The Snob recently got published in Gil L. Robertson, IV's new essay compilation book Where Did Our Love Go? It's a book about black love and marriage and what has changed about both those things in recent years. I contributed a chapter on why marriage is less popular than it used to be under the "divorced" section called "The Problem With Marriage." As long-time Snob readers know, I was briefly married in my early 20s and watched that bake, crack and dry up in the hot West Texas sun. It hasn't made me bitter, but it did open my eyes to some realities about myself and what marriage is and isn't.
Extended snippet after the jump.
From "Where Did Our Love Go," Divorce section, Chapter 6: "The Problem with Marriage":
If you are honest, truly honest with yourself, you already know if you’re suited for marriage. And you probably figured out a long time ago you’d be bad at the forever-and-ever-amen brand of it. Yet that is the brand your success and failure is judged by, so you have internalized all the angst and frustration that goes with trying to cram square pegs into round holes. You have accepted failure in marriage because you are not the marrying kind. But you are still expected to marry (and eventually fail) over and over, growing to loathe and disdain yourself and pity your way of life.
But I would argue that you are not alone. There are a plurality of people who suck at this version of marriage and always had, but before there was no way out of marriage that wasn’t grueling, deadly or complicated as, historically, marriages were like iron clad contracts sent down by God and the Catholic Church and your parents and the legal system to make you miserable.
Forever-and-Ever-Amen Marriage requires a very specific personality type to succeed in a “healthy” manner without intervention from punitive laws, threat of damnation or the rejection of your family. But you only need two essential values to be good at it.
1) A view that family/community/God/whoever is more important than the individual
2) A willingness to compromise
And, on the surface, this might not sound too bad. You like your family. You’re cool with your community. You’re willing to compromise. What do you mean I’m not good at that, Danielle? I could totally do that, you say.
Except, you were born into modern Western society where what is valued above all else is the individual self. Otherwise we’d all right now still be either living in our parents’ house or just down the street, raising our kids with our siblings’ children, raising barns and calling ourselves Amish.
Everything about the American condition is a celebration of the triumph of the individual over society, nature and government.
Our heroes are “self-made” men and women. You are expected (and encouraged) to leave home at the advent of adulthood. You are encouraged to own your own home, succeed in your chosen career fields, make lots of money, acquire things and make a name for yourself – often all before you get married. In fact, we have lengthened what is adolescence to accommodate for the fact that most people need a little more than high school to figure out who they are and amass wealth and stature. This means young adulthood as gone from ending at 14 to ending at 16 to ending at 18 to ending at 21 to now where people still see themselves as “young” and “still growing” at 30.
The expansion of adolescence makes sense when you consider that we live much longer and we have many more choices than those who came before us. But we celebrate those choices and freedoms and opportunities. We have turned our backs on the notion of arranged marriages, of marrying to forge community and monetary ties, of marrying out of respect for the church.
No one does that anymore.
Now we marry for some loose notion of love and family, often half thought out, by people who aren’t good at “Forever-and-Ever-Amen” marriage, but are still expected to take a crack at it.
So if you’re raised to celebrate the individual and you spend your twenties “discovering yourself” and starting your career, by your mid-30s you have been on your own for so long that when “marriage” is introduced you may find something like “compromise” difficult. You are used to getting your way. You are used to having things the way you like them. Before, when you got married at 18 and 21, you didn’t really have time to discover what you liked and disliked, meaning you and your spouse sort of figured out these things as you go along.
If you have been single and on your own since 19, you’re pretty sure of whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, if you prefer Downy fabric softener to Bounce and if you’re a neat person or a slob. You have the spice rack just the way you like it. The junk in your junk drawer is your junk and you don’t care if the bathroom gets a little cruddy as it is your dead flakes of skin and toenails and dust and hair and toothpaste gunk that is covering it. And you’re immune to your own grossness.
But someone else’s grossness may turn you into a cleaning Nazi.
And that’s just the small stuff. We haven’t even gotten into how you view your faith (or whether you have one or not), how you view your sexual needs, how you view your work habits, money habits and dietary needs.
Instead of two dumb kids learning how to be grown-ups together, marriages are now forged between two people who have already mastered the lives of the individual, now foisted into a world that is nothing but constant negotiations over everything from “retirement savings” to “What religion will we raise the children” to “What brand of toilet cleaner do we buy?”
And you’re already used to getting your way, as for decades you only had you to care for.
And you’re an American, raised in a society that celebrated the individual over family, community and church.
Yet those are the two main things you need to have in order to have a marriage that lasts 40 to 50 years.
And even if you do possess those two things, there is yet another caveat.
You have to marry someone who ALSO possesses those two traits as well.
Gil L. Robertson, IV's "Where Did Our Love Go" is out in stores now!