a lot more going on in the guys head and it isn’t their primary motivator. Alright fine, maybe it is their primary motivator. But hopefully it’s not their only one. Sigh, guess we can’t fight evolution.
In any case, I don’t think sex is the primary thing. I think what we are actually looking for is connection. Everyone wants to feel valued, cared for, and desired. And we also want to value, care for and desire someone else.
Looking around as an adult, I see a handful of different lifestyle choices:
- Single and on your own.
- Single, but dating.
- In a relationship, but living separately
- In a relationship and living together
There are also a couple of other options, like being in multiple casual relationships at once, and married or living together but with relationships on the side, but I would like to think that those are exceptions (though they are likely much more prevalent then I would care to admit).
Lets looks at the first few a bit more closely
Single and on your own
Here someone is single, and not looking for any sort of relationship. There are a bunch of things that can cause this. The person may be anti-social. They may have been in a relationship and been hurt, and need time to recover. They may also believe that they will never find anyone, so they don’t even try. Sometimes these people are actually happy on their own. But I suspect many have convinced themselves they are on their own because that’s what they want, but in reality there is a part of them that wishes they could find someone, but they are scared to open their heart and be rejected.
Single, but dating.
This would apply to both people who are single but looking for casual hookups and people who are dating in the hopes of finding something that could develop into something more serious. When people talk about “settling down”, I think it’s the change of the mindset that dating is just for casual fun to a mindset that dating has a goal of finding a relationship that could become serious.
In a relationship but living separately
Often this is the next step after single but dating. You’ve found someone while dating and it seems to be developing into something more. At this point you are “exclusive” to each other, which may be either spoken or just assumed. But you still live separately, so to see each other you need to plan it. Relationships can stay in this stage for a long time and never develop into anything more.
Married or Living Together
Legally, living together is treated the same as marriage, so what is the difference? I think the difference between living together and marriage is largely symbolic. By getting married you are publicly affirming your commitment to one another. But the ritual of marriage isn’t really needed. You can be just as committed without it. So although I acknowledge that living together and being married are somewhat different, I’m going to treat them the same here.
Why get Married?
Why do we get married? If you are married, try to think back. Why did you get married? If you were the one who proposed, what made you propose? If you accepted a proposal, why did you?
Easy question right? Chances are it was because of something along the lines of “well, we love each other and wanted to spend the rest of our lives together”. Or I suppose it may have been “we got pregnant” and daddy was starting to load his shotgun. Then there are people who are tired of the dating scene, and figure it is time to “settle down”.
Actually there’s a good chance you didn’t even really think about it – it just seemed like the right thing to do. The logical “next step in your relationship” if you will. Influencing your decision was likely some combination of a romanticized notion of a future together, and a need to conform to societal and familial pressures.
In many cases, people get married simply because that’s what you do (same for having kids actually, but that’s another topic for another day). You hit a certain age, and your peer group starts getting married. Some people do it because it’s what they want, other do it just so they don’t feel left behind.
Relationship vs. Marriage
Thinking of marriage as just a logical next step in a committed relationship is a bit of a mistake. Marriage is much more than that, and this is the part that I don’t think people really understand until they are in it. A relationship is just about the two of you, while a marriage is a partnership, and there is more to it than just the relationship bits (same as living together, which is why I’ve grouped them together).
In a marriage you have to run a household, which involves managing finances and the division of chores. If you decide to have children, you take on the role of a parent – taking time away from being a couple as well as a potential for conflict if you don’t agree on child rearing. You have to start thinking about the future, and balancing planning for the future with enjoying the present. These different roles can conflict, and get in the way of the relationship bits.
It’s kind of like being a parent. It’s great to have a friendly relationship with your kids. But there are times that being the parent can conflict with being the friend. I have periodic battles with my children, where they tell me things like “I hate you”, and “you’re the worst daddy in the world”. Once they’ve cooled off a bit I’ll often say something like “sometimes when you think I’m being mean, it’s because I’m doing what I think is best for you, even though you might not like it.”
Similarly, what’s best for the marriage isn’t always what’s best for the relationship. Marriage (like much of life) is a balancing act. You need to balance the different roles you play. Being an individual and part of a couple. Planning the future with living for today.
One key difference is that before you had to make plans to see each other. Even if all you did was get together to watch TV, it was an event. Now, you see each other all the time. If you aren’t careful this can lead to a loss of individuality. I’ve got a buddy in a relationship, and he and his girlfriend have been talking about marriage and moving in together. One of his concerns was how it would affect his “me” time. It’s a common trap to think that now that you are together you need to do everything together. It’s still important to maintain your individuality and to do all the things you were doing before. But now you have to take into account the other person a bit more.
Have you ever heard stories of great friends who go into business together, and the business relationship ruins the friendship? The same thing can happen in a marriage. Having a strong friendship or being passionate lovers is no guarantee that you will be able to be successful in marriage.
Are Marriage and Passion Incompatible?
In a prior post I talked about how the nature of love changes over time. The early stages are more lust then love, and there are physiological reasons behind changing feelings.
If you look up quotes about marriage, many of them are jokes about how your sex life dies after marriage. Like any generalization or stereotype, there is a grain of truth behind that. It may be natural to have this happen to a degree, but that doesn’t mean it has to happen.
When it does, I don’t think the marriage is to blame. You initially come together as friends and lovers (not necessarily in that order). But in marriages and any long term relationships you become more. You take on all these other roles, and those other roles can get in the way of the things that initially brought you together.
Here’s a quote I like:
Getting divorced just because you don’t love a man is almost as silly as getting married just because you do. – Zsa Zsa Gabor
The cynical way to look at this quote is to say it suggest marriages are doomed to suffer an erosion of love, and I think a lot of people believe that. But I see that quote as a reminder that marriage is about more than just love. It’s about commitment. You don’t get married just because you love each other. You get married because you are committing to that other person. As it says in most vows, in good times and in bad. There will be bad, and you need more than just love to get you through.
The Beauty of Marriage
It’s possible that this comes across sounding like I’m disillusioned by marriage. Far from it. I still believe in the institution, and I think it’s a great thing. But I’ve learned that it’s not an easy road, and you need commitment to really get through.
To me one of the powerful things about marriage is you become more than just a person. You are more than a “me”, you are part of an “us”. For that to be successful, you need to be able to put your spouses needs at the same level as your own.
I read something recently where it talked about focusing on the positives in your relationship instead of the negatives. This makes a lot of sense to me. Look at a newspaper. It’s the negative, and the sensational that makes the news. The news isn’t full of the good things that happen in peoples lives. Pick up a history book. It’s full of wars and battles. The significant or memorable events are often the negative ones. It’s very easy to let some bad moments in your relationship override the good ones. The article suggested trying to figure out your top five moments as a couple (to you personally), and maybe sharing that with your spouse.
As I looked at my top 5 moments, some of them were obvious – the wedding day, the birth of our children, and a trip together. But I was a bit surprised to find that one of my top 5 moments wasn’t even “my” moment. In my top 5 was a situation where I helped my wife achieve one of her personal goals, and cross something off her bucket list. It was something I was unable to do with her due to school at the time (though I would have loved to), but I knew it was important to her so I pushed her to do it and I supported her in it. To me, being able to do that made me feel as close and connected to her as any moment that we were able to spend together.
It wasn’t about “me”. It was about her, and the enjoyment I received in supporting her in something she really wanted.
Another important thing is the history you build together. I’ve never understood the concept of falling out of love. When you look at the life experiences you share with someone over a long term relationship, how can you beat that? Looking at my life and the things we’ve gone through, supporting each other through life events both happy and sad. Bringing our children into the world together. People talk about desire fading, and that’s another thing I don’t understand. Yeah, we age. And our bodies change. But those changes are a roadmap of your experiences together, and you were together for every one of them.
No, I don’t understand falling out of love. Even when times are hard, it’s important to continued to fall in love again and again as the years go by.
Remember What Brought You Together
For anyone in a relationship, regardless of it how happy or distressed it is, here’s one thing to remember. When you first came together, it was as friends and lovers. Never let that fade.
Life gets busy. Jobs get in the way, houses get in the way, kids get in the way. There are always “things” that can get in the way, but you need to make time for each other. You need to make time to laugh together, and love one another. Things don’t just happen on their own. If you don’t make the time, before to long you will find that a long time has passed, and connection has started to break down.
Long term relationships don’t have to mean the erosion of love. If you’ve let that spark fade or die, as long as you are willing to make each other a priority again, you CAN find it again. Look at the positives in your life, and try to let go of the negatives.
To quote Chris Martin of Coldplay (who sadly wrote these lyrics as his own marriage was failing):
Call it magic, call it true
I call it magic when I’m with you
And I just got broken, broken into two
Still I call it magic, when I’m next to you
And if you were to ask me
After all that we’ve been through
Still believe in magic?
Oh yes I do
Of course I do